Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Spin off the Red Death

Masque of the Red Death
Who would be brave enough to spin a story off the great and powerful Poe, you ask? Well, because there is no greater form of flattery than imitation. Bethany Griffin took Poe's ideas in Masque of the Red Death and ran with them in a story of plague, corruption, and despair.

Araby Worth is one of the lucky ones. As a result of her father's status as a scientist who designed the masks the rich use to keep themselves plague free, she lives in the "safe" part of town (which inevitably  means the wealthy part of town). But even in a time of so much death and suffering, people who have the time and money to not worry about where their next meal comes from or if they are safe from illness find themselves bored. Araby may not be as wealthy as her friend April, but she has no problem acting as carefree as they club hop and experiment with illicit substances. But the tattooed boy who works at the club just has to look at her with those piercing eyes to bring her out of the haze she has been living in ever since her brother succumbed to the plague. 

When Araby ends up passed out on the floor of the club, Will, tattooed boy, takes her home despite the risks. There she finds he is struggling to raise his younger brother and sister alone after his parents died, and without money to even feed them, he can't afford to buy them the masks that will keep them safe. Araby is drawn to Will, but back home, Elliot, April's brother, is pressuring her to steal her father's plans for how to create the protective masks and distribute them to everyone in the city, not just the rich people. As things tend to do, everything starts to fall apart at once. Prince Prospero has taken an interest in Araby, rebels are fighting the Prince's army, and a religious zealot uses the plague as a proof of God's vengeance. Araby isn't sure who she should trust, but she certainly knows that something must change or the newest illness, the fast and violent Red Death, will be the end of them all.

I love this Poe story, and I am an avid fan of dystopias, so I was interested to see how this homage held up to the original story. I think the direction was great and the twist was interesting, but sometimes I think the structure of the story faltered a bit. That isn't to say I didn't enjoy the story, because I actually did, but it wasn't a seamless, flawless story. There were some confusing moments and changes in direction that weren't clearly prepared for or resolved that left me forced to go back and reread for more clues.

But still, this was a really interesting twist on Poe. The characters aren't exactly the type of people you would instantly love or put complete faith in, but that didn't necessarily both me. Araby's drug addiction, Elliot's scamming and drug dealing, and even Will (who was the most likable main character in my opinion) who was difficult to read most of the time, all added to the realistic notion that great things can be done by not-so-great people. In a dystopia like this, you often see a clear hero, but I prefer a flawed hero who you appreciate the effort it takes for them to sacrifice for strangers. Therefore, the lack of clear heroic qualities only added to this story in my opinion.

I think this would be an interesting story for a fan of dystopias, but not the best as first exposure into the subgenre. I think some of the confusion and difficulties I had will be resolved in the following sequel. I am very interested to see how these characters develop and if they will become more defined in the next book. This would be appropriate for the older end of young adults since it shows some of the uglier sides of plague and dystopic society (starvation, rape, violence, etc.). The reading level isn't too complex, but parts of the story itself can be complex, so an older student would appreciate this story the most. It is also a great complement to the original Poe story for a literary connection to popular literature!

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