Masque of the Red Death
The melancholy atmosphere drew me in right away, but it didn’t manage to hold my attention for long as the main protagonist, Araby Worth, increasingly annoyed me with the thoughtless decisions she made. In fact, she didn’t seem to make any conscious decisions, decisions based on reflection and forethought, at all, but stumble in whatever direction she was turned.
Araby is one of the privileged few who can afford a life style of narcotics and debauchery, and, most importantly, an air-filtering mask that supposedly protects its wearer from the disease that is ravaging most of the city’s population. Araby’s brother, who always was weaker than her, succumbed to this plague. Blaming herself for her brother’s untimely death, Araby vows never to experience anything that he had no chance to experience himself. Like love. Or physical intimacy. Or using her brain for actual thought. Strangely enough, this vow of abstinence and self-sacrifice does not seem to include clubbing and drug abuse, two things Araby indulges in quite frequently as a means to escape the bleakness of the world around her.
Araby is only privileged to wear a life-protecting mask because her father is a scientist in the employ of the prince. We learn that her father was foremost in the invention and manufacturing of the extremely expensive masks that protect the rich and powerful [and as is revealed later on, he might also have been conducive in the unleashing of the plague in the first place].
Soon there are two love interests in Aaraby’s life, neither of which she is really dealing with, but just following along, wanting but denying herself any pleasure for most of the time. One, who does not belong to her rung on the social ladder and whom Araby has been having a crush on for quite some time, is gallant and caring. The other is a member of the aristocracy with plans to change the status quo and lead a revolt to make life better for everyone, who came across as quite sinister, arrogant and controlling and whose apparently tragic back-story did nothing to help me forgive his demanding and dominating personality. I didn’t understand why Araby would even consider him as a love interest, but I guess that a strong, powerful male has an appeal and her drug-induced apathy made her obediently follow any lead anyway. Even less I could understand her willing participation in his secretive schemes, the particulars of which he does not share with her. I didn’t see her being more than a useful tool to him. It annoyed me so badly that she did not stop for a second to consider the consequences of her involvement in this contrivance.
Araby quite obviously suffers from depression, substantiated by her failed attempt at suicide, and the drugs do nothing to alleviate her emotional and psychological state. I probably should cut her some slack, but her sheep-mentality enraged me. She just follows anyone’s lead and tries to justify her mindlessness as a drive to do good, to do right. I call BS!
I don’t really see why this was advertised as steampunk, because other than steam-powered carriages and elaborately corseted dresses there’s nothing much to authenticate the categorisation, but I’m no expert on the genre in any case.
Overall, the story-telling is quite well executed, but the focus is on aspects like love and guilt that might be of greater importance to the 17 year old heroine than they are to me. I would have preferred to have a bit more background on the emergence of the Weeping Sickness and the political intrigue. I guess I will have to read the sequel to find out more, but I’m not at all sure that I will be curious enough to spend my money on the next book.