Masque of the Red Death - Bethany Griffin 2.5 stars. Never have I felt so broken up over writing a review for a book that ultimately ended up not being my cup of tea. It's tough, seeing as Masque of the Red Death is a young adult dystopian novel inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe short story of the same name, and so it is at once creative, original and highly ambitious -- which all happen to be qualities I admire in a book. It had some good ideas, and so I wanted to like this, tried hard to like it, but in the end there simply were too many issues that prevented me from getting on board.

The book is set in a gothic, post-apocalyptic rendition of the late 1800s, with a dash of steampunk mixed in for good measure. 17-year-old Araby Worth lives life amongst the elite thanks to her father's illustrious career as a scientist, while the poor are left to fend for themselves in a city ridden with plague and death. Those who have the means to afford them buy the elaborate porcelain masks which help prevent the contagion, but the dictator Prince Prospero has a iron hold over their production. Still grieving the death of her twin brother which she believes is her fault, Araby wants to help change the way things are by working towards making salvation from the disease available to all.

I'm torn over these details. On the one hand, I'm completely in love with the setting, and my one regret is wanting to know a lot more about the history and background than the book was able to give me. I also think the main character had a lot of potential, but for some reason Araby feels pretty much devoid of any personality. If I had to guess, I would say it's the writing style; told in first-person present tense, the narration could have been a lot more powerful, but instead it came across very clipped as I was bombarded with simple short sentences that often described everything Araby saw in front of her eyes but sadly not what was going on inside her head. As such, I couldn't get a sense of who she was at all.

Even now, there are so many blank spots in my mental picture of her as a character, since a lot of her motivations and behaviors just didn't match up. Her father, for example, whom she thinks is cold, aloof and uncaring, is actually in my opinion a sweet, kind and rather cool dad! I mean, here's a man who takes his morose teenage daughter for walks just to get her out of the house and on a whim would buy her nice things like books. Then there's Araby, one of those girls who contemplates betraying her parents for a boy she's only known for a grand total of like five minutes. I'm just shaking my head.

Which brings me to another thing that bothered me -- the dreaded love triangle. It would be nice if I had any interest at all in either romantic option, but behind door number one is Elliott, the prince's nephew who seeks to fuel a rebellion by convincing Araby to join him by his side. Meanwhile, behind door number two is William, the handsome porter with the awesome tattoos who works at the club Araby frequents and whom she is drawn to. One guy is arrogant, the other is dull, and both are patronizing to the extreme. It's really tough for me to get into a book when the romantic drama takes up such a huge part of the story, especially when I think the heroine is deserving of so much more than what she's offered.

I feel like I'm being too harsh in this review, but even after putting my YA-reading hat on and embracing the romance, I just couldn't get into this book. I think it had some great ideas, but I feel like we've only scratched the surface on a lot of them, much like how I think Araby's character could have been much better developed. While this book was a quick read, I can't help but think maybe a little more detail could have gone a long way into fleshing out the story and making it more satisfying.