By Bethany Griffin
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: April 24, 2012
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian/Steampunk
Everything is in ruins.
A devastating plague has decimated the population. And those who are left live in fear of catching it as the city crumbles to pieces around them.
So what does Araby Worth have to live for?
Nights in the Debauchery Club, beautiful dresses, glittery make-up . . . and tantalizing ways to forget it all.
But in the depths of the club—in the depths of her own despair—Araby will find more than oblivion. She will find Will, the terribly handsome proprietor of the club. And Elliott, the wickedly smart aristocrat. Neither boy is what he seems. Both have secrets. Everyone does.
And Araby may find something not just to live for, but to fight for—no matter what it costs her.
It’s possible that I was initially drawn to this by its cover. Maybe. But I loved the synopsis and it’s inspired by the Edgar Allen Poe story so I was sold in triplicate. I’ve had it sitting here for a couple of weeks now, taunting me and to be honest, I’ve been sort of afraid to read it because I’d been anticipating it for so long. I can stick it on my reread shelf now, since I got it done and it was the keeper that I’d hoped.
If Araby Worth had more courage, she might just end her life. Instead, she separates herself as much as she can from the real world in her parents’ luxury apartment or with her friend April and trips to the Debauchery Club behind her porcelain mask to protect her from the deadly plague. When her normal defenses don’t work, Araby looks for escape in drugs, not particularly caring who she scores from or even what they are.
It’s through the club that she meets Will and Elliot. They’re practically polar opposites: Will is dark, tattooed and poor while Elliot is blonde, refined, wealthy and April’s brother. Araby lost someone very close to her and had vowed never to kiss, hold hands – fall in love – with anyone because he wouldn’t have that chance either. Both boys rouse emotions she’s tried to suppress – romantic interest, hope for their crumbling society and renewed fears and worries about her family. There isn’t really the dreaded Love Triangle, although there’s romance. I know that’s sort of contradictory, but within the story and all the turmoil, the push and pull of the guys and Araby, it doesn’t come off as any kind of triangle at all. So…breathe out. Heaven knows I did.
Araby narrates the story, so obviously the city and people get translated through her. In the beginning, she’s doing everything she can to be detached and other than some brief flares of extreme emotion, she does seem pretty disaffected. Griffin writes with a slightly staccato style and it suits Araby perfectly. Later in the story, the writing gets looser as Araby’s emotions start going haywire. I think some people might find Araby dull or a little stupid with some of the decisions she made but I think given her age, the state of society and her desire to make things right, I understood her and even liked her. Even if she made some horrible choices, in a city where breathing bad air could kill you within days, she did make those choices instead of hiding and did things that put herself at risk when she didn’t have to because she thought she was doing the right thing.
Even in its lighter moments, this is still a grim story. The threat of death hangs everywhere, from the despot leader, Prince Prospero and the maniacal revolutionary Malcontent to the Weeping Illness and the Red Death. Every moment, everyone has to ask themselves – should they ever take their mask off and where, who can they touch, what do you do if you cut yourself? People who can’t afford the expensive porcelain masks don’t leave their houses or they risk using a flimsy fabric mask and possible death. Historic incidences of the plague are a sort of macabre interest of mine and Griffin really did her homework for more than just the emotional despair. I was torn between being fascinated and a little grossed out by her detailed descriptions of the latter stages of the disease and its mutated cousin. Grossed out is meant to be complimentary.
I’m not going to give away the ending, only say that Griffin knocked the wind out of me with it. I don’t know if I just was enjoying the story so much that I wasn’t paying attention or she just threw something in there that that hadn’t had any clues dropped about, but it completely wiped out the conceptions I had about nearly all of the characters. It was a devious, cruel, torturous twist that delighted me in a completely warped way since I normally hate those, “you figure it out,” endings with a passion and now I’m so anxious to read the next book, it’s crazy.
My Summary: I’m starting to open books with so-so expectations right now, and even though I had really been waiting for this, I tamped down my hope and just started reading – and was engrossed almost immediately. The dark world controlled by disease, the contrast of the disaffected, passionate and forgotten people and the suspense storyline hooked me. 2013 seems very, very far away for the next book.