Review goes live on Book Brats on 4/19 - http://book-brats.comFor me, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH was one of my most anticipated books of spring 2012. As a fan of Poe and gothic culture, I knew from the moment I heard about this book that I needed to acquire it at all costs. I think I probably set my expectations for this one too high, though, because when I reached the end, I felt myself conflicted between only 3 and 4 stars. It was a wonderful book that I know most people, particularly fans of dark, literary YA, will love. I fancy myself the occasional fan, but something about this one fell short of the mark.MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (book one in a new trilogy by sophomore author Bethany Griffin) is the story of Araby, a young girl in a bleak post-apocalyptic city hit by a devastating plague that is slowly killing off humanity. The Prince has sealed off the city and now controls everything, including the porcelain masks that stave off the Red Lung. Araby, the daughter of the mask’s inventor, is deeply depressed and addicted to drugs to stave off her feelings of worthlessness and guilt for watching her twin brother die. When rebellion begins to brew and Araby is drawn in because of her father’s connections – and the disappearance of her friend – Araby will be in for a lot more excitement than she anticipated.I should start by saying that if you are a fan of WITHER by Lauren DeStefano, you’re in for a treat – this is very much up that same alley. Very literary and stylized, with a heavy focus on Araby’s emotions as she traverses the bleak landscape, this is not a book for people who want a breakneck action thriller. The pacing is subdued and built with rich description and exotic, unique world building. Action happens, but it isn’t the main focus, or at least it wasn’t in my opinion. This is more of an emotional story against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic dystopian world with elements of intrigue and action mixed in. I think my mail problem with this story lies in the love interests and their relationship with Araby. Elliot is a bold, outgoing society gentleman who comes from a wealthy family – and he’s also the nephew of the Prince. He also supplies Araby with opium in exchange for her accompanying him on various trips and missions. The other love interest is Will, a staff member at the club Araby frequents, and a down-on-his-luck guy taking care of his two siblings in the ruins of the city’s slums. I know the majority of people will disagree with me, but I couldn’t find a connection for either one. It wasn’t about Araby to them, it was about themselves and their own interests, and they both show it. But yes, if you have to ask, I am Team Will. You can read the book and find out why, but I am more for the strong quiet types if that makes any sense.Araby herself is a difficult character to explain. She’s very depressed and naïve about the world, wrapped up in a little bubble of despair brought on by death, being ignored, and some pre-existing psychiatric reasons I would think. She uses drugs to dull her mind, going to clubs with her friend April to forget the world outside, but when she steps out of this bubble, you really begin to see the world for what it is, and all of its faults, along with her. This is the strength of the novel – the world building from the eyes of a girl who has little left to live for, and proof to show this. She is not tough, she is not a fighter, but when she realizes she does have something to live for, that spark of life is back.MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH is an enthralling, fascinating take on life in the face of death and every manner of steampunk, post-apocalyptic excitement you could think of. With the exception of the love interests and some pacing issues, seeing as how the story is a slow burn that starts off exceptionally slow (oh, I didn’t mention that – the first fifty pages almost lost me with a plodding narrative, but Griffin stole me back by page 100 and the story refused to let me go), this book will appeal to fans of literary YA with a definite speculative slant. Don’t be discouraged by the early pacing issues – this one gets better as it goes along.VERDICT: Although I didn’t care for the love interests, Araby’s story is gripping and taut. The world building alone makes up for pacing difficulties and characterization issues.