This was one of those books I read a summary for, months before its release, and I knew I absolutely must get my hands on it. I was an English major in college, and I love Edgar Allen Poe! So, when I read about a YA/dystopian retelling of Poe’s, I was all for it! I also apparently met this author, because I have it signed to me…is it weird that is has gotten to the point where I don’t remember where/when I meet authors, but am just really thankful that I have?
Any way, I was not disappointed with this one. It had all the creepy, vague mysteriousness of Poe, and all the terrifying, depressing ingredients of a great dystopia. Araby is not the most up-beat main character. There are a lot of things she wishes she had never experienced, never witnessed, and never survived. But, losing her twin brother to the plague is not something that really makes her stand out in her society. Everyone has lost someone, everyone has seen the bodies, heard the shots of the chaos, and if you’re alive, you’ve witnessed burning buildings, starving children, and a hopeless society.
Araby and her best friend, April choose to forget as much of their world as possible by going to the night club, the Debauchery Club, and drinking their memories away. The drugs they take at the club even allow Araby some nights of rest (with no nightmares). Going in, the girls are always tested for the plague, and part of the reason Araby likes to go so much is because she likes the guy who does the testing.
And while there seems to be very little Araby is afraid of, she never gets involved with any guys because of a vow she made to herself about not letting herself experience things her twin brother would never get the chance to. Everything seems to change though when Araby meets April’s brother, Elliott. With him, comes ideas of hope and revolution. He’s the cocky nephew of Prince Prospero, the terrible dictator who has prevented the poor from attaining masks that can prevent the spread of the plague. Only the wealthy have the masks that Araby’s scientist father created.
With a messed up childhood that puts Araby’s to shame, (with the physical scars to prove it) Elliott gets Araby to make some serious risks. She steals invention plans, goes against the wishes of her surviving family, and risks her life to help save April’s. Her best friend disappears one night after they go to the club. And when it seems obvious that Prince Prospero has April, Araby risks everything to go with Elliott to save her. She also makes friends with Will, the plague-tester from the club, after he saves her from having the same fate as April. Though, it gets harder and harder to remain friends both with Elliott and Will, and also hold on to her depressing vow, Araby holds strong to her beliefs.
It also becomes clear early on that there is more to her twin brother’s death than Araby lets on. She definitely blames herself for it. And all of the main characters in this book end up saving each other at some point. Araby and April first became friends when Araby was considering jumping off the roof of her apartment building. Between all the escapes and rescue missions, the pages overflow with grief, depression, and above all, survival.
There’s a love triangle, tough decisions (like who should I rescue: my siblings or my girl friend?), disease, separation of the classes, bombings, riots, dungeons, scientific experiments, life-saving masks, children who only know darkness (literally), night clubs, revolutions, religious zealots, and lots of murder in this one! This is definitely a dark read. Araby lives in a place where not even the rich have it well off. If you’re wealthy enough to have a mask, chances are you are mentally ill enough from all that you have been through to need drugs to survive.
I don’t actually think Poe would mind having this book written in his homage. I mean, it is seriously dark, mysterious, and just as depressing as Poe’s words were. I love how Araby never became as stuck up as the rest of her class. She bought apples for children living on the street and went to old bookstores with her father. She read poetry and genuinely seemed to care a lot more for disease-ridden strangers than her best friend did. It probably helped that she new what living in the dark was like. Griffin seriously surprised me with her characters. I was expecting to hate April and all of her selfishness, but I ended up loving her and being shocked by some of her brave decisions. Both of the guys surprised me. I literally put the book down in shock in one moment. And I loved that this happened! The boys will surprise you.
The scene where the prince decided to flood the river and Araby and April had to escape from underground was so good! I loved everything with the hot air balloon too. And all the scenes that took place at the prince’s castle were so terrifying that I know I wouldn’t be able to read this book at nighttime. The book felt like it was part Poe, part dystopia, part steam punk, and part zombie movie (minus the zombies…).
There were two little things that bothered me though. One, was not being able to decide the time period. The women wore corsets, but they used working elevators. There were no cars even before the plague, but there are nightclubs with crazy sounding drugs. Is it supposed to be in a fantasy world? Or is it supposed to be a certain time period, but with a twist? I love when authors combine elements like this, but I don’t like when I am given nothing about these elements. It got me a little lost and frustrated at times; I just needed a tiny one-sentence explanation somewhere and I would have been less frustrated.
Also, Araby’s vow was kind of stupid. Obviously, her brother never would have gone to a night club, drunk himself unconscious, drugged up enough to wake up in a stranger’s home, stolen important documents from his father, contemplated suicide, or many more of the other things Araby did. So why, was it so important not to find true love? I feel like this was a weak explanation for something that could have made the story much stronger. I think her vow could have been about so much more (and maybe it was), and I wish other explanations could have been given for it.
Regardless of these two missing explanations, I was still way beyond impressed with this book. It was dark, depressing, romantic, and un-put-downable. I give it a 10/10, if anything for its uniqueness, its retelling of a classic in such a wonderful way, and its darkness. I will definitely be looking forward to book 2.