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This entire review contains spoilers not only for Dance of the Red Death, but book one as well.
What the hell happened to this series?
Masque of the Red Death was a really fun, atmospheric affair dealing with teen grief, suicide, drug use, and sex in a world inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s short story by the same name. It supposes what life would be like outside of abbey with disease striking down the poor, as well as the feeling of unrest that would come with having a ruler who hides in his home while the people suffer. It ends with all the major characters on a balloon, floating towards Prince Prospero’s palace and their predestined party, ready to confront him for what he’s put the city through.
So why it takes them 80% of the second novel to reach the eponymous ball is beyond me.
Dance takes place immediately followingMasque and instead of flying straight to the palace, our heroes instead spend 270 pages wallowing in their love triangle. People who read the first book may recall Will BETRAYED Araby at the end of book one, which would seemingly eliminate him from competition, but no. We are not that lucky. Instead, the characters wander through all of the sets from the first book, despite having two homicidal maniacs after them, while Araby bemoans having to choose.
There are so many plot holes, rushed developments, characters appearing out of nowhere and disappearing just as easily. Frankly, it’s badly written. Examples:
”The Hunter” is released into the swamp because Thom feels bad for the prisoner. Elliott is furious. This isn’t mentioned again until they’re back in the same house in the swamp and he magically reappears at the same time as the heroes. Thom ALSO hasn’t been mentioned in about as many pages. They exist solely for these two scenes.
Mina, another character they find in the swamp, has NO development, yet they let her join the band and follow them around for the rest of the book. They find her. 100 pages later she leads them to an orphanage. The end.
Araby is told her father is dead. She pays a man on the street a diamond for his glasses as proof. He’s not dead. There’s no explanation as to how the man got the false information or the glasses. Elliot gives her the diamond back in the next scene with no explanation as to how he got it. Prospero uses the glasses as part of his ball. No explanation for that either.
Araby figures out that the water pump is in the swamp. She risks her life to give this information to Will and free him so he can activate it. She forgets to tell him where she hid the keys to make it run.
The maids and the jailer who agree to help her free Will are killed and displayed at the ball. Will still escapes. No explanation as to how.
She tells Will she’s also freeing him so he can take April, who is dying from the virus, to her father, the murderous Reverend Malcontent, because he has a cure. April dies offscreen while this conversation happens.
Prospero commissions a giant, mysterious clock just so he can die at the foot of it. While this harkens back to the original story, it doesn’t fit in this one. Several other references to the original are shoehorned in.
Especially in a fantasy novel, suspension of disbelief is important. I could move past one or two unexplained coincidences, but the fact that Prospero seems to be several steps ahead of the heroes, including planting one of his seven items for Araby ON Elliott, and knows things that no one but Elliott does, seems to indicate he’s either a genius and mastermind, in which case he should put up way more of a fight at the end, or much more likely, Elliott is on his side.
Which takes us to the end. Will and Thom risk life and limb to make sure Elliott holds elections once everything is done. They set Araby up as a hero who helps the common people, who rescues orphans and brings clean water to a city under plague, while Elliott is a power-mad dictator like Prospero. Elliott runs unopposed.
When you hear hooves, think horses, not zebras. The fact that the world is suddenly sunshine and children’s laughter doesn’t jive with the gradual change to villain they’ve set up for Elliott. Either the book is so badly written that the author accidentally, to use a wrestling term, turned a love interest heel, or the main character installed another dictator on the throne and is more concerned with throwing birthday parties than worrying about her mistakes. Either way, what a horrible ending to this duology.
7/23/13: Well that was an almost unprecedented disappointment. Review to come.