The city has become a dark place since the Affliction came. The vast majority of the population died and even now the plague carts stalk the streets of the poor quarters, collecting the ever growing number of dead. The outside world has been lost, for all anyone knows the city may be the last place where humans still live in the world.
The Prince rules as a tyrant, his draconian whims carried out as he funnels wealth, resources and supplies to the select few within his inner circles. People he considers useful he controls through threats, his army and kidnapping their families: including the scientist who invented the masks – the only thing that can guarantee safety from the Affliction if worn all the time. In the street, riots tear up the slowly decaying city a buildings fall to ruins. The poor without work, with little food and no money for the expensive masks, struggle to exist.
Araby lives a life of considerable privilege in this world, with wealth and standing, but no happiness. Her father is obsessed with his work, her mother tormented by fragile nerves and Araby living constantly shadowed by her twin’s death. She lives a shallow life constantly seeking distraction from her memories, from her pain, from who she is – seeking drugs and alcohol and petty pleasures to find oblivion. But she has friends who slowly pull her out of her shell – through need or affection – and they’re far more involved in the world, and changing it, than she imagined.
This book is dark, grim and gritty. There’s not a lot of hope, the scene is one of despair and pain and loss and that doesn’t let up for much of the book. We get people desperately fighting to change things, but the loss is higher than the gain, the cost is hard and hope is hard to find. People die – they’ve died in enormous, near extinction numbers, they continue to die every day. The city, perhaps the world if there is any world left, is reduced to a desperate, lawless, oppressive state, subject to furious mobs and the draconian whims of a brutal ruler.
It’s not very fluffy. Even with the love triangle, it isn’t fluffy – and I don’t think it should be. It’s grim and shouldn’t be lightened, the subject and world don’t suit lightness and it would be jarring - and awfully self-absorbed – if it did. It doesn’t let up – and it shouldn’t, it’s really well maintained and keeps the sense of the place and the horror firmly fixed with it. The setting is truly excellent and exceedingly well written
In keeping with the scene, the protagonist, Araby, is similarly dark and depressed. She has lost her twin to the plague and she blames herself – in fact, blaming herself is pretty common for Araby. She made a vow never to experience anything her dead brother never had chance to – honouring him by denying herself his experiences, punishing herself for his death. She seeks oblivion, brief escapes from the world and her pain by taking drugs and alcohol. She thinks often of suicide and her friends and family worry about her happiness. She is well written in accordance to the book’s writing style – she fits the setting and she fits her world – she has every reason to feel depressed and hopeless and the writing conveys the full sense of this terrible bleakness she feels.