by Melissa Marr
September 4, 2012
Source: Around the World ARC Tours
In a city of daimons, rigid class lines separate the powerful from the power-hungry. And at the heart of The City is the Carnival of Souls, where both murder and pleasure are offered up for sale. Once in a generation, the carnival hosts a deadly competition that allows every daimon a chance to join the ruling elite. Without the competition, Aya and Kaleb would both face bleak futures--if for different reasons. For each of them, fighting to the death is the only way to try to live. All Mallory knows of The City is that her father--and every other witch there--fled it for a life in exile in the human world. Instead of a typical teenage life full of friends and maybe even a little romance, Mallory scans quiet streets for threats, hides herself away, and trains to be lethal. She knows it's only a matter of time until a daimon finds her and her father, so she readies herself for the inevitable. While Mallory possesses little knowledge of The City, every inhabitant of The City knows of her. There are plans for Mallory, and soon she, too, will be drawn into the decadence and danger that is the Carnival of Souls.
From Melissa Marr, bestselling author of the Wicked Lovely series and "Graveminder," comes a brand-new tale of lush secrets, dark love, and the struggle to forge one's own destiny. (taken from Goodreads.)
** This ARC was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review**
The man -witch- who'd summoned Selah was nothing like she's expected.
My Take On It
I was a bit late to the Wicked Lovely party, having only discovered the books in 2010. But once I read the first book, I really enjoyed the series and Melissa Marr's writing. She's part of a "Dark Triumvirate" of writers I was reading all around the same time, the other two being Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. I liked their incredible imagination and their ability to go unabashedly dark and edgy even in a YA novel. In fact I think it was Marr's character Seth that got me crushing on pierced up boys:) I read Marr's adult novel Graveminder last year, and although I thought the premise was very cool, the characters didn't speak to me like those in Wicked Lovely did. So when I heard that Marr was writing a new YA series, I was more than on board and ready to see what she had up her sleeve.
In Carnival of Souls the reader is introduced to two worlds: the human world in which our heroine Mallory lives, and the daimon world, which is comprised of the City and the Untamed Lands, where daimons and witches are embroiled in an age old war. Melissa Marr excels at world building and creating mood, and Carnival of Souls is no exception. The City is a dark, gritty and dangerous place and the overall feel is barely contained chaos. The daimons are divided into a social hierarchy with the upper classes ruling and the lower classes scraping by by begging and serving the upper classes as assassins or prostitutes. Marchosias, the daimon ruler of the City, sanctions organized violence as a way to elevate social status through a series of year long gladiatorial battles where the winner gets a shot at a high position in Marchosias' government and the losers die.
At the story's start the matches are well under way and we are introduced to three key players: Aya, an upper class woman fighting alongside the men; Belias, also upper class and Aya's former betrothed; and Kaleb, a Cur, the lowest of the social classes, which seems to fall somewhere between daimon and werewolf.
Meanwhile in the human world, Mallory, who lives with her step father (and witch) Adam, is aware of the world of daimons and witches but doesn't know that she is actually a daimon. Instead she has been raised to loathe and fear the species, and has been training her entire life to fight them. At the age of seventeen, Mallory is unaware that she is at the center of a web of secrets and lies and life as she knows it is about to blow wide open.
Sounds cool, right? It is. Sound complicated? It's that as well. It's clear from the start that this book is setting up the rest of the series, providing a ton of information in the process. And that's all good and completely understandable. It's important when you are building a new world to provide the reader with adequate information. But I have to say, all that aside, I had some issues with Carnival of Souls.
The main issue I had is that I didn't ever feel a connection to any of the characters I encountered. It's not that they weren't interesting. It's just that they all felt rather two dimensional to me. While I was curious to see what would transpire, I found myself just sort of following along, taking in the story but not feeling the story. In Marr's defense, there are some interesting elements at work in Carnival of Souls. There is the have and have-not's found within the City's social strata. There are themes of loyalty and love for those who raised you versus those that are your blood. There is forbidden romance. And there are some cool feminist undercurrents as well. All of these elements are awesome, and things I love to read about. But if the characters fail to grab me in some way, or fail make me relate to them or their story, the end result is that I walk away feeling kind of meh and empty about the whole thing.
In addition there are numerous narrators, I counted five, and I feel that while having a dual narration is a cool way to get the heads of characters, I sometimes think you can have too much of a good thing. And the narration is written in 3rd person, which I often have problems with because it feels cold and impersonal.
The hierarchy of the daimons is deeply concerned with breeding and mating and pleasure, and I'm sorry, but this was just such a turn off to me. The demons treat the women as mere breeding devices, a way to further their line. And while I know Marr is trying to push the readers buttons with this line of thought, it, like everything in the book is just thrown out there in a cold, clinical, impersonal way. I wanted to hear more views on this, especially from the female characters, I wanted to experience their outrage over it, if that is indeed how they feel. Maybe that will happen in future books. But in Carnival of Souls, it's just put out there and that's that.
And to me, the book seemed much more suited to an adult urban fantasy/ paranormal romance audience, than the YA market. This isn't necessarily a deal breaker for me, I rather like crossover in the books that I read, but it is something I noticed repeatedly and kept thinking about while reading Carnival of Souls.
And also? I cannot stand when demon is spelled daimon or daemon. When I read those spellings I always, always mispronounce it in my head and it drives me crazy. Am I the only one who feels this way?
I don't like to end on a downer so I will say that when I think about it, there is one character in the book that I did really like and would like to learn more about. Kaleb's pack mate Zevi, who is at times human-like and at times dog-like, was really interesting to read about. He and Kaleb are fiercely loyal to each other, and while Kaleb acts as Zevi's protector, Zevi is not weak, and is actually Kaleb's primary caretaker. Of all the different characters in this book, the "dog" ends up being my favorite. Go figure.
There are definitely aspects of Carnival of Souls that I think will appeal to many readers. There is a lot of political strife and intrigue at work, not unlike court politics and intrigue found in historical fiction and fantasy novels. There is a lot of action and very detailed fight scenes for those who get into that. There is a kick butt heroine in the form of the daimon Aya, and she really is a total bad ass. And I think in future books we are going to see Mallory step up and probably become pretty kick ass herself. I think the romance angle between Kaleb and Mallory, which admittedly didn't do much for me in Carnival of Souls, will definitely intensify and likely have a fair amount of conflict. And that, in my opinion, can be a very good thing.
So in summary, while much of Carnival of Souls felt flat and impersonal to me, I can't deny that Marr is setting the stage for a very interesting series. I am hoping that future books will show more character development and that in time the different personalities at play in the story will pull me into their world like Seth, Aislinn, Irial and the rest of the Wicked Lovely cast did.
Check out Melissa Marr's website HERE
And check out a very cool interactive site of The City and the carnival of souls itself HERE
Check out some other reviews of Carnival of Souls:
Attack the Stacks
Proud Book Nerd
Once Upon a Prologue
i swim for oceans