Book review: “Carnival of Souls” by Melissa Marr

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NOTE: This title is now published as Carnival of Secrets.

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.

I’m one of the few who didn’t like Marr’s Wicked Lovely series and I definitely try to avoid any and all stories involving multiple POVs. But given the opportunity to swap and a friend’s  insistence, I finally sat down and gave Carnival of Souls (CoS) a chance. True to my friend’s word, in the beginning I found myself confused. Not only is CoS highly political, it’s fantasy which means there’s a lot to learn. What’s so remarkable is the fact that I never wanted to quit reading. Sure, I was confused here and there because you’re not slowly given the details, more like directly submerged. But as my questions grew, so did my curiosity.

There’s a lot of characters in this story so I’m going to just talk about my three favorites. I fell in love with Aya almost instantly. She’s confident, strong and highly motivated. And did I mention lethal?! She’s a total badass! Basically all Aya wants is freedom. The City, much like our own world, suffers from small-minded rulers. Women, even those that are high-born suffer from gender inequality. They’re meant to bare and raise the children and not much else. Throughout CoS, Aya is fighting to prove not only her worth but the worth of women everywhere. I found her mission to be very reputable.

She made no sense to him. She had been born to privilege yet she risked everything to gain the right to work.

Then there’s Kaleb, the leader of a two-person wolf pack. The City is based on a caste system which Kaleb unfortunately seems to be at the bottom of. Much like Aya, Kaleb wants to better his life, an on-going mission that he works for, not one he expects to magically fall in his lap. Starved, beaten, and abandoned, Kaleb has been through all of the dark parts of life yet still remains incredibly resilient and compassionate.

He’d grown up fighting for the right to eat, the right to a not-exposed place to sleep, and more often than not, the right to not be abused for others’ amusement. It colored the way he saw the world.

Last, but definitely not least! Is Zevi. Words cannot not describe how much I love this boy. His erratic behavior had me laughing-out-loud on multiple occasions. He was like a super-energetic puppy zipping around the room. There’s definitely more than meets the eye when it comes to Zevi. Throughout the book you learn that he’s incredibly protective and loyal, as well intelligent and astute. As of right now he’s not one of the major players but I feel like he will play an important role in the books to come.

CoS has a lot of things going for it. Originality. Marr’s take on demons and witches is unique and exciting. Great villain. OH YES. At this point you don’t even really know who the true villain or villains are because everyone seems to have a motive or agenda which is claimed for the “greater good”.

Then there’s the not-so-great part. With multiple POVs you’re bound to have characters who get out-shined… like Mallory. Mallory’s story just wasn’t as compelling in comparison to, well, anyone else. Unlike the readers and other players, Mallory doesn’t know how she fits in to the overall scheme of things which means that she doesn’t offer anything to the politics or story as a whole. Sure, by the end she becomes a game changer but 300 pages is a long time to wait for her relevance to kick in.

This book was pretty good! I would recommend adding it to your reading list.
This book was pretty good! I would recommend adding it to your reading list.