Series: Untamed City #1
Published by Harper Collins on September 4, 2012
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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.
Note from Wendy, May 2015:
I received notice from a complainant in a lawsuit against Harper Collins that this title was changed from Carnival of Souls to Carnival of Secrets (Untamed City #1). Tonya reviewed this three years ago, so I was surprised that anyone noticed or cared about something so trivial in the scheme of things, particularly when that is not a unique title nor phrase. But you can read about how all this began in all its ugly glory on Bookalicious, where Pam describes the stronger language used with reviewers in cease and desist letters back in 2012.
Whatever you think of the lawsuit, the fact remains that the title of the book has changed, so I’ve edited the post title to reflect that and have also added this note solely so any readers looking for our review of that book know they’re not reading a review of a different book–no more, no less. The rest of Tonya’s text remains the same as it was originally written.
On the surface, Carnival of Souls appears to be the perfect book for me. Reading the summary, it was as though Melissa Marr had extracted all the best elements from books I’ve loved and combined them into one story that hit all my buttons: fantasy, supernatural elements, intrigue, and a fair bit of forbidden love.
Unfortunately, I found the combination of those factors worked better in theory than on the page.
Several different stories are told simultaneously–that of Mallory, the girl living in the human world with her adoptive witch-father, training every day to fight the daimons whom she’s told are after her, though she has no idea why. Kaleb, who is a lower-class daimon–a dog-like shapeshifter–living in the The City, the heart of the daimon world, and fighting in the life or death competition hosted by the Carnival of Souls for a chance to join the ruling class. Aya, a daimon of the elite class fighting in the competition in order to escape marriage and the subsequent breeding, which would reveal a terrible secret that would get her killed.
I apologize if that was hard to follow; even in summary it seems to be too much information for one story.
In addition to the three main characters, there are two secondary, several other tertiary, and even a couple quaternary (I had to look that up, haha) characters whose backstories are described in detail, for reasons not yet known.
I’ve read Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely previously, and loved it as much for Aislinn’s authentic and engaging voice as for the plot. I expected as much from Carnival of Souls, but unfortunately it felt more like character soup. Told in third person POV, there was no real differentiation between any of the characters’ voices that I could discern, and the end result was that I was unable to form much, if any, connection to the characters.
Consequently, Kaleb and Mallory’s romance was flat and awkward, leaning heavily on fate-driven insta-love, and lacking any natural progression through their very limited interactions. That on its own would have been annoying at worst, but coupled with a decision Kaleb makes toward the end of the book, let’s just say I’m not rooting for this couple in any way.
I am, however, interested in how Aya’s and Belias’ relationship plays out, which I found the most interesting of all the stories being told, which will probably be enough to keep me interested in the sequel.
In addition to the wealth of characters, the world building felt a bit overbearing. Told mostly in long paragraphs between dialogue, it read as info-dump rather than an organic reveal within the context of the story.
All in all, Carnival of Souls did not live up to my expectations, though I suppose in an ironic kind of way it did live up to its title–it is a carousel of characters and circumstances, one that left me feeling a little dizzy, and very ready to get off.
This review also appears on GoodReads.