Carnival of Secrets (formerly Carnival of Souls): review

November 28, 2012 2 star books, 2012, carnival of souls, melissa marr, wicked lovely 59 ★★

Carnival of Secrets (formerly Carnival of Souls): reviewCarnival of Souls by Melissa Marr
Series: Untamed City #1
Published by Harper Collins on September 4, 2012
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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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.

~ Wendy
vine-divider-finalTonya’s Original Review, 2012:

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.

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59 Responses to “Carnival of Secrets (formerly Carnival of Souls): review”

  1. Michelle

    I’m really glad I read this post BEFORE I used my Christmas B&N gift card to buy it. :) Instead I got Kendare Blake’s Girl of Nightmares.

  2. Michelle

    I’m glad I read this review BEFORE I used my B&N gift card. I was having trouble deciding between this and Kendare Blake’s Girl of Nightmares. :)

  3. Anne Consolacion

    Thanks for the honest review. I haven’t read any of her books yet but I’m going to pass this one. there are just too many books and I want to read the best from every author.

  4. Liviania

    I quite liked this one, but I’m not surprised that it’s an your-milage-may-vary title. To me, the other elements made up for Kaleb and Mallory.

  5. Jaime Lester

    I loved the Wicked Lovely series. In my opinion it is still one of the most unique YA series out there, and the characters are still some of my favorites. So like you, I have been excited about CoS for a long time. And unfortunately I have heard from other reviewers that it is a little bit of a letdown. I will definitely still read it, though!

  6. Sarah (saz101)

    Oh, Tonya, I’m so sorry you didn’t love this. I, too, loved Melissa’s Wicked Lovely series, so I’ve been really excited to finally read it but… mmm… yours is the latest of many lukewarm reviews I have read, but definitely one of the BEST.

    I LOVED how you put this: “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.”

    • tonya

      Thank you so much! Although, being the best of mediocre reviews is not such a great honor, haha. I’d much rather write the best glowing review. ;)

      I’ve only read the first in the Wicked Lovely series (mmmm… Seth), but enjoyed it quite a bit more than I did this.

      I hope you do give CoS a chance when you can, I always hate to hear I’ve turned someone off something they were looking forward to. You never know, I could have just been in the wrong mood for the story!

  7. Vivien

    I really enjoyed the Wicked Lovely series, so this is disappointing to hear. I struggled a bit with Graveminder. Hopefully I enjoy this more than that one. Maybe it’s the switch to adult?

    • tonya

      Hmm, I haven’t read Graveminder (and must ocnfess I’ve only read the first book in the Wicked Lovely series) but I would say the voice(s) in Carnival of Souls is definitely more adult than WL. I think because it’s a fantasy?

  8. Lili

    I’ve heard many mixed things about CARNIVAL OF SOULS, and though I convinced my library to buy a copy, I never picked it up. It seems like it’ll be a huge disappointment compared to my other expectations from Marr’s other works. Thanks for sharing your opinions, I think you’ve solidified my decision not to bother with this one any time soon.

    • tonya

      I’m glad to hear you’ve convinced your library to shelve a copy! Even though it wasn’t my cup of tea, I like the idea that it’s available to someone else who might love it.

  9. GillyB

    Haven’t read this one yet. Your review doesn’t exactly light me on fire; a lot of the issues you had are pet peeves of mine. Might check it out, since I have an ARC. Great review!

    Writer of Wrongs

    • tonya

      Thank you! I always hate to hear I’ve turned someone off a book, but since we share some pet peeves, but I think you’d have a similar reaction to this one.

      But, hopefully your experience is better than mine when you read. :)

  10. Joyous Reads

    Overpopulated book is never my cup of tea. I hate having to keep track with everyone. I might have to wait to read my copy.

    Thanks for the insight!

    • tonya

      I have a very hard time with more than two POVs. Sometimes even two can be too much. I need time to immerse myself in the characters head and learn their voice before switching to someone else.

      I hope you like Carnival of Souls better than I did when you read your copy. :)

  11. Melliane

    I confess I haven’t tried this one yet… I was a little disappointed by another Melissa Marr book, so it’s not the book I was waiting for. thanks for your review.

    • tonya

      You’re welcome! I was very much looking forward to this, so my level of disappointment was probably increased.

  12. Annabelle Marie Veronica

    I’ve never read any of Melissa Marr’s books, and I keep putting them off since I’ve been hearing very mixed things. I actually felt very similar about a book lately–I cared far more about a secondary romance than the instalove main one. I might read this eventually but it’s definitely no longer a priority. Love your review! xx

    • tonya

      Thank you! I do recommend her Wicked Lovely series, if you’re into fairies. (But please note I’ve only read the first in the series, haha.) She is much better at world building than Carnival of Souls would lead a reader to believe.

  13. Christina (Christinareadsya)

    I liked this book, but I do agree with most of your points :). The world-building was overwhelming, I stopped and started many times and asked myself what was going on with the plot at the moment. I do agree re: Aya and Belias, though I’m not sure I agree on the part about the book having too much in it. The character lives are certainly complex, but the plot was a bit lacking.

    • tonya

      I think I had a hard time with the intersection of the different plot lines occurring so late in the story, when I was already feeling uninspired by the characters due to the frequent POV jumps.

      I’m glad you liked it better than I did! Hopefully book 2 has lots of Aya and Belias. ;)

  14. Terri Bynum

    I always appreciate the reviews on your site, but I’m with Rachel, I really loved this book. I do agree that it was challenging to follow as far as the world building-it was for me especially with learning about witches & daimons. It seemed as if it was almost expected that the reader have some background on these types of otherworldly beings. Given the fact that it was my first book about them, that’s the one flaw for me.

    That said, I’m always grateful for your take on these books. :)

    • tonya

      I’m glad you had a better experience than I did with this! Sometimes it’s just a matter of wrong book at the wrong time, but these characters really didn’t resonate with me. I’ll give the next in the series a chance, and hopefully it will redeem my interest. :)

  15. Lori

    Thanks for the review! One of my biggest pet peeves is books that have multiple POVs but no real unique voices. I want to be able to tell who’s story it is by feel, not by having to look it up. I’ll still read this one, eventually, but it’s definitely moved down on my list since it’s pre-release standing. I’m sorry you were disappointed!

    • tonya

      I’m always a little wary of books with more than one POV, and doubly so when it’s written in third person. There seems to be too much jumping around, so that I can never really grasp the heart of the characters and become invested in their stories.

      I hope when you read you enjoy more than I did. :)

    • tonya

      There really was just too much happening for me to really feel invested in anything. I think that was its downfall.

  16. Keertana

    Aww, it’s a shame you didn’t enjoy this one! I actually only read the first novel in the Wicked Lovely Series and while I enjoyed it, I wasn’t blown away, so perhaps I’ll just skip this one. Thanks for the honest – and beautifully written – review, Tonya! :D

    • tonya

      Thank you! I only read the first in the Wicked Lovely series as well. I think a lot of my love from it stemmed from Seth. Unf. ;)

  17. Wendy Darling

    I have to confess, I had mixed feelings about the Wicked Lovely series so I was unsure whether this would be something I’d enjoy! Seeing your disappointed reaction has confirmed that this probably wouldn’t work for me, either.

    I hope her next book is a better reading experience for you. :)

    • tonya

      Actually, I only ever read the first Wicked Lovely book, in the very early days of my YA discovery, and I think a lot of my love for it was for Seth and the somewhat racier scenes between he and A, haha.

  18. Sandra

    I had a pretty similar experience with this book. There was no chemistry between Kaleb and Mallory and Kaleb’s decision at the end of the book was appalling to me. There wasn’t much swoon-worthy about this book.

    • tonya

      Agree! There was no build with their chemistry. We’re just told from the beginning that they’re in love. So much tell instead of show. And that decision–UGH. I hope she totally hates him for it.

  19. LisaFicTalk

    Very well said, Tonya. You have such a way with words. *sigh*

    I’ve honestly not seen many “glowing reviews” for this one. It’s mainly been in between the 2-3 star range.

    Thanks for the honest review.

  20. LisaFicTalk

    Very well said, Tonya.

    You have such a way with words!

    To be honest I haven’t seen many glwoing reviews for this one. It seemed to always fall in the middle between “just okay” & “I liked it”.

    Thanks for the honest review.

    • tonya

      Aww, thank you! I know some people really liked it, but for me it was too much in some aspects, and not enough in others.

    • tonya

      I know some people have really enjoyed it, and the premise did sound interesting to me, but just didn’t pan out.

  21. Christina

    Too bad this wasn’t for you, and I totally agree with you on pretty much every point. There was a lot to follow, and I think the world building might have been stronger in this case were there a bit more detail and not quite so much just thrown at the reader.

    Kaleb and Mallory were super icky. Aya and Belias are entertaining though. I definitely want to know what happens to them, too.

    However, I actually really liked this one because I listened to it on audio, and James Marsters did a MARVELOUS job, so, if he does number two as well and you like audio AND you decide to go through with it, I would recommend going for the audio over print.

    • tonya

      Ooooh. You had me at James Marsters. I can’t really do audiobooks unless I’ve already read the book; I have a really hard time absorbing the story that way. But I’ll have to give it a shot if I decide to continue with the series, I love him!

    • tonya

      I hope you enjoy it much more than I did! I know several people who ended up really liking it. :)

  22. Rachel

    I actually loved this story. I thought it was a dark and compelling start to the series. Sorry you didn’t feel the same.

    • tonya

      I’m glad you had a better experience than I did! I really did like Aya and Belias though; I hope they have a bigger part of the next book.

    • tonya

      I hope you like it when you get a chance to read! I know a few people who really enjoyed it, so hopefully your experience will be better than mine. :)

  23. Sam

    I’m sorry this didn’t work for you, Tonya! This turned out to be more my sort of thing than Marr’s Wicked Lovely series, but I do completely agree with you about the romance between Kaleb and Mallory. That part left me wondering if it was supposed to be quite so contrived.

    Anyway, lovely review!

    • tonya

      I’ve only read the first in the Wicked Lovely series–simply because I lost interest once I realized the rest of the series didn’t feature Seth prominently. ;)

      Part of me hopes Kaleb and Mallory’s relationship is supposed to be as off-putting as it was; maybe Melissa Marr has bigger plans for them.

  24. Leanna (Daisy Chain Book Reviews)

    I’ve never read Marr, and while I like the sound of this book, I’m not sure if it’s quite up my street. It seems like there’s a whole lot going on and it doesn’t sound like the characters or the romantic aspect of the book would work for me.

    Might put this one on the backburner for now!

    • tonya

      In a weird way, it’s entire premise is based on romance, without the story itself feeling romantic in the least.

      I hope, if you end up picking it up, that your experience is better than mine. :)