20 February 2013

Book Review: Carnival of Souls by Melissa Marr

Title: Carnival of Souls
Author(s): Melissa Marr
Genre(s): Fantasy, Paranormal, Young Adult
Publisher/Date: HarperCollins / September 4, 2012
Series: Carnival of Souls (Book #1)

'The difference isn't in how cruel women can be." Aya spoke louder now so that the line of people could hear her again. "If by action you tried to 'remind me' of what place some think a woman deserves, I would break you, but I won't kill you for ignorant words. I can be a lady and still rule. One does not negate the other.'
Case Study
The Carnival of Souls isn't a place for the faint of heart. Here murder and pleasure reign supreme. Centered in The City where daimons rule, it pays to be either a fierce fighter or one of the ruling class. However, the stakes are upped when a deadly competition open to all daimons affords the winner an opportunity to join the elite few. Kaleb is a contract killer who fights for status in the competition and he will stop at nothing to make his way to the top. Aya is one of the ruling class and she fights for a very different reason --- to protect a deadly secret, one that's keeping her alive. As the competition winds down, the stakes grow higher for Aya and Kaleb because only one of them will come out a victor.

In the human world, Mallory and her adoptive father, Adam, are on the run. Adam's a powerful witch who is hiding something. Trained to fight and kill daimons, Mallory's on a mission to find what it is her father stole and why its so important while still protecting the sanctity of the only family she's ever known. It isn't long though until she's lured in by the temptations of the lethal Carnival of Souls.

The Game's Afoot
I was really excited to finally pick up Melissa Marr's, Carnival of Souls---the concept was intriguing and it sounded racier than the typical YA fanfare which is something I can totally get down with. I wish I could say I was blown away by it, but sadly, not so much. Though I thought the book was entertaining, it didn't quite live up to my expectations. I won't go as far as to say it was bad, because it wasn't, but I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I thought I would. It read like an info dump of background information making it seem more like a prequel than the first book in a series. Granted, the extensive world building was necessary and pretty spectacular! Seriously, this is where Marr's strength lies. She has an eye for exquisite details and setting the mood. But for a book so short, it was too much and not enough all at the same time. Does that make any sense?

Carnival of Souls tells several stories simultaneously, alternating between the human/witch world and the daimon world. Several of the characters traverse both of these worlds and their stories become interwoven as the book progresses. But because we're shown a myriad of POV's it's hard to form a discernible connection to many of the characters. I felt no warm fuzzies for Mallory what-so-ever and the insta-love factor was more than ramped up between her and Kaleb, which I totally don't buy. She's more concerned about seeing a boy she barely knows than for her own safety. C'mon, girl! Get some self worth for crying out loud! Mallory's just another one of those needy characters who's reactive instead of proactive. Honestly, I was more intrigued by the daimon realm and its wide variety of personas more than the human/witch one. The characters in the human/witch realm were static much like the events that happen there. I craved the seediness, complexity and mystery that came with the Carnival.

Of all the story lines, my favourite was that of Aya and Belias. Their relationship was believable and theirs was the most complex of the bunch--- they are both strong, dynamic and interesting and their story alone is likely to bring me back for the sequel. Had Marr written more about Aya, Belias and the tournament, it would have made for a much more engaging book, I think. In fact, I'll take an entire book solely based in The City. Give me more of that, please! Another issue I had was with the pacing. It started with a slow trickle of information but as we get closer to the end, everything happens in a short time span and it just feels rushed and somewhat unfinished. I don't know about you, but that ending was a total cop out. Granted, I know there's a sequel and all but it felt like the book was published before Marr got to finish her final thought.

I will say this, one of the things I enjoyed most was that Marr uses the daimon world to touch on class and gender issues and it doesn't come off as heavy handed. I liked that Aya was a character who stepped out of the traditional gender roles and fought for what she believed in despite the negativity it might bring to her. Now I know her situation sort of forced her hand but she was passionate and ruthless when it came to preserving her independence. The girl's got sass and ass-kicking abilities! It's just a shame the entire book didn't share this kind of strength and perseverance. The stronger daimon half of the book was negated by its weaker, human half rendering it mediocre for me. Overall, Carnival of Souls had the potential to really be something great. Unfortunately, that just wasn't the case. However, I am holding out hope that things pick up in Book #2!

Summary Prognosis
Carnival of Souls, on the surface, has all the elements of a stellar book--- a provocative locale, paranormal elements, deadly competitions and intrigue. It's unfortunate that, for me, the book didn't quite live up to its potential. While I think the concept is fantastic, its execution leaves little to be desired. It lacked the polish that really takes a story from good to great. Had the storyline been a little more fleshed out, Carnival of Souls might have been a win, but I'll still stick around for the sequel if only to find out what happens to Aya and Belias!

Rating: ★★★

You can preview the first 6 chapters here.
Read It: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Audible
Discuss It: Goodreads | Author's Website 


  1. I have seen Carnival of Souls around. Interesting that you thought it was too much, yet not enough. Books that start off slowly, then seem rushed towards the end bother me too. Aya sounds like a good character, I hope the second book is better!

    1. Yeah, there was definitely an interesting dichotomy going on in this book, for sure. I really like the parts that took place in the daimon world more so than the ones that occurred in the human one. Had the book been more about that, I think I would've enjoyed it a bit more. I'll still probably read the sequel though!

  2. YA for great world building, but boooooo to reactive instead of proactive people. That is so well said, and you have put your finger on what makes me mad about "strong" characters sometimes. It is ok to ask questions before you start fighting, people.

    I still MIGHT read this, but I think you review convinced me it doesn't need to be at the top of my list.

    1. Like I said, the fantastical side of the story was amazing as were the characters present there. It was just the human side of things that fell a bit flat for me. I'd still recommend checking it out, just maybe after you read some of the other stuff that's higher on your TBR list.

  3. Hmm. I've heard such mixed things about this one that I haven't been compelled to invest in the story, and from your review it looks like that was a good decision. Although I do like multiple story lines, it seems like there is so much going on that it was tough to connect to the characters as much as you'd like, and that is something that is important to me. I will keep a watch on this series though, incase it ends up getting better in the next book. Sometimes that does happen. Several of my favorite series started off slowly and became amazing later on.

    1. This is so true, Lauren. And it's not like I hated it or anything, there were just a few parts that felt a bit stale. I did, however, LOVE the daimon side of things and that alone makes the book worth reading. I will probably give book #2 a go just to find out what happens to my favourite characters and hopefully, as you mentioned, it'll get better from there. I do recommend reading it, I'd just save it for a rainy day when you have nothing better to do.

  4. See, I liked Carnival Of Souls because of the gender and class issues. I also really liked the lush worldbuilding and such. But I do agree that this one was a bit too short and I would have liked for the book to have more meat to it. I loved Aya as well - she was so kick ass and awesome and I also really liked Belias as well. Granted, I liked the book on the whole but, if I didn't, I would still check it out just to see what happens to those two.

    1. I'm definitely intrigued enough to want to continue on with the series, if only for Aya and Belias. Marr was spot on where a great concept and fantastical world-building was concerned, I guess it was just my dislike of about 50% of the characters that kept me from really loving it.


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