Carnival of Souls by Melissa Marr

20 Oct

Well, the rains have finally rolled into Vancouver, and with that my urge to go out and be social and soak up sunshine has died a miserable death. Now all I want to do is snuggle under blankets and read books to the constant pitter-patter of rainy little feet on my roof. Yesterday I indulged that desire to nest and hide away from the world and finished my first ever Melissa Marr book, A Carnival of Souls. I have to admit that I think I was partially drawn to this book because it’s about daimons, which is one letter away from being the same word as daemons, the external souls found in His Dark Materials, a.k.a. the best books ever. Silly, I know.

The man – WITCH – who’d summoned Selah was nothing like what she’d expected.

Seventeen-year-old Mallory has been trained in self-defense and combat from an early age. Her father, a powerful witch named Adam, wants her to be prepared for the day when she finally comes up against a daimon, fierce otherworldly creatures that she has been taught to fear and hate for her entire life. However, Adam hasn’t been entirely truthful with Mallory: she is a daimon herself, the stolen daughter of Marchiosas, ruler of The City. The City, a labyrinthine lair of decadence and violence in the caste-stratified daimon world, is also home to the Carnival of Souls. Each generation the Carnival of Souls hosts a series of death matches in which any daimon can enter for the chance to improve his or her lot in life. Ruling-caste Aya wants to rule the city and escape her role as a glorified breeder. The assassin cur Kaleb wants to transcend his violent, degrading hand-to-mouth way of living. The fates of these three young daimons become more and more entwined as it becomes evident that they are each instrumental in each other’s deliverance.

This book has a hella promising premise. The hedonistic Carnival made me think of Mardi Gras on fairy dust. For all the sexy smoke and mirrors, though, Marr’s world just doesn’t deliver. That shimmering facade of a well-executed and imagined daimon world was just that – a facade. I never understood more about it than I did from the opening chapters. For one, I never truly understood what a daimon was. They seemed to be almost werewolf like shapeshifters who change when threatened or fighting, but, I don’t know? I never grasped the full difference between the castes, either. I get that ruling-caste people are on top, scabs on the bottom, and curs in the middle, but why did curs have packs and nobody else? If Kaleb was a cur with a soul-deep need to build a pack, how was he a scab to begin with? Are ALL daimons curs, just spread through the different castes? Is there anything else beyond the city other than the vaguely described “Untamed Lands”? So many questions! None of them answered!

Characters were stock-ish and overall uninspired. Feisty female lead with secrets: Aya. Dark, brooding male who wants to escape his sordid past: Kaleb. Sweet, “innocent” girl who’s been manipulated and lied to her whole life: Mallory. They had no dimension beyond their immediate personality traits and histories. I get that Mallory was being magicked into submission by her uber-manipulative foster father, but I found her insipid and annoying, perhaps because her whole story STARTED with her being inexplicably drawn to Kaleb, who’s been crossing over from the daimon world to stalk her as part of some sinister daimon contract. Because I’m a sucker for a Strong Female Lead (TM), I found Aya’s story the most compelling, with poor queer and slavishly devoted Zevi in a close second.

As the characters’ stories became more entangled I found myself getting more and more confused. There were all these social contracts being honored and set up and broken within the daimon world and the cursory explanations as to how they worked left me kind of baffled and increasingly disinterested. I admit that I may have read this book during an eight-day-long stretch of working without a day off and so may not have been at my reading comprehension best, but whatever. The plot never really seemed to go anywhere; I struggled to think of a central conflict when writing the blurb, which is kind of a problem. This is a plot-driven book, and for the plot of this story to have no real driving force is a serious death knell as far as I’m concerned. I mean, yeah, Kaleb gets all fretty because of the stupid forbidden romance plot line between him and Miranda, but that’s really about it. There are lots of things going wrong, but there is no central driving conflict to hold it all together.

Now, I’m not saying this book is bad. It’s not. I think there are going to be plenty of people who eat this sexy alternate world right up, I just wasn’t one of them, and I will not be reading the next title in the sequence.

For music, I chose Rasputina’s “Hunter’s Kiss.” For me, the moody, cello-driven music has a feeling of lavishness that fits the story well, and it connects well to the tortured and doomed…whatever it is between Kaleb and Mals.

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