Audio Review: Carnival of Secrets by Melissa Marr


September 24, 2012 by Heidi

carnival of secretsTitle: Carnival of Secrets [Goodreads]
Author: Melissa Marr [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: First book in a series (though they just finally noted this on Goodreads).
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Published: September 4th, 2012 by HarperCollins
Format: Audiobook; 8 hrs, 5 min. Narrated by James Marsters.
Source: Purchased.

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.

It was almost exactly a year ago that I picked up a Melissa Marr book for the first time, and experienced her amazingly creative, intricate, and beautiful worldbuilding through her adult book, Graveminder.  Since that time, I’ve devoured the entire Wicked Lovely series and her short story collection, Faery Tales and Nightmaresthat released earlier this year.  And I really liked (or dare I say, even loved) all of them.  So of course I was over the moon excited about Carnival of Secrets.  I waiting in line for well over an hour for the opportunity to meet her and pick this up at BEA, but once I heard that the indelible James Marsters would be narrating the audio, I decided to save myself and pick it up for a listen on release day.

After my initial disappointment when I forgot that James Marsters is actually American (alas, poor Spike, I loved him well), I knew beyond a doubt that I had made the right decision to listen to this book.  Because I most often listen to audiobooks while I work out, I love them to be high action–it keeps me going–and while Carnival of Secrets could have had more action in my opinion, it still had enough between Mallory’s perilous existence and the deadly competition in The City to satisfy.  While I’m still not sure how I feel about Kaleb’s southern accent (which lingers somewhere between hot-Georgian and dim-sounding-Virginian), I felt that Marsters voiced the characters of Carnival of Souls excellently, and I certainly recommend this format.

Witches have magic.  Daimons have physicality.  Humans have guns.

Melissa Marr’s world building was, as always, stunning.  We are wedged almost uncomfortably between our world, where Mallory has been raised as a human and that of The City where the daimons rule.  The City is run on a caste system with the ruling class on top and the curs at the bottom.  However, once a generation, the ruler of The City hosts a competition allowing the winner to join the ruling caste and providing the opportunity for one individual to change the fate they were born to.  Witches, creatures of great power, were expelled from The City a generation ago when daimons grew tired of their rule.  Forced to live in the human world, witches may only be in The City under daimon employ, but still have the power to control and bind daimons in the human world.

While this world was well constructed, it was not (and was not meant to be) comfortable.  Those of us in the Western world have a hard time wrapping our minds around a caste system, let alone the deep bred misogyny this story imparts.  In Marr’s world of the daimons, women are meant only for breeding–an act which is spoken of in the cold terms one uses for livestock.  It is a woman’s only purpose, regardless of the caste they are born to.  Even the ‘good’ guys in this book adhere to this mindset.  They may be in love, but they still think their women need to breed.  Additionally, daimons are easily considered one another’s property if bonds of blood or money are exchanged.

The fact that everyone in Carnival of Secrets seemed so accepting of the world as it was was fairly grating for me, but at the same time I appreciate it.  I’ve gotten very tired of the dystopian rebellion stories, and it makes sense that these characters would work within a set of parameters given to them.  They don’t lay down and passively accept their lots in life, particularly not Aya or Kaleb, but they do recognize the need to play the game.  There also seemed to be an overarching theme of not telling people things.  Seriously, it felt as if the bulk of conflict in this plot could have been ironed out with a good dose of trust and honesty.  Instead we’re left watching with a bit of horror as our characters blunder into one bad situation after another because of ignorance.  The rampant distrust reflects the world and story we are in, and it becomes increasingly clear that those who would prefer to rely on no one must rely on each other to succeed.

That said, the characters were the point where Carnival of Secrets  unraveled a bit for me, and became a disappointment.  Throughout the book we see at least 6 narrators.  Six!  As a reader who digs her heels in to resist two, I had a very hard time swallowing this.  These narrators did support two major storylines (which do, of course, intertwine), and there were truly three main narrators–Aya, Mallory, and Kaleb.  Because of this variety, the story felt disjointed for me.  I didn’t care for the characters because I didn’t feel as if I truly got to know any of them.  Sure, I’m interested, but I’m not invested.  I want to be mad when someone gets killed off or happy when those crazy kids get their happily ever after–here I had a hard time raising my concern to much beyond ‘meh’.

In fact, Aya may be the only character in Carnival of Secrets I well and truly enjoy.  Born to the ruling class, Aya breaks her engagement to the man she loves in order to fight in the competition and earn the right to rule.  She refuses to accept breeding as her station, and believes in her heart of hearts that she can make The City a better place if she helps to rule it.  She emphatically is against breeding, but is determined to find a way to achieve the goals she wants without compromising her body.  I felt for her, and for her former fiance, Belias, who I wish we’d gotten to see more of as I feel he may be the one male character I actually like in this series, despite his flaws.

The main story revolves around Mallory who has been raised in the human world with an adoptive father who is a witch, hiding from the daimons who would kill her or take her to The City.  I appreciate that Mallory brings the human teenager mentality to Carnival of Secrets, willing to question what other characters see only as normal, and not accepting everything as she would if she were witch or daimon.  She does get a bit insta-lovey with Kaleb, which may be conveniently explained by daimon nature, but still caused an eye roll or ten.  I can respect Mallory and her plight, her ignorance isn’t her fault, but that didn’t make it any more compelling to me.

As stated, it’s not that I actively dislike the characters in Carnival of Secrets, it’s just that there were too many points of view for me to really rally behind any of them.  I felt that the nuances and depth of character that existed in Wicked Lovely faltered here, but I have hopes that I will become more greatly attached in the future.  Perhaps my high expectations bit me on this one, but I just didn’t feel that Carnival of Secrets was Marr’s strongest work.  I’m certainly happy I read it, but was aching to fall in love.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  A begrudging yes, of course I will.  I was pretty put out when I realized that this was not a stand alone (I swear at no point in the marketing process was this mentioned as the start to a new series), and it wasn’t my favorite of Marr’s (in fact, of the 8 books I’ve read it was my least favorite), but my love for her remains and I will return.

Recommended for:  Those who stress world and story over character, those who like fantasy with a gritty/paranormal edge, anyone who likes a good cage match.

Get a second opinion:
Novel Sounds – “Although I have qualms about this book and feel like it needed more of a resolution, if you like paranormal fantasy, you may like Carnival of Secrets.”
Books Take You Places – “Melissa Marr again delivered a world that I cannot stop thinking about; I loved the darkness and the blurred lines between good and evil.”
Gone With the Words – “Carnival of Secrets swept me away, into a realm that was terrifying and beautiful at the same time. Its intricacies left me in awe and in wanting for it to continue beyond the last page.”
Vegan YA Nerds – “Carnival of Secrets is an intriguing blend of fantasy and paranormal with a cast of interesting characters that is sure to please readers of both genres.”
Good Books and Good Wine – “If you are into richly drawn worlds, epic fighting, and kissing — hello ARC page 106, then you need to pick up a copy of Carnival Of Secrets by Melissa Marr today then discuss it with me when you finish it, hours later.”
The Flyleaf Review – “while much of Carnival of Secrets felt flat and impersonal to me, I can’t deny that Marr is setting the stage for a very interesting series.”

I’ve also reviewed:
Wicked Lovely (Series Review)
Faery Tales and Nightmares (Wicked Lovely stories)
Faery Tales and Nightmares (Non-Wicked Lovely stories)


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While the source for each book I review is posted within its review, please assume unless otherwise stated that books reviewed on Bunbury in the Stacks were received free from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.