Carnival of Souls by Melissa Marr

Carnival of Souls (Sept. 4, 2012 by HarperCollins):

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. —Courtesy of Goodreads

My feelings are mixed on this one. Equal feelings of enjoyment and irritation warred for dominance through most of the experience. I made quick work of the novel because the stakes created serious tension that made me eager to reach the end (and the resolution), but I found the finale lacking. It felt like Marr stopped right in the middle of the scene. For me, the first book in a series needs to be able to standalone – but this one did not. The fast paced action and the surprising darkness of the world Marr created kept me enraptured, but irritation won out, in one key way: I know I won’t be reading the rest of the series.

The romance ended up being the nail in the coffin, and here’s why: the misogyny. Women are property and are only valued long-term for their wombs in this fantasy world, and that pissed me off the whole time I was reading. No, I am not expecting authors to play it safe just to avoid offending me, nor is my enjoyment of a book dependent on whether the book operates according to my core values. But. There is no way that I can root for romances that are so fundamentally built on the notion that women are not equal and are only tolerable pregnant and married (i.e., the property of a man). The chauvinism here is so prevalent that addressing it to a satisfactory level — one that makes me want these people to end up together — is impossible because the realization of those romances means two strong, multifaceted women will need to devolve into walking baby factories. There is no mention of women getting married and maintaining individual hobbies or careers; instead, they’re expected to abandon everything so they can be ‘bred’ (yes, that’s actually how they refer to baby making). That makes me a very sad panda, because Aya and Belias are totally awesome and entertaining as a couple, and otherwise, I’d be shipping them ’til the cows come home.

On the other hand, the main romance between Kaleb and Mallory is doomed regardless. I have never been a fan of fated love, but this case, where Kaleb and Mallory share a kiss and suddenly fall in love because they’re soul mates, I can only roll my eyes. To me, it’s a trope that dooms all parties involved, because everything else but their relationship ceases to matter and they lose any shred of personality and individualism that existed beforehand. Kaleb and Mallory are perfectly likeable separately, but together? They’re… nauseating.

Bottom line: As long as you don’t over-analyze everything like I do, this is still a thrilling read. This is the first novel I’ve read by Melissa Marr, and she weaves the plot and characters into a seamless mixture of dark, sensual, heart pounding entertainment. She paints her new fantasy world with amazing detail, even if I can’t say I like where the various twists and turns seem to be heading. 4/5 stars.

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