Carnival of Souls, Book 1
Author: Melissa Marr
Narrator: James Marsters
Duration: 8 hrs, 5 mins
Publisher: Harper Audio
Source: Harper Audio for review
Description from Goodreads:
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.
I've been a Melissa Marr fan since Wicked Lovely, though I admit that I've gotten way behind, having missed reading several of her more recent books. This one, though, I simply knew that I had to listen to, because James Martsters, so I made time. Melissa Marr's newest differs quite a bit from her Wicked Lovely series, but shares the dark romance and gritty world building that I enjoyed so much in those books.
Mallory has been raised knowing that daimons and witches exist, that her father, Adam, is a witch. Because of something he stole from the daimon ruler, she and Adam move constantly, and she's never had the chance to get close to anyone but him. What the reader knows and Mallory does not is that what Adam Stole is Mallory, the daughter of the daimon ruler, Marchosias. She is a daimon, but has been trained how to kill them, tutored on the use of firearms.
Witches and daimons do not get along. They fought wars over The City, and the daimons won, thanks to the leadership of Marchosias. The witches live hidden in the human world; the daimons live in the demon world, comprised of The City and the Untamed Lands. The City is dark, violent, sordid, and built around a rigid social hierarchy. In an effort to provide the slightest chance of social mobility to his citizens, Marchosias hosts a competition, wherein daimons can sign up to battle, the winner obtaining high rank and a position in the government. It's rather like The Hunger Games, only made up of a series of individual battles during a long span of time, and the battles do have the option of ending in forfeiture, though forfeiting, for those in the lower castes, ends in fates worse than death.
The story opens with Mallory, in the throes of her first real crush upon a boy named Kaleb. Reality strikes a blow when her dad announces that they have to move yet again. However, she runs into Kaleb unexpectedly before the move and they bond. What she does't know is that Kaleb is a Cur, the lowest of the daimons, and that he is fighting in the competition in pursuit of higher social status for himself and his pack mate. Even more, Kaleb has been contracted to murder Mallory, and he has been befriending her to that end. Their romance, while initially disgustingly saccharine recovers itself in Mallory's sane reactions to knowledge when she obtains it. Though I do feel bad for Kaleb's status and the life he's had to live, I still cannot like him because of how he behaves. Mallory, again, I sympathize with, but feel no real bond to because she's not had enough life experience or self-awareness to really have a personality yet.
I have to say that I was really confused at first when the story switched away from Mallory to other characters. The transition was awkward and, on audio, you always wonder if you've missed something, accidentally skipped a chapter somehow. Furthermore, all of the Melissa Marr novels I've read followed one particular character and I expected this to do the same. Anyway, Aya and Belias, the other two main character, ended up being my favorites and I'm so glad she included them, even if it did make the story a bit harder to follow.
Aya, a high caste woman, signed up to fight in the competition, the only woman ever to do so. That she did this is scandalous, both because women are for breeding and because, as a high caste woman, she already has high status. Her reasons are twofold: 1) she does not want to breed ever 2) she wants to be part of the government to improve life in the daimon world. Her situation is further complicated by her ex, Belias, who would have been her marriage partner and whom she does love (marriage without breeding is not an option for daimons), who enters the competition in a misguided attempt to save her and win her back. The tensions between these two delighted me. Aya, of course, I love because she doesn't want children and refuses to fall into gender roles. Holla!
Though the characterization could use work, I still highly enjoyed Carnival of Souls' plot and world building. I have hopes that the characters improve in the next book in the series.
I probably wouldn't have gotten around to reading this novel for a while had James Marsters not done the narration. Who doesn't want Spike to read to them for hours? Of course, I was expecting the British accent he used on Buffy, but he doesn't talk like that here. This turns out not to be a hardship, though, because James Marsters voice is marvelous to listen to in any incarnation, and I do mean any, since the Curs talk in annoying southern accents.
Marsters has serious talent for audio narration, and I sincerely hope he continues to narrate this series and other audiobooks. He really is, Spike fangirling aside, one of the best narrators I've had the good fortune to listen to thus far. He even does a good job with the voices of the girls, even though many professional audiobook narrators struggle with the voices of the opposite gender. His narration for Carnival of Souls was all that I hoped and more.
Audio or Print?:
Did you not read all of that about how James Marsters is the freaking best? LISTEN TO THIS BOOK.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5