Originally reviewed here
.Why I Read It:
I've had a declining relationship with Melissa Marr's work. Back in 2008, I read and LOVED Wicked Lovely
; I enjoyed, though not to the same extent, Ink Exchange
and Fragile Eternity
; I was very ambivalent about Radiant Shadows
and I've yet to be compelled to read Darkest Mercy
. I really didn't enjoy her adult offering Graveminder
, which I read last year. I told myself that I was done with her work. But then I saw the lovely cover for Carnival of Souls
and found an ARC of it at work that no one else wanted. So I took it home and decided to read it this month, as it's going to be released on September 4th. I don't really want to give away spoilers, as the book isn't even out yet, so this review will be spoiler-free.
The first few chapters of this book had me kind of excited. Within those first dozen pages, we get someone's POV and then that someone is KILLED. Brutally!! I thought "Aw yeah, this book means business." But then... it just kind of went downhill.
I'm not trying to make any accusations here, but I wonder how much Melissa Marr had been influenced by what's popular in YA right now when writing this. It bears a few resemblances to two books that have been massively popular in that demographic right now, primarily The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins and Daughter of Smoke and Bone
. We have a people who enter a competition (though in this case, willingly) in which to have to fight to the death and be the last standing in order to win the prize. We also have a fantasy world, in which two "races", the witches and the daimons, were at war and still have incredible prejudice for one another; there's also a secondary world alongside earth where a lot of these beings live. However, those are the only similarities to the two works, so maybe I'm just looking into it too much. But I couldn't help but think: "This is like the lovechild of Hunger Games
and Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Marr doesn't pull off either aspect as well as Collins or Taylor though. There isn't nearly the same amount of tension in regards to the tournament because upper-caste people can pull out at any time, so I never felt like Aya, one of the POV characters, was in any kind of danger. Kaleb doesn't have that luxury, so his fate was much more uncertain, but I ended up not caring about him a whole lot anyway. As for the fantasy world that Marr has created, it's not nearly as well thought-out, nor does it have that spark of originality that Taylor imbued in her world. I also felt like there were a lot of holes in it.
But this is where I'll stop comparing Marr to other authors; this is her work and should be evaluated on its own merits.
One of the things that really bugged me about this novel though was how it failed to adequately explore some of the heavier themes it presents, most notably the idea that women in the world of the Carnival are born to be Breeders and if they fail to do that they aren't real women. While I think this problem is maybe a bit outdated in the Western World, it may be a gateway for younger readers to read a dialogue challenging gender roles, etc. But despite having Aya be a character who is trying to avoid the fate of being a Breeder (to the point where she'll "kill" and then enslave the man she apparently loves), her story never actually challenges being a Breeder or gender roles at all. She's avoiding getting married and having children for entirely different reasons, and that's fine and dandy. But then the text never actually challenges gender roles AT ALL, which is what it looked like it was initially set out to do with Aya's character. This was disappointing, to say the least.
Then there's Kaleb and Mallory's story. Mallory was the least interesting character in the whole story. She's a timid girl who's spelled by her adoptive father to obey him no matter what (but he does it because he loves her obvs), and she can shoot guns. And she likes Kaleb. That's the extent of her characterization. The relationship between her and Kaleb TRIES to be more than insta-love and like every other paranormal romance, but it isn't. Her and Kaleb have a CONNECTION which they cannot help, and while Mallory constantly tells Kaleb that NO, he doesn't love her because they don't even know each other, she doesn't really seem to really mean it. And then Kaleb does something really shitty at the end of the book, and again reinforces the subtext that women are allowed to be subjected to the whims of men and this is okay. Seriously, he does something REALLY UNCOOL and the subtext never points out how shitty this act is. It was infuriating.
I debated several times to just put this book down and leave it, but there was also something compulsively readable about it, even when it was not very good and really pissing me off. It's written in a very accessible style characteristic of YA and there's enough going on that it's never BORING; it just isn't particularly GOOD.
Oh, and if you're looking for a satisfying, not-cliffhanger ending, you won't find it here. Saying it's a cliff-hanger is giving it too much credit; it just ends. This is an ARC though, so that may change by the time it's published. I sure hope so.Final Verdict:
*sigh* Melissa Marr, I want to like your books. I REALLY DO. I keep trying them and hoping I'll like them and just end up disappointed. This book had such a cool cover, and I know that rarely equates into a good book, but the beginning of this one was so promising. I thought I was going to get a cool gritty contemporary fantasy. Instead, I got a book that presents gender roles and then doesn't bother to challenge them at all, insipid and boring characters, and a paranormal romance that tries really hard to not be run-of-the-mill but ultimately is. Unless you're a hardcore Marr fan, I suggest passing this one over. As for me? I highly doubt I'll continue with this series. There was just too much that rubbed me the wrong way.