I had heard a lot about Melissa Marr’s bestselling Wicked Lovely series, so I was delighted when I received an advance readers copy (ARC) of her newest stand-alone novel, Carnival of Souls – and it did not disappoint! Welcome to two diametrically opposed worlds, one containing daimons and one containing humans and witches. Both contain deep secrets. Fantasy, dark romance, battles to the death, and above all two young women’s struggles to not just survive but to thrive despite the rules in two class-rigid societies. One knows all too well who she is while the other has no clue. Sound interesting? Well read on, and enter our giveaway. You might just win an ARC of Carnival of Souls in our giveaway for the Fall into Fantasy Giveaway Hop!
Selah was desperate to save her baby daughter, Mallory, so desperate she made a bargain – not with the devil but with the enemy, a male witch named Adam. Their worlds weren’t always separate but now daimons hate witches and witches hate daimons. Adam would hide and protect Mallory from Marchosias, her father, until Mallory came of age and could protect herself. Marchosias, ruler of the daimons, had a bad habit of not allowing his children to live very long, and his daughters had an even shorter life span than his sons.
In return, Adam will have complete control over Mallory and Selah will stay or leave as he commands. As a daimon and Watcher, it goes against everything Selah has been taught but she knows it is the only way to save her daughter. To add even more protection, she provides Mallory with a small stone pendant to help hide her.
“Selah’s arms tightened around her daughter. ‘Bound by this circle and my vow, I so swear.’
He nodded. ‘Your bargain is accepted.’
At his word of acceptance, the tension that had grown during pregnancy and intensified in the first few weeks of her daughter’s life abated. Marchosias would have killed her when her daughter was born if he had known she was seeking the aid of a witch, but the risk had been worth it. Now, at least she could stay in Mallory’s life – for as long as the witch allowed it.”
The entire time Mallory is growing up, Adam has used spells to hide her nature from her. She believes he is her father and the reason they continuously move is because he stole something from the daimons, and is on the run from them. He has taught her to battle daimons to protect her in case they try to get to him through her. She grows up hating daimons with a passion, and only wishes she were a witch like her father instead of a talentless human.
Adam quickly grew to love Mallory as if she were actually his daughter. What he also has reluctantly had to do is block her memories repeatedly because every time she encounters and battles daimons sent to find her, the blocks keeping her from learning what she is have weakened. Since he contracted to keep her safe until she became eighteen-years-old, he can’t risk those blocks dissipating before then. The closer she gets to that birthday, the harder it’s become to keep her blocked. He’s also begun to fear his sister and the witches council may try to use her as a political pawn, something he is determined to prevent.
“The man in front of her flashed his teeth in the sort of smile that made her think of angry dogs. ‘I don’t want to hurt you. You’re more use as a pretty, living bargaining chip, so just come along peaceful-like. We’ll take you to The City, and you’ll be treated like you deserve.’
‘The City?’ she echoed.
His words clicked into place for her, and the extent of the danger became clearer. Daimons? Here? Mallory stepped to the side, trying to evade him. Her hand was already reaching for her gun as she moved.”
What will Mallory do when she finds out her whole life has been a lie, even if it was done to protect her? What will she do when she discovers she’s the very thing she’s grown to hate?
Meanwhile in the City, Aya has to find a way to keep from being married off when she turns eighteen. Even though she’s grown up in a privileged higher caste, as a female she has no control over her fate. She’s willing to do anything to keep from having to undergo this fate because she has a secret she can’t let anyone know about.
“’I’m not meant for being a wife, Bel.’ Sorrow flashed in her eyes, but was gone just as quickly as it had appeared. ‘For what it’s worth, I’m sorry for hurting you.’
‘If you don’t marry me, you’ll be given to someone else eventually. You can’t avoid your duty.’ He looked up as the gate slammed shut with a thud. ‘Be with me, Aya. You know I love you.’
‘And you know I won’t breed.’”
The only way she knows to keep from being married to another higher-caste daimon is to battle in the Carnival of Souls. If she can beat all of her fierce competitors then she can take a seat on the Council and rule without having to become some daimon’s chattel/wife and breeding machine. She decides she’s willing to risk almost certain death to prevent that happening.
Luckily Aya is as smart and cunning as she is a talented and hardened fighter. She’s ruthless in the arena. Although no one took her very seriously in the beginning, as she progresses through the ranks she begins to not just become noticed but to become a favorite. Surely a woman can’t actually win the competition, can she? Not when someone from the lowly but ferocious cur caste is also a favored competitor. Can she beat someone who’s been trained to be ruthless from birth and whose very survival depends on winning?
As she progresses up through the competition she finally has to face Belias, the daimon her family had arranged for her to marry – the man she spurned openly. The problem is that she actually likes Belias and doesn’t wish him any harm. She knows the only reason he’s even in the competition is to force her to rethink her decision. If she would agree to marry anyone, it would be him. Can she bear to kill him? Does she have any choice if she wants her secret to stay hidden?
“’We are nearing the end of the contest,’ Marchosias began. ‘I am honored by the ferocity of my people.’ The crowd cheered. ‘This competition has been a beautiful, bloody addition to the Carnival of Souls.’ The din of cheering rose higher…’Upon meditation, I have decided to add an incentive to the final rounds.’ Marchosias’ gaze fastened on Aya.
He was a good ruler, a daimon worthy of her loyalty, but she felt a creeping sense of dread as he watched her approach.”
Two worlds, two young women with secrets – and soon their secrets will bring them together. Then what will happen to each of them and to each of their worlds?
I liked Mallory instantly but it took a little longer for me to like Aya. Aya has such a brittle shell that she uses to protect herself that I had to get beneath it to see the real person – a person who’s slowly revealed as the novel progresses. Poor Belias and Adam, both are victims of circumstance and both love someone whose secrets keep them at a distance – Adam as a foster father and Belias as a smitten suitor. The daimon world and the witch world are both ruled by ruthless dictators who have way too much in common, and I saw no real redeeming qualities in either Marchosias or Adam’s sister. Kaleb, the cur fighter, and his pack member, Zevi, both also figure heavily into this novel but I’ve left out their roles to prevent spoilers.
Melissa Marr has expertly crafted two completely believable worlds in Carnival of Souls. As the storyline wove back and forth across the two, I had no problem making the transition because they were so distinct from each other. It also helped that she wove into the storyline (without a lot of exposition) the history that caused the rift between the two paranormal groups.
I know I’ve read an excellent novel when I get to the end and go, “Noooo, I don’t want it to end!” Melissa Marr fans should be very pleased with this new addition. I had never read her other novels, but I’m going to pick up the others now. How could I not, after enjoying this one so much?!
Can’t wait to read it?
Carnival of Souls was published on September 4, 2012, so it should be available from your favorite online bookseller below. As a pricing example, Amazon lists the hardcover for only $10.58 and the e-book for only $7.41.
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One lucky reader will win an ARC of Carnival of Souls by Melissa Marr!
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