Falling into the world of Carnival of Souls was an entirely unexpected experience; despite the synopsis, I had no idea Melissa Marr had created such a lushly rich and dark world like The City. While I did have a few issues with the overall story, the world building here is superbly done. I at once was reminded of Anne Bishop's Black Jewels trilogy - one of my favorite fantasy series EVER - as I read about The City, and those that inhabited it. Between the brutality of the competition in which daimons fight for their lives and for a better future, and the sensuality of the Night Carnival, I was in love with the world of Carnival of Souls within a few pages. This was my first book by Melissa Marr, but it won't be my last!
I was captivated by a few of the characters in this novel, and rather than being off-putting as it is in some novels, in Carnival of Souls, I really enjoyed the multiple points of view. That was a great way for the story to be told! I love that we got the inner thoughts of Belias, Aya, and Kaleb. I found the three of them to be amazing characters, each willing to do whatever it took to accomplish an ends to a means, each with their own flaws and loyalties. I really admired Aya's strength, Belias's protective instincts, and Kaleb's sense of family. I was far less enchanted with Mallory, one of the other main characters, though. Even though we spent as much or more time in her point of view, I never really felt like we got to know her beyond the surface. To me, she was a flat character, and yet another example in YA literature of the girl guys are falling all over, yet I can never understand WHY.
Plot-wise, I though the pacing was really well done. I was never bored, and everything that happened felt tight and relevant to the story. Marr moved everything along at a nice clip that was never overwhelming. Thanks to the luscious world-building and the revelations Carnival of Souls had to offer, I was deeply involved in the various plot angles, between the competition and both Aya and Kaleb's motivations for winning, and also the plot with Mallory and the secret of her parentage. I loved her father, Adam, and definitely would love to know more about him. There were several great antagonists like Evelyn and Marchaois who served deliciously evil roles!
I'm torn on the romance in this book. I loved the hints of the past between Aya and Belias, and NEED to see more with them, especially considering how they ended up at the end of Carnival of Souls. Kaleb and Mallory...hmm. They're an interesting pairing. At first I expected to really like them, then they took on an insta-love feel, but Melissa Marr pulled out my kryptonite... Kaleb is definitely an alpha male and the way he took to Mallory, wanted to protect her, he definitely had that "MINE" thing going on that I SO tend to fall for in literature. So I'm conflicted on them - I think it's mostly what I mentioned above, that even though Mallory is tough, there's just nothing remarkable about her for me to QUITE by that Kaleb is oh-so-into-her.
Overall, Carnival of Souls is a well-developed, darker fantasy. There is a decadent feel to this book, an unhurried, languorous seductive undertow that will pull you in if you aren't careful, and leave you wanting more. Despite a few issues I had with it, it's a GREAT read, and I look forward to seeing what else Melissa Marr writes in this world.