A lot of the young adult novels I count as my not-so-guilty pleasures flirt with dark and dangerous things without plunging all the way into gothic territory — amid all that vampire/werewolf/ghost/fairy drama there are still the token high school scenes or light-hearted moments between friends. Not so with Melissa Marr’s books (like Wicked Lovely), and certainly not so with her latest, Carnival of Souls, which hit shelves last week. It creates a deliciously dark fantastical other world, called the City, where daimons rule, fight, murder and prostitute themselves to survive. Parallel to that world, the human domain is not much lighter, at least not for Mallory, a girl raised by her adoptive witch father Adam, who has kept her living on the run her whole life, fearing daimons who are after him for stealing from their leader, Marchosias. What Mallory doesn’t know is that she is what Adam stole. She’s really Marchosias’ daughter, which means she’s also the very species she’s been training her whole life to fight.
As if her life weren’t complicated enough, just when she becomes friends (or something more) with a boy named Kaleb, her father decides it’s time for them to move again. That might not be such a bad thing, as Kaleb is actually a daimon hired to find and kill Mallory. That’s just one of many things lowborn “curr” Kaleb has done to earn a living for himself and his packmate Zevi, none of which he is proud of. That’s why he’s also participating in the City’s annual gladiator-style tournament that will elevate the winner to ruling class status.
The story also follows another two participants in the tournament, high-born girl Aya and the man who loves her, Belias. Unfortunately, we meet these two just as they’re matched up to battle each other, and only one of them is destined to survive. That fight is depicted in the book’s official trailer above.
So, yeah, there’s a whole lot of grit, magic, class warfare, gender politics, star-crossed love and violence in this story. You might want to come up for air once in a while when reading it, but you’ll also want to plunge back in to see whether any of these surprisingly noble character will earn a reprieve from their drama-filled lives.
Of course, I have to add my 2 cents of fantasy casting here. Based more on their skill set than looks, I’d love to cast Pretty Little Liars’ Shay Mitchell, Awkward.’s Beau Mirchoff and The Hunger Games’ Isabelle Fuhrman. Mitchell’s got the athletic build and vulnerability to be Mallory. As Mattie McKibbin, Mirchoff has been great at making ladies swoon, throwing punches and revealing a tender side. And as Clove in the Games, Fuhrman showed off an almost feral fierceness that could get someone like Aya through a very different kind of death battle. There’s no movie deal in the works that we know of, but I believe it’s just a matter of time.
[Photos: HarperCollins, Getty Images]