Carnival of Secrets, Melissa Marr

I’ve enjoyed Marr’s previous series, Wicked Lovely, and enjoyed her writing style as well as her fantasy concepts. This first book in the new Untamed City series follows three main characters; Mallory, Aya and Kaleb. In this book, there are two parallel worlds, our human world where the witches live and The City, a brutal world with only one inhabitable city. This alternate world is dominated by uncontrollable wilds that confine the population to a city ruled by a cruel and sadistic tyrant. There are two dominant races; witches and daimons. Aya and Kaleb are daimons that live in The City while Mallory lives in the human world and has been raised to hate daimons.

A truce following a bloody war between the two races resulted in the witches being confined to earth while the daimons have The City. That doesn’t prevent the two races from interacting with each other. Daimons are hired as assassins, sent to the human world to fulfil their contract while witches are enslaved in The City and are treated worse than livestock. Adopted by a powerful witch, it’s clear why Mallory has trained all her life to defend herself from these daimon attacks.

In The City the population is divided into castes, from the royal, breeding caste right down to the curs – street rats who have to fight every day to survive. To advance from one level to another, daimons must compete in a contest, each match a fight to the death. Aya and Kaleb are both finalists in the contest, working their whole lives for this chance. Aya wants to rule in government while Kaleb simply wants the chance at a better life.

The daimons are more like werewolves than anything else. They can transform into a canine at will or when threatened, with large talons and can pause their transformation at any point resulting in a canine-humanoid. I find this version of the werewolf-like creature intriguing. They’re always animalistic, growling at the slightest thing, which helps reinforce the violence of their society. Yet it’s hard to tell what level of animalistic aggression comes naturally or is created from their culture.

I loved Aya’s story more than the others. She was intriguing, especially with her deep need to avoid breeding. It’s clear that there’s a deeper motivation to her that isn’t revealed until later, yet the build-up was well worth the wait. I couldn’t read fast enough!

Instinct will declare another daimon ‘pack’ no matter who they are or what rank they hold. Their bond is like the closest family members, tending to each other and even selling their bodies just to earn enough to feed their packmate. This added a softer side to daimon culture, giving ‘family’ to even the lowest level cur. Kaleb has one packmate, Zevi, an untameable cur raised in the dangerous wilds. Poor Zevi is completely wild like a feral dog and has serious problems adjusting to the ways of The City. It’s beautiful to read about how these two strong yet aggressive men can care for each other with such tenderness and understanding. With the possibility of anyone being pack, I kept hoping Aya would be declared a part of Kaleb’s, creating a bond between the two fighters that both could sorely use in such a bloody competition.

The love interest between Mallory and Kaleb is a key focus for both, even in such dangerous situations. Instantly drawn to one another, the pair struggles to fight their attraction while they continue to grow closer. To make matters worse Mallory is constantly suspicious of any stranger, fearing they’re a daimon sent to assassinate her and her father, while Kaleb knows everything about Mallory. Their love is reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed lovers on either side of two warring races. As the danger increases they find comfort in each other despite the risk their love poses.

Mallory was raised by a powerful witch, Adam, though she has no magic of her own. Her entire childhood Adam raised her to defend herself from daimons who were apparently hunting them for something Adam stole. The looming threat has affected every aspect of Mallory’s life; she’s never had any friends, they regularly move from place to place and train to fight every day. It’s interesting to see the witches’ society compared to their counterparts. Though they live in the human world, they are decidedly separate and are governed by a woman similar to daimon tyrant. The witches claim they are more civilized than daimons yet they are just as ruthless and strict. And their commander, Evelyn, is colder and crueller than any daimon.

I enjoyed this book and am keen to read the next instalment in the series. I give it 4/5.


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