Warning: If you have not read “Untamed City” by Melissa Marr (also known as Carnival of Souls), do not read this review if you do not want spoilers.
I’m back with another book review, and this time it’s “Untamed City” by Melissa Marr! Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:
“Warriors Kaleb and Aya will stop at nothing to destroy their competition.
But when Kaleb, a prizefighter from the otherworldly Untamed City, finds his fate entwined with that of Mallory, a seventeen-year-old human girl, he can’t seem to separate the vicious Carnival contest he’s entered from his sudden—and obsessive—devotion to her.
All Mallory knows of the Untamed City is what her elders have told her—that it’s full of debauchery and daimons looking to destroy her. But she knows she’s being pulled toward Kaleb with an emotion so fierce that it’s utterly foreign.
The two are forced apart by Mallory’s overprotective witch father, but when the City’s ruler raises the stakes of the Carnival’s prize, there’s nothing Mallory, Kaleb, or Aya can do to stop the two worlds from colliding. Mallory’s about to discover her true identity—and stumble into a fate she’d die to avoid.
From the bestselling author of Wicked Lovely, Melissa Marr, comes a tale of lush secrets, dark love, and the struggle to forge one’s own destiny—told for the first time alongside the revealing prequel Carnival of Lies.”
To clarify what version of this I got because there are two versions—one is called “Carnival of Souls” and does not contain the prequel “Carnival of Lies,” while the other is called “Untamed City” and also includes the prequel—I read the version of the book that was republished as “Untamed City” and also included the prequel story “Carnival of Lies.”
When I first opened up the book and started reading, the witches and daimons sounded interesting as well as how they affected the livelihoods of other people. Unfortunately, this was never fully built upon. There wasn’t even a description of what the daimon even looked like, which was really unfortunate. I just ended up imagining them as clawed humanoid beings the whole time as a result while reading about them in the book. The worldbuilding had some decent concepts overall, but they were never fully executed or fleshed out (something that I’ve complained about in past book reviews, especially in “The Quantum Thief!”).
The most horrific part of the worldbuilding, however, is the blatant sexism and abuse and how it was essentially glorified and romanticized. I thought “Glasshouse” by Charles Stross was really creepy in terms of how women were often abused in the virtual world simulator and yet there were very tame/almost non-existent punishments for such crimes, but this book now takes the cake on the most terrifyingly romanticized worldbuilding ever, especially in the way it clearly affects the characters. Women are often referred to as “breeders,” for being known as nothing more than someone to bear children, and women are seen as the ‘property’ of the husbands they’re arranged to marry. Because of the whole worldbuilding situation, I was rooting heavily for Aya to just go and win the whole Carnival and change things around. Unfortunately, Aya never quite got to do that due to other plot complications, and that leads me to wonder if she will ever reach her goals.
Also, are we supposed to like Kaleb, who went ahead and “married” Mallory without her consent or even without telling her, and promised to have her “breeding” by the time she is 18? That is far from romantic for her to change from “Adam’s daughter” to being “Kaleb’s wife!” Kaleb actually addresses Mallory as his wife aloud and in his mind, and I found this as well as the rest of the worldbuilding incredibly disturbing.
Another horrible part regarding Mallory’s character and how she is treated is is that no one tells her about her true nature, that she’s a Daimon! They only managed to hide such an intrinsic part of her so easily because Adam deliberately keeps her under his spells 24/7 (hence why she’s hugely obedient to him), never giving her the chance to truly think for herself. Mallory is never her own person in the book, but an object to breed but never to be liked for the person she is. Just because she happens to be armed with weapons does not automatically make her a strong character. Aya being present as foil does not do anything to offset the way Mallory is treated, either.
When it came to characters in the end, I liked Aya the best. Unfortunately, she doesn’t get much development (nor does any of the other characters) and she was pushed aside for all of the ‘romance’ between Kaleb and Mallory occurring in the book, which is a shame. Also, the prequel story “Carnival of Lies” unfortunately did nothing to give Aya or Belias any character development. All it really gave us was maybe a little more plot information as of how Aya got into fighting at the Carnival in the first place.
Overall, I’m rating this book 1 out of 5 stars for the romanticized abusive worldbuilding and lack of character development, as well as the romanticized abuse of Mallory.