Festive subtitle notwithstanding, traversing the complicated, shallowly rendered world of this exposition-heavy fantasy is a dreary slog, like reading a gaming manual cover to cover.
Years after the Witch Wars exiled witches to the human world, daimons remain in possession of The City. (Daimon attributes include retractable talons, fangs and, under stress, berserker temperament.) Encroaching on the overcrowded, brutal City is a beast-ridden wilderness, a parting gift of the witches, power-hungry, magically gifted humanoids. For City residents outside the ruling caste, career options are limited: assassin, thief, con artist, prostitute or, once a generation, combatant in deadly gladiatorial games. For entertainment, there’s the eponymous Carnival and the Night Market (see career options). As heirs of daimon rulers rarely survive childhood, Mallory, daughter of City ruler Marchosias, has been hidden in the human world, raised by her adoptive witch dad. Kaleb, the daimon sent to kill her, is smitten instead. Drably generic Mallory is ignorant of her heritage, but it’s revealed early to readers, leaching the story of suspense. Characters frequently pause the action to muse on what they and readers already know. Vaguely orgiastic, sadomasochistic sex and violence stand in for genuine emotion. Only the violence, delineated in bloody detail, is graphic.
Marr fans will be happy to learn this is a series opener. (Paranormal romance. 13 & up)