Carve the Mark is the first in a new young adult duology by the author of the Divergent series, Veronika Roth. In it, expect new characters, new worlds, and a full sense of creating an entirely new galaxy that is both forwards and backwards in time in comparison to our own world – it’s a nice, easy world builder which focuses more on character and plot development than building the new galaxy, but that’s what I would expect from a young adult book.
The book focuses on two main protagonists, Akos and Cyra, switching between a first person narrative for Cyra and a third person omnipresent narrative when we read Akos’ chapters. They are two unlikely foes who, through circumstance and ‘Currentgifts’ (read it, I don’t want to give that away) are thrown together and eventually come to depend on each other, forming a friendship. Again, I can’t really go into too many details regarding their relationship because I try my hardest to do spoiler free reviews, but I’ll just say: it’s a young adult novel. What do you expect happens?
This is part of the reason why I didn’t always find their relationship believable – it was sometimes too good to be true, and sometimes a bit like good luck, or a dias ex machina. I’m not sure how deep into more character development the second in the series will delve, but there were moments of good development and understanding thrown in amongst the cliches, so I’m willing to give it a chance. The one thing I strongly hope Roth stays away from is that idea of a ‘strong’ female protagonist, which I felt Cyra occasionally falling into – I want more than that.
Carve the Mark, unfortunately, has had some fall out over the fact that Cyra is seen to suffer from ‘chronic pain’, and over a potentially racist outlook – see this link for more details – but from Roth’s acknowledgements I can see she has at least tried to do some research (at least into the chronic pain element). Also see this link about ‘sensitivity readers’, which I think is a great idea and Roth maybe should have had one read over Carve the Mark before it was released, considering the amount of controversy that ended up surrounding it as a story.
Personally, I did not notice the racial stereotypes and undertones; I would never dismiss the people who did, and having read into it I can understand their frustrations and agree if PoC (or anyone, really) have problems with this book after reading the descriptions of characters. However, when reading it, I didn’t personally notice those things – maybe it was because of my privilege, and if so I apologise, but I was more interested in the characters’ personalities and the choices they made. I loved the Shotet people (Cyra’s people). I thought Akos’ people, the Thuve, were slow and boring. So it didn’t seem to me as the “white hero vs. dark enemy”… it was just young people, a band of renegades, against one tyrant – one man, Cyra’s brother – the king. Maybe I’m just naive.
I didn’t see the issues in discussing chronic pain as a ‘gift’, probably because I have never had that issue personally but again, I can see why people who do suffer from the medical condition would have been outraged by Roth’s easy dismissal of it. However, I do still believe in fiction – Carve the Mark is supposed to be a world builder, and I would have thought that we could hope to give authors the benefit the doubt when they’re creating whole worlds, that they might not have realised if they are being insensitive? Again, probably why we need sensitivity readers – but how far can we go before it’s too much? A Series of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) is a world builder full of rape, murder, incest, slavery – the list goes on. Why does this not get the same level of criticism? Just because it is an adult novel?
Overall – and to get away from the deep questions – Carve the Mark has a good pace and characters that try to be interesting, but it falls into the usual traps that young adult books seem to fall into all the time. It is not quite as believable as it should be, and the characters are mostly ‘good’ or ‘bad’, without the level of depth that I would have preferred to see to help me understand their view points. However, I still couldn’t put it down and wanted to keep reading, so I guess thats a good thing.
An easy read that focused more on a plot and character creation than the worlds around them, I will continue the series and hope that Roth has learnt from her critics. Verdict: 6/10.