Category: Dystopian Fiction

Carve the Mark: Review

Carve the Mark: Review

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.

Wolf By Wolf: Review

Wolf By Wolf: Review

By the author of The Walled City, Ryan Graudin, Wolf By Wolf is one of the biggest “what if”s of the 20th Century: what if the Allies lost World War II? What if the Axis, mainly Germany and Japan, won the war and Hitler managed to pretty much take over the entire world? It’s a massive idea, and Wolf By Wolf is somehow capable with dealing with it on a manageable scale, resulting in an interesting story that follows individuals set in this frightening wider world.

Our main protagonist is Yael, a sixteen year old Jewish girl who also happens to have been experimented on as a child, resulting in her ability to “skin shift” – she can transform into any female, with any physical appearance, that she wants to. This has also led to her lacking a personal identity, which is looked at throughout the book and definitely struck a chord with me. It’s an interesting notion that works in well with our modern world, its interconnectivity and the idea of people becoming ‘international’ – or, more personally, how people can have a ‘third culture’ and lack identity for a certain place, instead choosing their identities based on other aspects of their lives.

The year is 1956 and Yael’s mission, as you might expect, is to kill Hitler. The way to get close to him is for Yael to win a cross-world (from Germany to Japan) motorbike race which is usually reserved for teenage boys – I won’t go into much other detail, as I try to make these reviews spoiler free, but all I will say is that Wolf By Wolf is worth the read to find out how Yael gets on with her mission. The book is fast-paced, with thought-provoking insights to a world I’m glad we didn’t have as a future. The only problem I had with Wolf By Wolf is that it is quite an easy read; the concept was good, but the language didn’t challenge or create an superbly vivid descriptions. As a fast reader who was only reading in drips and drabs at work, it only took me three days. If I had been able to sit and read it through, I think it would have taken me a day, a day and a half at most.

A mix of both a young adult novel and historical fiction, I found in Wolf By Wolf the action was quite light, which contrasted with the historical events and their seriousness (such as the labour and concentration camps). Sometimes, the fear I felt I should be feeling for the characters and their predicaments was not as intense as I thought it should be, considering the brutality of the Nazi regime and the genocide that took place. Even in Yael’s life, it’s historical brutality, and the action that takes place in her present did not make me particularly anxious for her safety.

Saying this, I read it quickly because I couldn’t put it down. I wanted to know – needed to know what would happen, and had to keep reading whenever I got the chance. Wolf By Wolf may have been occasionally too light, but there was enough action and oh-so-many cliff hangers that my interest was constantly peaked, and there was never a dull moment.

True, classic young adult fiction with a zesty twist of “what if” history, Wolf By Wolf is a good, strong, juicy start to what I know now is a duology looking into this thought-provoking alternate timeline. Blood By Blood is the follow up, which I will be getting from my local Waterstone’s as soon as I can. Verdict: 7/10

The Girl With All The Gifts: Review

The Girl With All The Gifts: Review

(note: this is for the book, not the recent film adaptation)

Another dystopian future, I hear you cry? I guess there must be a trend… The Girl With All The Gifts, by M. R. Carey, gives us a believable look into a zombie apocalyptic future. It takes place two decades after a variation of the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (it’s real, I looked it up. Check “Cordyceps: attack of the killer fungi” on Youtube. David Attenborough even calls it “something out of science fiction”) has caused the apocalypse – but this plot reads as the most sophisticated, understandable zombie-story I’ve ever come across, within a topic that I would usually shrug off as fantasy.

The zombies in TGWALG are known as ‘hungries’; humans whose nervous systems have been taken over by the parasitic fungus, whose sole purpose is to hunt down non-infected humans and bite them – both to eat them as protein, and to pass the pathogen on through spit and blood, transferring the fungus. Interestingly enough, this is not the first time Ophiocordyceps has been used as a potential zombie-creator. A friend pointed out to me that this is the same fungus used by the console game The Last of Us, developed by Naughty Dog. Interesting coincidence, although in The Last of Us the fungus is also airborne, whereas in Carey’s novel, this hasn’t happened.

TGWATG follows a third-person omnipresent narrative, focusing on four main characters. The most prominent and interesting of these four is Melanie, a 10-year-old child genius… who also happens to be a hungry. She has grown up in a lab with other hungry children who all still have a self-consciousness (unlike the usual hungries, which have reverted to an less-than animal-like state). Enter: Parks, an army sergeant charged with looking after the lab’s security; Dr. Caldwell, the scientist trying to understand the miraculous hungry children and use them to find a cure; and Helen Justineau, the woman who teaches the hungry children, and who Melanie sees as a surrogate mother. Input: chaos, and watch their lives get drastically altered. Nothing will ever be the same again.

I find the ‘hungries’ a genuinely horrifying idea; unlike your traditional zombie, they’re fast, mobile, and once they get your scent, cannot be distracted from the hunt. Originally, I decided to read the book so that when I went to see the film, I would have some idea of the scare-rate, and I’m certainly glad I did, because I would not have been expecting their aggression (saying that, my local cinema didn’t even show the film, so I still have yet to see it). One of my favourite things about Carey’s writing, though, is the depth of every character and the post-apocalyptic world that was created. Half of the characters we get to know were born after the “Breakdown”, and it is interesting – refreshing, even – to see the way they view their new world, as someone who is part of the ‘old’ one.

Set in England, there are a lot of mentions to London, its outlying towns, and pre-apocalyptic memorabilia which I found were easy ways to be drawn into the world of the story. That, and Melanie’s thought processes are incredible; detailed, well structured, and easy to empathise with. I had to keep reminding myself she was 10. Sometimes, I did find myself thinking there were too many similes chucked in that drew attention away from the ongoing plot, but otherwise there was good, thorough description and thoughtful, researched science when the chapters focused on Dr. Caldwell and her research.

A thoroughly refreshing – if horrifying – look on a potential zombie apocalypse, The Girl With All The Gifts is dark, well-paced and an ultimately touching story. It is both deeply, totally human, whilst heavy with science that portrays a scary, animalistic future. Also, it has an absolutely killer ending that I never, ever saw coming. Verdict: 8/10.