Book Title: Carve the Mark Author: Veronica Roth Number of pages: 468
In a planet where violence and vengeance rule, in a galaxy where some are favored by fate, everyone develops a currentgift, a unique power meant to shape the future. While most benefit from their currentgifts, Akos and Cyra do not—their gifts make them vulnerable to others’ control. Can they reclaim their gifts, their fates, and their lives, and reset the balance of power in this world?
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:
– Two narrators alternating between first (Cyra) and third (Akos) POV
– World building is fragmented; lacks cohesiveness and not enough substance to support the vast world(s) this book is set in
– Conveniently written characters and plot devices
– Google articles per racism and ableism for Carve the Mark; also the triggering meaning behind the book title is related to self-harm
– Currentgifts (abilities) are unoriginal if you’re familiar with X-Men etc.
– Villains, what villains?
Here is my attempt at a conscientious review fully aware of the criticism this book has garnered.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of Carve the Mark from Chapters Indigo.
Is Carve the Mark just “Divergent” but set in space? Yes and no.
Without a doubt, Roth employs similar standards of storytelling (see: “bucket list items”) as to what ought to be included. But if it is said that Divergent is like The Hunger Games, it can be recognized that Carve the Mark would unsurprisingly take inspiration from its predecessor(s). To be quite honest, there are scenes that read verbatim to both THG and Divergent. From timing of aircraft scenes to the symbolic use of a knife, the originality in this story is a flub and ultimately doesn’t challenge the themes this story itself introduces.
Even Allegiant was more a more fulfilling read, and that’s a stretch given 85% of that book was a dumpster fire of terrible world building (plus, I will never forgive that ridiculous moment with Uriah). Anyways.
The world building needs an overhaul.
Sure the imagery was often vividly written but as it stands, the setting is fragmented and there are viewpoint framing issues. There are threads connecting elements together but oddly paced changes in scenes with a lack thereof for fleshing out world-specific terminology etc. creates a setting so thin and underdeveloped that it loses its footing when following the heroes.
It’s not about info-dumps.
It’s about having elements not be disjointed from each other and aren’t present for the sake of plot progression.
See: Carve introduces various schools of thought, but to what purpose? It also attempts to weave into the narrative “currentgifts” (special abilities) but lacks historical and magical context to differentiate itself from generic soft sciences and empathy. This also applies to the language aspects of the differing cultures and how some characters know how to speak both (but this is left unexamined, of course). There are various scenes of Akos displaying his gift with medicinal herbs — and teaching it to Cyra — with suddenly Cyra being competent enough to play with it herself while it [likely] took Akos years.
Just a few (of many) examples.
For analyses sake I am choosing to omit the discussion as to the culture and colonization that bolsters this world. I just do not think I would add much to the existing conversation. There are various threads and resources by a quick Google search for you to learn of Carve the Mark’s racism and ableism.
Much of my criticism as to the writing is already mentioned (see: Settings).
But there is always more.
I appreciate the shift from first (Cyra) to third (Akos) POV between the leads. I don’t remember how Allegiant was written (it’s been a while) but a common complaint I heard was that they sounded the same. That wasn’t the case for me personally but at least this eases the strain on confusion in Carve the Mark.
Another standout issue plaguing this narrative is how reactive characters are to the conflict they live in. Akos, understandably, lives a life as a prisoner in foreign territory. Sure, fine, okay. But Cyra is basically royalty with how this story is focused around her culture and society (Shotet) and she does not do much of anything for the longest time.
Lastly, there’s this one scene that’s incredibly underwritten and a character should have died from blood loss but the miracles of fiction and cut-to-black moments negated that from happening. Literally the worst.
A Spoiler-ish Thought on the Delivery and Origins of “Carve the Mark” (Read at your own peril):
So I haven’t seen much mention about the origins of Carve the Mark, and maybe I’m reaching here, but I felt compelled to flag this as an issue. To give context [from what I understood], “carving the mark” is an act whereby Shotet-ians brand themselves with a line/mark on their skin to signify a kill. It is seen as desirable in their culture and with it comes power and pride. A badge, if you will.
For Cyra, however, she inflicts cuts on herself as a reminder of the pain, death, and hurt she has caused either by choice or by proxy of others. She marks herself to cope; giving relief to the internalization of emotions due to the life she had led and for the pain her family has caused. And while I cannot speak directly to the representation of self-harm, such an act is expressed in-tandem with two “outs” — a) a magical medicinal cure-all which seals the wound; and b) Akos, the romantic interest, is present in the scene when the cut is made.
In either scenario, the act itself is dismissed; just part of everyday Shotet life. But to not acknowledge how triggering this is (and can be) and pass off cuts — that bleed, I remind you — with either of the above solution is not in the best interest of Carve’s intended readership.
I am not saying readers are impressionable but I just don’t see how you can use self-harm as a plot tool and not do anything about it but put a band-aid on it with romance and technology.
As leads, Cyra and Akos are both well-intended heroes; each with their agendas. Yet they have this meandering self-righteousness that on-paper sounds great but once they follow through on their plans, they pool into a puddle of tears; which, to be honest, is vaguely reminiscent to Tris/Four and their internal battles. It might make you ponder “…but didn’t you think about the repercussions first?” It’s this lack of self awareness that might be fit for the audience but at the same time, I cannot discount how extreme some decisions were that resulted in their own mental anguish.
In terms of the whimsy of SF-F, there nothing spectacular stands out per Cyra’s or Akos’ currentgift “powers”. If anything, Akos has a carbon copy ripoff of Leech from X-Men and Cyra is basically the lovechild of The Darkling (Grisha) and Rogue (X-Men). Then, every other character with currentgifts were written conveniently for plot’s sake. Seriously, there was a character with abilities akin to using the CTRL+F search function on your computer.
The supporting character/nobodies in this book fall in the same issue as omnipresent in Roth’s Divergent series — they are gratuitously written in favour of plot progression that there is no backbone in many of them even if they appear on face value to be stoic and/or hardened. People die; not a spoiler.
The worst culprit of all are the villains. They are everything short of compelling. I don’t even have words to describe it. Plus, terrible monologues to waste pages (and my time)? No thanks.
If this is truly the intended duology as it sets out to be, and assuming book two is green-lit for the go-ahead, oh boy are there so many things Veronica Roth’s Carve the Mark series has to amend and build upon because this first installment was a mess.
I was, in truth, going to remove one full star because I had to read “Uncorrected Advance Proof” watermarked on every page of my ARC. But that would have brought the rating to zero and zeros are DNF for me, so it lucked out.