Book Review: Carve the Mark

Warning: This review contains spoilers for the book. If you have not read this book or are currently reading it, please turn back. If you do not care about spoilers or have read the book, please proceed.

Honestly, I’ve never read the Divergent series, so I’m not too familiar with Veronica Roth’s works. From what I’ve heard about the series from the people around me, it’s either okay or bad.

I went to Costco with my mom back in January and saw this book. Because I was curious about Roth’s writing, I decided to buy it and started my journey with this book. It took six months because…I wasn’t interested in it at all once I kept reading it. It was just “meh”.

Please excuse my messy desk.

The story is about a world (I forgot the name) where every person has an ability, known as currentgift. A currentgift, according to the book’s glossary, is developed during puberty and can be malevolent.

Cyra, the female protagonist (and probably the most well-written character in this book), has the currentgift that causes pain towards others by touching them; however, she gets pain in return in the form of marks, hence the title being called Carve the Mark. Because of her ability, she is always in chronic pain.

Akos, the male protagonist, is unaware of the currentgift he has at first, but is later revealed to have a nullification ability (or “interrupting the current in others”, according to the book, but that is basically nullification in fictional ability terminology) that is useful when dealing with Cyra because his power cancels hers out.

The book provides a detailed map of what the world is like, but the book only delves into three of them. The main story mainly takes place on the Shotet planet of Othyr while Thuvhe is mainly set at the beginning and towards the end. Roth doesn’t seem to be great with her world building if one planet out of many is the only main setting. Then again, the central portion of the story is important because it’s on that planet.¬†The sequel (the book is a duology, meaning the series only has two books, with this being the first of two) will most likely delve into the rest of the planets (hopefully).

Honestly, this map does not help the story at all.

The story mainly takes place in Cyra’s home planet (I think it was Othyr) where it is ruled by the Noavek family, which she is a member of. The world is like a cruel communism with the Noavek family being the supreme rulers. The world dictates execution by making people brawl to sudden death in an amphitheater.

The book was interesting at first, but it kept dragging to focus on the two protagonists’ budding romance (which felt unnecessary because I liked their reluctant-at-first friendship which then developed into a strong bond; it could’ve been written as just a strong friendship between two enemies and I would’ve probably liked that more) and their dilemmas regarding their goals.

Basically, the story is about Cyra, a girl who brings pain to others and to herself, being used as a tool for her tyrannical brother who wants to cruelly rule their planet. She struggles about her power because of the guilt she carries after killing her mother accidentally. She knows her family is cruel, but is powerless to do anything because of their brutality. She finds hope in Akos, a kidnapped boy from another planet, and realizes that she can be free from her brother.

Akos is a boy from the world of Thuvhe, a winter planet. He lived peacefully with his father, a farmer, his mother, an oracle, his sister Cisi and brother Eijeh. One day, Shotet people invaded his home. They killed his father and kidnapped both him and his brother. Akos is stuck in a foreign planet serving the family who caused his family’s downfall. Although reluctant to be friends with Cyra at first, he grows attached to her. He struggles to find a way to save his brother who is brainwashed by Cyra’s brother. He’s the moral character because he doesn’t want to kill people due to trauma, but eventually does kill two people by the end of the book.

I do like both the protagonists, Cyra and Akos, but the supporting cast is not a memorable bunch. I forgot who most of the other characters were half of the time. Supporting casts are there to help the protagonists shine and progress in the story; I love stories with good supporting casts, and some of my favorite novel characters happen to be supporting cast members. However, how am I supposed to feel attached to them, if I forgot who they were? The only other characters I remember besides the protagonists are Ryzek, Eijeh, Cisi, Ori, Isae and Suzao. When characters other than the ones I mention show up, I’m always like “who was he/she again?”

Also, Roth’s writing style urks me. I know it’s just her own style, but I don’t understand why it’s necessary to put in fragmented sentences in chapters that are dedicated to Akos’ perspective (written in third-person). For Cyra’s chapters, I understand the fragmented sentences because she’s the narrator. I really don’t like fragmented sentences in third person, but that’s just my opinion.

I do like how detailed the setting is, but somehow, it doesn’t leave an impression on me. I really like to imagine the setting while reading, but for this book, I can’t really imagine the setting, no matter how hard I try.¬†Speaking of details, I usually can imagine characters as well. Cyra and Akos, I can imagine what they look like but everyone else is a bit hard.

There are a lot of spacing errors in the book. Some sentences have the period and the first letter of the next sentence stuck together (An example not found in the book: “…Cyra.Then…”). Perhaps it’s because I like writing, so little errors like unspaced sentences bother me endlessly.

There has been a lot of controversy regarding this book. It’s about racism, and since it’s a sensitive topic, I won’t gloss over this too much. In short terms, Roth wrote Shotet people as dark-skinned, warlike and savage, which is also what Cyra is mainly described as by some characters in the book (or assumed to be what she’s like because she’s actually quite different from the usual Shotets shown in the book). Akos is white. Although it is mentioned that the Shotet lives near the equator–hence their dark skin tone–and Thuvhesits live in the northern frozen land–which is why they’re pale–I can see why some people can find this book problematic. Although Cyra is different from most Shotet, she’s still written as more brutal (because she’s more lenient to kill to survive) than the gentle-hearted Akos. Then again, her brother Ryzek is fair-skinned and perceived to be the cruelest of them all, so not all Shotets are PoC. Though, the Shotet nation is very confusing (because at the end of the book, Ryzek tells Cyra that they’re not related by blood).

I’m a POC (I’m Asian-American, meaning I’m ethnically Asian but born and raised in America), so I can see why some people don’t like this book. Not all dark-skinned people are savage (or any other derogatory terms). If I read a book describing Asian people as their stereotypes, I’d be sad too. People, regardless of their background, should all be treated equally.

I don’t hate Roth for putting PoC in a negative light in this book. With the slow pacing of the book and the way some aspects are rushed (ESPECIALLY the events at the end) in favor of building up Cyra and Akos’ relationship and the plot, I think it’s more of lazy writing than anything. If she had more time to write this to balance out the book’s flaws, would it be different? I’m not Roth, so I don’t know the answer. Perhaps, the second book will be better? I’m not really anticipating it, though.

Will I read the second book when it comes out? Yes.

Do I recommend this book to others? No. If you’re a fan of Veronica Roth or want to try something new, go ahead, but it’s something I won’t recommend; there are better sci-fi and fantasy books out there.

Will I read this again? Hopefully not, but if the second book is as confusing as the first one, then I might just to see if it’s better the second time around.


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