By happy accident I managed to get my hands on an advanced readers copy for Carve The Mark – the long awaited new offering from Divergent author Veronica Roth. Naturally, I devoured it over the Christmas and New Year period and though it would be an excellent way to start off my blog – so here’s my [spoiler free] review of Carve The Mark.
“Pain is pain is pain.”
The first thing I thought when I started reading the book (other than what gorgeous cover art it had) was; is this going to be another Divergent? So I’ll begin my review with a comparison and then not mention Divergent again. The Divergent series to me (and I know I’m not alone here), whilst it had elements of originality, seemed – in parts – to be quite derivative of other stories that had come before it *cough* Hunger Games *cough*. BUT I’m really glad to say that Carve The Mark is a totally different kettle of fish! This is a dramatic improvement and at times I didn’t feel like the authors could be the same! Veronica Roth has come into her own as a writer and, whilst there is still room for improvement (after all, she is a young writer), this is a much more original, complex and intense story than the Divergent series.
The story is set in a galaxy different to ours, where whole planets can be almost like 3rd-world countries or home to the highest of society and political tensions are high on one planet in particular – Shotet or Thuvhe, depending on your allegiance. For me, I’m not too into political struggles in stories and good for me (bad for some) the politics, whilst present in the story, do take a backseat to the characters and their developments and relationships.
Now the world(s) in Carve The Mark are a bit confusing – especially if, like me, you’re not big on sci-fi in the first place. A lot of the places, names of characters, rituals, fighting styles and everyday items (like flowers) can get a bit garbled together at times. Some are so similar to each other that I found myself re-reading sentences for the first three quarters of the book at least. I’m still not completely sure I understand the world! However if you can press on through that the story opens up to expose some beautiful character development and worlds.
The story revolves around a handful of characters and their journeys through the galaxy where the Current – a deity to some, a scientific wonder to others, grants everyone a currentgift – basically think X-Men mutations and you’ve grasped the concept. Everyone develops their own unique currentgift and they are as varied as shades of colours in a spectrum. Some families are fate favoured, meaning their destiny is pre-destined and inescapable – but also, in some cases, quite ambiguous.
The two main characters – and I say characters because they do shift between protagonist and antagonist quite a lot – are Cyra Noavek and Akos Kereseth.
“You’re a Noavek,” he said stubbornly, folding his arms. “Brutality is in your blood.” “I didn’t choose the blood that runs in my veins,” I replied.
Cyra – of Shotet – is a self-proclaimed monster. Her currentgift causes her constant physical pain – but she can also use it to hurt others – badly. Cyra’s currentgift renders her unable to touch anyone with her skin, lest she show them first-hand the pain she feels. She can push her pain into others to such an extent that she can kill them. Because of this Ryzek Noavek, her brother (and monarch) of Shotet, uses her as a weapon to keep his subjects in line, and punish them if they step out of it. Cyra has a very matter-of-fact attitude about who and what she is and sees little point in investing emotionally in too much of anything.
“Death is a mercy compared to the agony I have caused.”
Then there’s Akos – of Thuvhe. Akos is abducted, alongside his brother, by the Noavek’s early in the story for reasons that I will not disclose here to avoid spoilers. Akos is forced to be Cyra’s servant due to his unique currentgift – he can interrupt the current, meaning he can strip anyone of their own currentgift. He is given to Cyra to help her with her pain so she can go about her daily routine. Akos has one thing on his mind for the duration of the story – save his brother and return home.
Cyra’s story is told in the first person and Akos’s story is told in the third person. I didn’t particularly like this – it felt like Veronica Roth felt that her female lead was more important than her male one. I would have preferred them both to have been written in the first person – for me it just felt like Akos was less important, and less of a character, when compared to Cyra.
“How do you keep doing this?” he said. “Keep going when everything is so horrible?”
The romance in Carve The Mark is present – of course it is, it’s a YA fantasy novel – but it is low key and subtle. I have to admit, I really appreciated this choice of direction. The subtlety of it added to the intensity and it was nice to see a love story arc come second to the main action of the novel. I fully applaud Roth for this; it’s a trend that I hope catches on – at least for the first book in a series.
“To continue to love someone so far beyond help, beyond redemption, was madness.”
The story is rich with characters, but there are some who I wished were developed just a little bit more. The secondary cast fell largely into this bracket, but the one I had the biggest development lust for was Ryzek Noavek. Ryzek is the main bad-guy, he’s the Big Bad and he was, well…kind of lacklustre. Sure he was evil, but he was the kind of evil that gets a C in his end of year test instead of an A+; he’s done enough to pass, but he could have done so much more. Yes, what he does to his sister (especially during chapter 29 – you’ll know what I mean if you’ve read it) is horrific, but I just don’t feel like the envelope was pushed far enough.
With that being said, there were some beautifully detailed and nuanced scenes that were simply stunning to picture – one scene in particular is the one I have dubbed “Blue Rain” and, once again, if you’ve read the book you’ll know exactly which scene I’m talking about.
All in all, Carve The Mark was a welcome shift in the way that YA is written and the stories that are available to the genre. It was a long book (480 pages) but I never felt bored or that the story was dragging. Roth has definitely gotten better at her craft and this is truly a stunning book through and though – I’m already excited for the sequel! There are some conflicting morals in the story, and the reader is presented with so many different and challenging thoughts (which is a good thing), but one thing is for certain:
“Honour has no place in survival.”
[PLEASE NOTE]: All quotations were taken from an Advanced Reader Copy made of uncorrected proof. Quotations may be different in the final published version. I was not paid or sponsored to write this review – all the opinions are honest and my own.