Review: Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

Rating: 4 stars
Pub Date: January 17, 2017
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Genre: young adult science fiction
Format/Source: ARC, from the publisher
Status: book 1 in the Carve the Mark duology

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Fans of Star Wars and Divergent will revel in internationally bestselling author Veronica Roth’s stunning new science-fiction fantasy series.

On 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?

Cyra is the sister of the brutal tyrant who rules the Shotet people. Cyra’s currentgift gives her pain and power—something her brother exploits, using her to torture his enemies. But Cyra is much more than just a blade in her brother’s hand: she is resilient, quick on her feet, and smarter than he knows.

Akos is from the peace-loving nation of Thuvhe, and his loyalty to his family is limitless. Though protected by his unusual currentgift, once Akos and his brother are captured by enemy Shotet soldiers, Akos is desperate to get his brother out alive—no matter what the cost. When Akos is thrust into Cyra’s world, the enmity between their countries and families seems insurmountable. They must decide to help each other to survive—or to destroy one another.

This review was sponsored by HarperCollins. I received compensation and an advanced copy of Carve the Mark in exchange for an honest review. 

All eyes will be on Veronica Roth in 2017 when she publishes Carve the Mark, the first book in a new duology set against the backdrop of space. Readers and the publishing world are already wondering how she can possibly follow up the Divergent trilogy, one of the most successful YA series of all time and a global phenomenon, and I have the answer for them: with bold world-building and an audacious cast of characters who perfectly embody the delicious moral grayness that makes a story truly interesting.

First, the world. Or rather, worlds. I am HERE for the space books. While Carve the Mark is primarily set on a planet named Thuvhe, the universe of the novel actually encompasses a galaxy filled with a number of populated worlds that are governed by an authority called the Assembly similar to Star Wars' Republic and its Galactic Senate or Firefly's Alliance. I am absolutely fascinated by the politics represented in Carve the Mark on a national/planetary level (such as the conflict between Akos's Thuvhesit and Cyra's Shotet) and a galactic level (all the planets' relations with one another). In Mark, Roth establishes identities primarily for the Shotet and the Thuvhesit, but we also get glimpses of the other planets and their identities and cultures ie Pitha is a water planet and its people are very practical and technologically inclined, Ogra is mysterious, etc. There are also mentions of the relationships among the planets as well as the Assembly, and while these make up for a good subplot now, I have a feeling these politics will become a major plot point later on. There is some space travel and a little exploration in Mark so I'm hoping we'll get more of that in book two as well!

"Soft hearts make the universe worth living in." – ARC, page 224

Other matters of interest include the current, which is a magical force in this galaxy that is both religiously worshiped by some and scientifically studied/used to advance technology by others. Each character possesses a currentgift, a unique manipulation of the current that provides some sort of power, be it advantageous or no. I have seen some comparisons to the Force of Star Wars. I mean... you can think of it that way if you need a basic understanding but I personally think the current is different. First of all, it's both more inclusive and more focused. All people possess a currentgift as opposed to a select few. Secondly, each currentgift is singular, not a set of powers that allows for telekinesis AND telepathy AND AND AND. The diversity of the currentgifts is really interesting to me, especially how similar gifts can run in families or not. It's also really cool to see how the gifts play against one another, either complement or contrast. This is especially interesting when people of similar or complementing gifts reeeeaaaally don't like each other. The tension, it is awesome! Add this to the list of things about which I would like to learn more.

The primary conflict is between the two warring peoples who inhabit the planet Thuvhe: the Thuvhesit and the Shotet. Akos is Thuvhesit, but because of Reasons, he ends up in Shotet as Cyra's, the sister of Shotet's ruler, servant. One thing I really like is that even while galactic politics are happening and tensions are growing between Thuvhe and Shotet, the focus of the story is on Akos, Cyra, and their families. I mentioned moral grayness above, and there are no better examples than Akos and Cyra. Along with his brother, Akos was abducted and taken to Shotet, and during an escape attempt, he kills a man. Time and time again, Akos makes hard decisions that are judged by others for their violence or lack of planning. The thing is, Akos is really between a rock and a hard place, often facing two equally awful choices, and he always picks the one that will help his brother.  On the one hand, he's a caring brother; on the other, he proves there's no line he won't cross for his family. In contrast, Cyra is known as Ryzek's Scourge and helps her brother with interrogations to the point of torture and execution. She is feared by all.... except she is reluctant and unwilling to cross lines until she is forced and manipulated into doing her brother's bidding. I find the complexity of the moral dilemma's both Akos and Cyra face quite enticing.

"You want to see people as extremes. [...] But that isn't how people work." – ARC, page 386

I LOVE that the characters are so aware of what they're doing. It's fine to have a story filled with unassuming characters who fall into events accidentally, but I believe allowing characters to choose, even when the choices are bad, especially when the choices are bad adds a level of intricacy to a story that piques interest. When characters are faced with uncertain circumstances, sometimes they choose right or wrong, but it's easy to let them off the hook. When faced with certain circumstances with known negative consequences and they still choose a "bad" path, OH it is so much more interesting to read. And it's not just the "good" characters who display this moral dichotomy. There's the "bad" guy who has to drug himself to hurt people because it upsets him. There's the "bad" guy who seems evil but is really just very detached from reality. There are several others, but I don't want to share more details for fear of spoiling you.

I think the best and worst thing about Carve the Mark is that I am left with an overall sense of wanting more. This is good in that I'm excited about the series and eagerly anticipating the sequel. I find the society and the setting of the book endlessly fascinating and hope to see more of both in the sequel. This is bad in that although I like the characters, I feel like I don't know them too terribly well. I think I didn't get a good sense of Akos and Cyra and their relationship until part 4, which is roughly 65% through the book. That's not great, considering it's a large book. I do think some deeper characterization earlier on would help readers understand the characters and the story, but in the end, you do get the information you need, and I did still enjoy the book overall.

"Though I had already read all those books, I wanted to open them again just to search out the parts he most treasured; I wanted to read them as if immersed in his mind." – ARC, page 296
(insert ALL the heart-eye emojis here because I LOVE this quote!)

I do think Roth's technique has improved vastly in the four years since Divergent first published. I think the writing is stronger. I think the world and its inhabitants are more interesting. I think the story is bolder, and I think all its elements have allowed it more room to develop. As a nerd for all things English, I'm really interested in all the things that make up the non-narrative part of the book. I think it's really cool that Cyra and Akos are narrated differently; Cyra in first person and Akos through a limited third person. At first, I didn't understand the division into parts and the use of one narrator or the other in each part, but it's an interesting style choice that does a bit of story-telling by its own merit. Having finished the book and thought about it some more, I can see the big picture, and I totally get it. Also, a little more than halfway through the book, I though to myself, "I could really go for a map," and then realized there will be one. YAY! I hope there's one for Thuvhe and one for the galaxy as a whole. Maybe one in Carve the Mark and one in the sequel? I'll hope for that. I also do hope a pronunciation guide will be added to the back because I can see the names giving many readers a challenge (for what it's worth, I said AH-kohs and SIGH-ruh). (EW has an interview with Roth where she talks about creating names and specifically avoiding Western influence)

One last thing that literally doesn't fit anywhere else: I like that every time I forgot these are teen characters, I was reminded by some small detail. Cyra casually mentions so many tiny things that are part of the average teenage girl experience, and it helped bring me back to close focus on the individual characters as opposed to HERE'S THIS WHOLE GALAXY THAT MAY OR MAY NOT BE FACING WAR. It's so small that some people might not notice, but I did, and I appreciate it. Things like mentioning bras, periods, small crushes, having to borrow underwear when you're a fugitive and didn't get to pack, stuff like that. Like, yes, the galaxy may or may not be facing war, but a girl still has to deal with The Girls and also periods; thanks for keeping that perspective, V!

Overall, I really liked Carve the Mark. I think readers who love Roth's previous work will fall in love with this new series, and to anyone who is on the fence or wants to write it off because they don't like hype or they didn't like Divergent, I urge you to give it a shot. 

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About the Author:
Veronica Roth is from a Chicago suburb. She studied creative writing at Northwestern University, and wrote the Divergent trilogy. Her new novel Carve the Mark will be released on January 17, 2017. In the meantime she will spend endless hours browsing Wikipedia in her pajamas as she eats corn flakes. (Or some other kind of bland breakfast cereal.)

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  1. OOh nice! I admit I LOVED the Divergent trilogy, even Allegiant which some people would gladly burn into oblivion! This one has me hesitant because of the whole space thing. Space books are soooo hit or miss for me. I feel like things get too complex and complicated and I'm not meant to understand anything. And if I can't understand it I can't care about it.

    I do still have some reservations about this one. I want to read it on the one hand because I loved her previous books and I am sooo happy to see Veronica is still writing after the movies were made of her books. Feel like when that happens most writers are just done.

    I might still need to read more reviews of this one before picking it up but glad to see you enjoyed it. Nice review!

  2. Great review! I liked Divergent, but felt the series weakened as it went along. I already like the fact that the POV character keeps her priorities real and acts like a teen. Maybe I should give it a try--i might check it out from the library.