Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth
Book One of the Carve the Mark series
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: January 17, 2017
Rating: 3 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads):
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.
What I Liked:
Carve the Mark is absolutely worth the hype and the excitement, and it's definitely worth your time to read this book if you've been looking forward to reading it. Chances are, it won't disappoint you. In many ways, I liked this book a lot. But there were several specific things that might seem small or insignificant in the grand schemes of things, that ended up really bothering me. Hence, the three-star rating.
This story is told by two characters - Akos, a Thuvhe, and Cyra, a Shotet. The Thuvhe are a peace-loving people living on Urek. The Shotet are more aggressive nomadic people that conquer various nations and planets. When he is fourteen, Akos is captured, along with his brother, by the Shotet, who kill his father in front of him. They are taken to the Shotet stronghold of Urek, ruled by Ryzek Noavek, a ruthless tyrant and older brother of Cyra. They are stolen for their currentgifts - Akos's brother Eijeh is the next oracle of the Thuvhe. Akos grows into his currentgift - he can interrupt the current (he can cancel it out, turn it off, that sort of thing). Several years later, Akos is shaped into a warrior, but he has lost known of his humanity. He is not a killer, though he has killed to protect himself. He is brought to help Cyra Noavek, whose currentgift is inflicting pain on others with her touch. No one can touch her without feeling pain, but Akos can, because he interrupts the current (and all currentgifts are "fueled" by the current). Akos cooperates because he wants to rescue his brother and flee. But the more he and Cyra interact, the more they learn about each other, and the more they realize that they share common interests, interests that could incite wars.
The beginning of the book was incredibly confusing (I'll talk about that in the next section), but once I (sort of) got a grasp of the world and everything going on, I started to get into the story and really sink into it. This is science fiction, though certain elements (like the currentgifts) can definitely be categorized as fantasy. This story takes place across planets of a galaxy, so it's a space-y type of science fiction.
I must say, Roth did an excellent job with the characterization and character growth, specifically in terms of Cyra and Akos. I'll start with Akos. He is easily my favorite character of the book. He is Thuvhe, and so he is brought up to be more peaceful and somewhat passive towards violence. Even several years being trained as a Shotet soldier doesn't break him down. He is compassionate, and he is strong. I liked him a lot, especially for his unbreakable will. I was amazing and in awe of how much pain and grief and despair he bore, for years. Akos grows into a character that still hates killing, and is sick over having to kill anyone, but can do it. He becomes so strong and capable in other ways, and he's also extremely intelligent and clever. He isn't an alpha type of YA hero - he's quietly intelligent and very, very human.
Cyra is almost the opposite of him, yet it slowly becomes apparent that she has similarities to him. She appears to be a brutal, cold, emotionless killer summoned and used by her brother, Ryzek. But Cyra does not enjoy wielding her painful power over others, and she definitely does not enjoy bending to Ryzek's will. In many ways, it is Akos who shows her mercy, what mercy is, and that she is still capable of being merciful, and better, and more. Cyra learns to turn her pain into something else. She loses none of her deadliness and her danger, but as the story goes on, she becomes stronger and more able to stand up to Ryzek.
Once I got past the first one hundred pages or so, I had little difficulty getting through the story. I was pretty engrossed and despite the book being rather long, I read it quickly. There is so much happening in this story, and I wanted to see how it would all end. There were so many moments when things could go disastrously wrong, and I held my breath as I turned the pages. No one can say that certain parts of this book weren't engrossing. A lot of the story ends up being about how to unseat Ryzek, and how to stay alive and protect each other.
There is romance! I liked seeing Akos and Cyra fall for each other. It's actually Cyra who shows her feelings first, which you wouldn't expect. Cyra is supposedly the more ruthless one, and Akos is the more emotional and merciful one. But it's Cyra that starts to fall for Akos first, and shows her hand first. I liked their dynamic a lot - they learn to trust each other before anything else. No love triangle! Thank goodness for that. I thought this romance was well-developed, and swoony towards the end.
There is also another romance which I thought was sweet. I can't say much about it because it'll spoil things, but it's between two characters that are good together.
The ending, as insane and chaotic as it is, is not a cruel ending. There is no horrible cliffhanger, which is surprising, since this is book one of a duology. You'd expect something really terrible to have happened at the end, hurting the main character(s). Don't get me wrong, terrible (permanent) things definitely happened; but the ending isn't a cliffhanger, and I definitely appreciate that.
Now I'm going to talk about the things I didn't really enjoy.
What I Did Not Like:
First: the initial one hundred pages or so? Very confusing, and very boring too. I had a hard time getting through the beginning of the story. There is so much information dumped into the first couple of chapters, and so many names. It also took me a while to realize that the beginning is when Akos is fourteen - and NOT the "present" time of the story. Same with Cyra's beginning - she is six when her chapter begins. The beginning has too much going on, and it isn't well-explained at first. I had to reread several of the chapters a few times to really get some sort of grasp as to what was happening.
I'm not sure I really understand the world/world-building? Currentgifts and their origin and how/why they exist still kind of elude me. What is the "current"? Where did it come from? How is it magically given people these currentgifts? The currentgifts are things like inflicting pain upon touch, or not feeling pain at all, or seeing the future, or seeing every memory of a person.
Second: there are so many awful, brutal scenes in this book. I'm talking about torture and cruel treatment of people. I understand that this type of brutality is very real and exists in real life and has a place in this fictional world, but the brutality of a lot of it... didn't sit well with me. Usually a certain level of violence doesn't bother me too much? The violence in this book, while not exactly graphic, is horrifying. Which is probably the intent, but my stomach hurt, reading it.
Third: Not the biggest thing I didn't like, but I wasn't a huge fan of having Akos's POV in third-person, and then Cyra's in first-person. I loved reading from both of their POVs! But it would have been nice to have a little uniformity (either both in first, or both in third). Also it already scares me, that Roth chooses to tell this story from both Akos and Cyra's POVs. We saw what happened in Allegiant...
Fourth: problematic racial content. Oh yeah, I definitely see where people are coming from, when they say that this book has some racist content. The Shotet are portrayed as "brown skinned", aggressive, nomadic people. They stole Thuvhe children years ago, and the Thuvhe retaliated and stole Shotet children, but the way the story is told, the Shotet are the "villains". I mean, given that the first chapter is about Akos's father getting brutally murdered in front of him, I get why that would be implication. But there are definitely underlying tones of something problematic here: the Thuvhe, light-skinned peaceful people, and the Shotet, darker-skinned aggressive people, are both cliches. And what's more, it seems like most of the Shotet have very violent currentgifts, whereas the Thuvhe have more passive, non-violent gifts (like Akos's, or his mother's, or his brother's).
Do you see the problem here? Why is it that the "aggressive" people are always the brown/darker-skinned ones, and the more "peaceful" non-violent people are lighter-skinned? I have no qualms with the characters themselves (I adore Akos, and Cyra is such a fighter), but the social construct here is reflective of cliches and stereotypes.
Read THIS peace if you want more information. I definitely do not know it all, but I recognize and understand the issue at hand here, in terms of race and culture.
Would I Recommend It:
Yes, I had issues with this book, and I firmly believe that last issue needs to be addressed. And yes, I also enjoyed the book, for the most part, regardless. It's a good story, and I was definitely swept up in the story as I was reading. I'll be reading the sequel next year. I don't know if I really should recommend this book, given the evident issues. But I did like the story too. If you've been excited to read this book, believe me, it probably won't disappoint. But... recognize issues when you see them. Talk about them. Discuss and learn.
3 stars. Like I said, this is a good story, and of all of Roth's books, it's probably her best. I think I liked it more than I liked her other books (definitely more than I liked Insurgent and Allegiant - though I never fully read Allegiant). I want to see where the story goes. But there were some things that held me back a little, in terms of my rating.
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