Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

First of all let me say that when I started reading this book I was unaware of the controversy surrounding it, and it was only when I was halfway through that I first saw comments regarding racism and ableism. I have based my opinion of this book solely on the book itself, and not on the wider issues surrounding it. I am not an expert on the issues which have been raised so do not feel that I am in a position to comment on them appropriately. If you do want to investigate these, I have linked a couple of the most helpful pages below.

Blog post by Justina Ireland on racism issues

Twitter thread by Tess Sharpe detailing ableism

Carve the Mark is marketed as a YA Star Wars, an epic space opera set in a world where everyone develops a ‘currentgift’, powered by Roth’s version of The Force. The two main characters, Cyra and Akos, come from two opposing cultures which share the planet Thuve – the peaceful Thuvesit and the ‘savage’ Shotet. Akos is the son of one of the three Thuvesit oracles, while Cyra is the sister of the brutal ruler of the Shotet and has a currentgift which is exploited by her brother in order to torture his enemies. Following an attack on the Thuvesit by the Shotet that results in Akos and his brother being kidnapped, the two characters are thrown together into a story which had so much potential. The overwhelming majority Akos’ part of the book is him being inducted into the ways of the Shotet for reasons which were never really very clear, which leads to many text versions of training montages.

My biggest problem with this book was the worldbuilding. I never really got a good grasp on the geography of the universe, with interchangeable names being used to describe planets and cities, meaning that it was hard to tell where events were taking place at any given time. There is a map at the front of the book (and embossed on the front of the hardcover which is a cool touch) but it doesn’t really do much to help with this issue, only showing the locations of the individual planets in relation to each other. Also, very little actually happens during the course of the (pretty substantially sized) book. When you consider the actual number of pages which aren’t just characters sitting around throwing exposition at each other, this book could have probably been at least 40% shorter.

Which brings me nicely on to the topic of wasted POV characters. Using multiple POVs can be tricky – each character needs to have enough development to justify devoting a large portion of the book to their perspective. Like in Allegiant, one of the POV characters here works better than the other. I thought that Cyra was genuinely compelling and interesting and had a story that I cared about, and I wish that the story had just been told from her side of things, with a prologue from Akos to set up the main events. Akos just isn’t a very well realised character, coming across as the generic male hero who exists solely for the female to fall in love with. He also has the fortunate ability of being the only person able to resist Cyra’s currentgift, which only serves to push the two characters towards the inevitable. Mercifully, this plays out over a longer period of time than in most other current YA novels, which I’m glad for because I prefer watching relationships develop rather than being beaten over the head with them from the start.

I probably should have lowered my expectations of this book significantly based on my thoughts of some of Veronica Roth’s other books. I allowed myself to get swept up by ‘pretty cover syndrome’ and forgot the fact that I hated Allegiant, her last attempt at a multi-POV book. Regardless of any of the problematic social issues which litter this book, the biggest disappointment of all is that it’s just not very good, when it could have been fantastic.

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Every now and then a book will come along that the rest of the world seems to fall completely in love with but just doesn’t seem to work for you. Heartless was one of those books for me. From everything I saw in the run-up to its release I thought that I’d love it – especially considering Marissa Meyer’s previous adventures into retellings. But there was just something about the plot that really didn’t grab me and I almost DNF-ed this within the first few chapters.

Heartless essentially provides the backstory to the Queen of Hearts and tells how she became the ‘off with their heads’ screaming maniac that we all know. Catherine is the daughter of a marquess and dreams of opening her own bakery. However, her mother has much higher aspirations for Cath and pushes her into gaining the attention of the King of Hearts. Obviously the idea of marrying an older man (Cath’s age is never mentioned but I’m guessing around 18/19?) is her worst nightmare but Cath opts to enter into a courtship with the King in an attempt to convince him not to marry her. Throw in a mysterious-yet-attractive court jester, a dash of insta-love and some more familiar characters from Lewis Carroll’s stories and you can probably guess where this story is headed.

Don’t get me wrong, Meyer’s writing style is still fantastic and I did enjoy her interpretation of Wonderland, but when I read a retelling I want it to be dark and completely twist what we think we know about the original story. I just kept waiting for a real shock moment which triggered this but it never came. The end of the book felt rushed to me and the transition of Cath into darkness didn’t really work. The climactic event which caused her shift was predictable and didn’t really have as much of an impact as I was expecting. I would have much preferred an ongoing series of events which alienated Cath from her peers and led up to a high-stakes climax which finally broke her character.

Cath was a problematic character for me. She started out really strong (once I’d reminded myself that this is set in Wonderland hence the incredibly whimsical way in which she speaks) but she never really seemed to develop much. I get that she was from a ‘noble’ family so there was a limit to the extent to which she could take her future into her own hands but I just wanted her to be less reactionary. She spent a large amount of the book complaining about her situation but never really tried to do anything to change it. The romance aspect also didn’t work for me – as soon as anything remotely resembling insta-love appears in a book I immediately lose interest.

I’m totally aware that I’m in the minority when it comes to my thoughts about this book and I’m disappointed that I didn’t enjoy it more. I think that it didn’t really match what I look for in a retelling and that’s okay – I already have a favourite Alice retelling in The Looking Glass Wars series, which twists the source material in a way that I enjoy. I rated Heartless 2 stars on Goodreads, purely because I had such high hopes for this book which, for me, it didn’t meet.

As with all my reviews, this is just my opinion. Just because I didn’t enjoy a book doesn’t mean that you’re wrong if you did. I had serious reservations about posting this as one of my first reviews here, but I want to be able to share my opinion, even if I’m in the minority. Being honest about my thoughts on the books I’ve read is important to me and I refuse to be the kind of person who only says good things about books in fear of receiving negative comments.

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

I’ll be honest, I was completely interested in the concept of this book as soon as I heard about it. It’s a rarity to find YA novels which are comfortable dealing with medical issues while staying away from the whole ‘tragic love story’ thing.

The book focuses on Maddy, an 18-year-old girl suffering from SCID, a condition which essentially causes her to be highly allergic to most things encountered during normal everyday life. This means that she is forced to live her life confined to her home where she is looked after by her mother. Maddy is comfortable and accepting of her situation, spending most of her days reading and taking online classes. Until a new family with a teenage son move in next-door…

I know, I know, suddenly it seems all generic and contrived, but Yoon manages to make Maddy such a well developed and strong voice that you can’t help but feel sympathetic towards a girl who falls in love despite having the knowledge that she can never leave her home. There is probably just as much focus placed on the relationship between Maddy and her mother as there is on the one between Maddy and Olly, which makes a refreshing change. The book is filled with illustrations which provide a unique way of telling the story without distracting from its sometimes heartbreaking nature.

I wasn’t too sure what to expect from this book based on its synopsis, but I think it’s really well worth reading. The characters and story are so well thought out, and it provides an insight into topics which are very rarely addressed for the Young Adult market.

I recieved an e-book copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.