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.