10:30 am EST, January 18, 2017

‘Carve the Mark’ book review: An engaging sci-fi tale in a(nother) galaxy far, far away

Veronica Roth has done it again. Fans of the Divergent series will want to get their hands on Carve the Mark, the first novel in Roth’s new series.

About ‘Carve the Mark’

In a galaxy where some have had their fate foretold, everyone develops a currentgift, a power that’s as unique as their personality. Though some fates are certain, the future is always changing and it’s currentgifts that help form it.

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Akos and Cyra both live on the same planet and have currentgifts that make them vulnerable to others, but that’s pretty much where their similarities end. Akos comes from a nation of peaceful people and has a close-knit relationship with his family. Cyra, on the other hand, is from the nation of Shotet where vengeance and violence are essential for survival. Though her currentgift causes her pain every moment she’s awake, it also gives her power over others.

When Akos and his brother are cruelly captured and enslaved by the Shotet (on Cyra’s tyrant brother’s orders, no less), Akos must live and survive among the people who tore his family apart. The only thing that keeps him going is his drive to free both himself and his brother. Until then, he has to aid Cyra by using his currentgift to dampen hers.

But the more Akos and Cyra’s lives intertwine (and the more the tensions between their nations rise), the more they’re confronted with having to decide between banding together for survival or destroying each other.

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

‘Carve the Mark’ book review

As she demonstrated in the Divergent series, Veronica Roth is an excellent world builder. Only this time she really outdid herself, creating the world of Carve the Mark (or, well, galaxy) completely from scratch. Because the richness and different aspects of the world unfold as the novel goes along, the world-building can sometimes feel a little slow or incomplete. But all of the pieces, once they’re introduced, fit together perfectly and create a galaxy quite unlike anything you’ve experienced.

The galaxy itself feels a bit like a cross between the vibrant aesthetics of The Guardians of the Galaxy (with bright hues of color, especially blues, dominating the palette) and the cultural and spiritual complexities of Star Wars. Though multiple planets and peoples are introduced, the galaxy somehow feels intimate. Like we’ve somehow visited it before. That sort of familiarity comes from the galaxy dealing with similar issues we’ve experienced in our own world, such as media bias and rising tensions between countries. It’s small details like this that make us feel comfortable with the world she’s built so that we can freely explore the other facets of it.

In terms of plot, Carve the Mark doesn’t disappoint. There are a few juicy mysteries woven in here and there, but the general story arc is pretty straightforward and doesn’t rely on a huge twist to make it compelling. It’s a story of survival and overcoming the odds, of standing up to oppressors and doing what’s right.

Admittedly, the first quarter or so of the novel starts out a bit slow, but, once you read further, it becomes clear that the pace was necessary in order to really set up the stakes for rest of the novel. There are only a few action scenes in the book (which greatly contrasts Divergent), but Carve the Mark is actually better because of it. It’s the interpersonal character moments that really make the novel compelling.

Speaking of characters, the novel wouldn’t be nearly as intriguing without its two main characters, Cyra and Akos. The two balance each other out really well while also sharing quite a few commonalities. Their relationship (friendship and otherwise) is a slow and satisfying build, with a few missteps and backpedals along the way. It’s really great to see this sort of slow burn happen in an atmosphere where the conditions are less than perfect but the characters make the best of what they’re given. By structuring the novel how she did, Veronica Roth allows the reader to get inside both Cyra and Akos’ head and experience the galaxy the way they do. We then not only get to know the characters better, but we also get to know the galaxy better as well.

One of the most interesting aspects of Carve the Mark is the way Veronica Roth has not only swapped gender roles but also subverted the usual gender role “progression.” Normally, males are perceived as fierce and strong while females are kind-hearted and sensitive. However, it becomes immediately clear that this won’t be the case when the novel introduces its two main characters.

Akos is caring and emotional (to the point where he’s sometimes made fun of for it) and Cyra is known for her strength and power (as well as her badass-ness). As the novel moves along, the characters grow and adopt some of each other’s characteristics but they never progress into “normalized” gender roles. Yes, the characters change and evolve over the course of the story, but they never lose these core aspects and strengths that make them who they are.

All in all, Carve the Mark is an engaging sci-fi story and an impressive successor to Veronica Roth’s Divergent series. Give it a try and you’ll find it hard to keep yourself from constantly turning the page.

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth is available now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and your local independent bookstore. Also, don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads “to read” list!

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