The upcoming release Carve the Mark has a lot of expectations to live up to. Veronica Roth’s first series, the Divergent trilogy, was one of the biggest successes in the Young Adult market to date. This is her follow-up book, the first in a new Science Fiction duology, and it’s a very different book than those we have seen from Roth in the past. I received and ARC of this book last month and took it with me on maternity leave, only to finish it today (because newborns are difficult to read with, t’is true). Had I not had such a tumultuous giant thing happen in my personal life, I would have burnt through this book in a weekend instead of a month. It was a slowly consumed book, but not because it wasn’t absorbing. I really enjoyed it, through and through, despite my broken attention span.
There are those blessed by the hands of fate and those that are otherwise wholly ordinary. In this world, the current runs through everything and some people inherit powerful currentgifts as a result. Akos Kereseth is a young man from the nation-planet Thuvhe, where he lives with his parents and his siblings, Eijeh and Cisi. Two of the Kereseth siblings are fate-favored by the oracle, meaning that they have a destiny that goes above and beyond them. However, one of the two is expendable, they just do not know which one yet. A grim future befalls them when they are abducted by a group of Shotet soldiers – one of the Kereseths is to become the next oracle for the Shotet, whether they want to or not.
In the ruling family of the Shotet, another’s currentgift is a powerful nuisance. Cyra, of the Noavek family, is a weapon of destruction, one who can inflict torturous pain upon others. The only one who is immune to her touch is her brother’s steward, Vas, one of the men responsible for Akos’s abduction. Her brother, Ryzek, avoids her unless she is of use to him, fearful of her currentgift. With their parents gone and Ryzek the elder by ten years, he is the next in line for succession. Soon, it is discovered that one of Akos’s skills includes disrupting the painful currentgift that swarms through Cyra’s blood – a gift that leaves her writhing in anguish most days. Knowing that he needs her at her best, Ryzek orders Akos to remain by her side at all times to help steady her. This breeds resentment as well as anger in Cyra, who hates to be used as a pawn in her brother’s games. It is anyone’s guess how these two will receive one another in an environment that neither of them wish to inhabit.
This is one of those books where a lot happens with very little. Roth spends a great deal of time setting things up – the world, the character dynamics, the plot points, etc. There will be very small things mentioned that seem unimportant at the time that later become huge deals for the reader. Fortunately, it’s not one of those things you necessarily need to pay all of your attention to either. That said, catching these details and predicting their outcome becomes entertaining as you go along. Many of these elements have a great deal of lasting impact and I really enjoyed the surprises that surfaced later in the narrative. It is one of the best parts of this book.
The feel of the book, both in the telling and the tone, reminds me of the highlights of a Final Fantasy game. The intergalactic scope of the story reminds me of both Dune and Star Wars, all things that I adore. I think it will easily appeal to anyone who enjoys those stories, as well as lovers of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki films. There’s a taste of a similar flavour to this book. That said, this book is very much its own thing and is both original and inventive. It’s a hard book to pin down but would easily feel at home among this collection of fiction.
What I appreciated immediately was the way the Roth told both the characters’ stories. Akos and Cyra’s narratives alternate sporadically with one another, neither dominating the others’ even as they ran together. The second notable difference is that neither of them are told in the same point of view. Akos is told in third person, giving him a removed outsider view of the events. Cyra’s is told in first person, giving her a more intimate, direct involvement to the tale. Both of these subtle things work well to draw the reader in for different reasons. It also helps to establish one of the main conflicts in the book – the push-and-pull nature of two different peoples, the Thuvhesits and the Shotet, and the inherent tempestuous distrust that lies between them.
A small thing that I also appreciated was perhaps something that few will see. There is a plot point between Cyra and another character who is a lesbian (whom I will not tell you at this point). There is a scene where Cyra needs to remove her clothing but is extremely weak and cannot do it alone. Rather than have her love interest remove her clothing for her, the lesbian character is invited to help her to remove any sexual weirdness (as well as add tension). Roth does not make the scene between the two women weird or awkward like many other authors might have chosen to do. Instead it is a utilitarian, spartan scene in which the one woman helps the other one and nothing else – no allusions to the lesbian character’s sexuality, no awkward shame or titillation from Cyra, nothing. If this seems odd that I would even note it, please realize that I was awaiting for this very thing to happen for the duration of it. Perhaps I have read too many sequences of a similar nature to that result before, particularly with younger characters. The way that Roth wrote it lends a sensitivity to the scene that it might not have otherwise had – here are two characters, a male and a woman, both sexually aroused by women, and yet the scene doesn’t have anything other than brevity to it. The man is definitely aroused – he would not have turned the task over to another if he had not been – but the woman never goes there, nor does Cyra exhibit any sexual confusion or chagrin. As such, it adds a very adult touch to the book and helps to not cheapen either of their sexualities, which is an amazing thing to happen in Young Adult. It’s a subtle thing to achieve but it was done so well. I’m very happy that it was not purposefully awkward.
I also found the characters to be very grounded in this book. Both Cyra and Akos are in very tenuous positions the whole time – there lives are constantly on the line. The risk of their narrative trajectories both add a dimension of urgency and uncertainty to the book, one that I for certain appreciated. This is the woman who wrote Allegiant, after all, and while many readers did not love the outcome of that book I was not one of them. I adored where Allegiant went and what Roth did with it. I do not see that enough with authors, particularly those in the Young Adult market, so it made an impact on me for a number of reasons. Knowing that gives more tension to this book – this is an author who doesn’t mind ruining her characters, and she doesn’t play nicely when she does either. All that places her in a position of esteem in my world – I like it when authors don’t treat their own characters with kid gloves.
There is a bit of the world building, particularly with the currentgift, that I never really understood completely. I am not sure if I, as a reader, am supposed to, though. For that reason, I cannot award the book a perfect score, since I am not sure that I currently comprehend it in its entirety. But, that said, it was a pretty satisfying read and I enjoyed so much of it. I am curious to see what others think of it come January. I think it’s one of those books you are either poised to love or to hate, but no in-between. I’m certainly curious to see what the stalwart (and the jaded) fans of Roth think of this book.
For me, 4.5 out of 5 stars. And I will be looking for the sequel with much curiosity next year. I really want to see how she ties all of this together.
If you are looking for action-packed madness and a thrilling what-if scenario, this is for you!
– Follow the Reader –