Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth
Digital Audiobook narrated by Austin Butler, Emily Rankin
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on January 17, 2017
Series: Carve the Mark #1
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Length: 468 pages or 15 hours, 6 minutes
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In a galaxy powered by the current, everyone has a gift.
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 the son of a farmer and an oracle from the frozen nation-planet of Thuvhe. Protected by his unusual currentgift, Akos is generous in spirit, and his loyalty to his family is limitless. 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.
Then Akos is thrust into Cyra's world, and the enmity between their countries and families seems insurmountable. Will they help each other to survive, or will they destroy one another?
About 10% of the way into Carve the Mark, I started fishing through friend reviews on Goodreads. I was bored. I wanted to know if other people were bored, too. It seemed like – overwhelmingly – they were! I also learned that there was a lot of controversy surround this book, so I think it’s only fair to point out a little bit of it.
- The publisher sponsored many reviews. This means that they paid prominent bloggers, vloggers, and Goodreads accounts to read the book. This is totally different than simply providing an ARC – there’s so much more pressure to give a good review because you’re receiving actually cash money, which makes it a little more difficult to know who’s being honest about it.
- One of the protagonists suffers from chronic pain. I’m going to detail this more in my review later, because this aspect was the one I really thought was poorly handled.
- There’s some problematic racism stuff. I actually didn’t pick up much on this, but a lot of other reviewers saw it loud and clear that there was a pale-skinned diplomatic race, and a violent and corrupt darker-skinned race. I may have missed most the details on skin color here because I was zoning in and out of the audiobook (like I said, bored!) but I think it needs mentioning.
Okay, so now that we’ve addressed these things, let’s talk about Carve the Mark as a book.
The world-building aspects of this book were overwhelmingly slow and bogged down the plot. We are introduced to places and people that make no difference in the story and make the world a lot broader. If this were an epic fantasy novel, I would applaud this type of storytelling, because it fits within the genre. However, Carve the Mark is a YA Science-Fiction Romance and the lallygagging didn’t add anything to the story that my imagination would not have filled in otherwise. There are too many names and too many minor details for the genre, and because of this, a lot of people are DNF-ing this book. I almost did, too. But I wanted to write this review. 😉
In regards to the genre, this very well could have been a fantasy novel and you almost would not have noticed. There’s a section of the story where Cyra and Akos go on a “sojourn” to another planet and Cyra’s brother – the wicked sovereign Risek – brokers an alliance. This whole trip took up a good chunk of the middle of the book and had a lot of potential to be all science-fictiony and spacey and instead there was a lot of focus on the interior. I honestly kept forgetting that this culture had advanced technology because there’s so much conversation about fighting styles and current gifts.
Current gifts are another issue altogether. Cyra Noavek is gifted with pain as her “current gift”… which is basically a coming-of-age magic. I have a few issues with this.
- Current gifts are described as something that defines the character. Cyra is told a couple times that she feels pain because she believes everyone deserves pain. She fights against this at the beginning, but embraces it at the end.
- For someone experiencing chronic pain all over all the time, she functions perfectly well. So even if Roth wanted to use this, she didn’t bother to show how crippling it truly is. There’s a few scenes in the beginning where Cyra is drugging herself endlessly with painkillers, which is a whole additional issue.
- Cyra chooses not only to accept that the pain is a part of her character, but decides that pain is a gift – and pain is never a gift. She says that because she’s in pain, it has made her strong. I see the “you can overcome anything!” message here, but there’s a difference between finding strength in resilience, and deciding that chronic pain is a gift, not a curse.
This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to both Cyra’s behavior and her gift, but I am exasperated enough that I felt like it needed some outlining. I think there are a lot of ways that Veronica Roth could have taken this character without making her current gift chronic pain, especially since she didn’t even follow through with it, and it was a disappointing thing to read. You can hurt people without pain being your “superpower”.
And there were a lot of unnecessary aspects that came out of the current gift situation. The Oracles, for example. There’s a lot of hullaballoo made about these characters, but ultimately, they just float around being generally useless outside of making people paranoid about their destiny. Cool concept – failure to execute effectively strikes again! With the Oracles and around the other characters, the plot was a bit of a mess. She wanted to do a lot of things, while also building this huge sandbox world where she could tie all of her characters together and say, “look how cleverly everything comes together!” Only, it doesn’t? Sometimes there are too many coincidences and I am utterly unimpressed. And this comes in the details.
Honestly, reading this book was like watching a movie, but with white tissue paper taped over the screen. You can see the lights and shapes and colors, but it’s all a bit blurry and nonsensical. You can sort of see what the story could have been, but ultimately Carve the Mark tries way too hard.
Before I wrap up this rambling review, I want to give you a list of some of the trigger warnings I noticed that I am not widely seeing discussed:
- Chronic pain (obviously)
- Rape (not in your traditional sense, but the relationship between Risek and Ija screams this to me)
Everyone will react differently, but I think it’s important that these things are out there so you can make your own educated choice of whether or not to read this based on these elements. Some people are saying that the trigger warnings folks are giving are overdramatic – other people are saying that they aren’t loud enough. Personally, I’d rather have them than not!
All in all, I felt like this book was a huge waste of my time? I can’t think of a moment where I was roped into the story enough that I lost myself, and with a book this thick, that should have happened. Instead, I found myself making snarky comments at some of the more ridiculous details. I thought the audiobook readers did a fine job with the content and that the cover is beautiful and that this book should have been at least 100 pages shorter, contained more actual science fiction, and made a few different core choices.