An Honest Review of Carve the Mark

I’m calling this one an “honest” review because I’ve never read Divergent. Therefore, I don’t have any expectations on what the novel might be like or Roth’s writing. I have read numerous reviews, both positive and negative, but decided to read the book for myself and judge it on it’s own merits. Many have read this book and wrote reviews citing Justina Ireleand’s accusations of the book being racist and ableist, but it seems they are all regurgitating what she said and not actually reading the book. I chose to read it and see for myself. This is going to be a long review longer than usual review for those reasons.

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Carve the Mark is set in a far off galaxy where everyone has a power called a currentgift. The current surrounds the planets in the galaxy and, much like the Force, glows through all living things. Several families from each planet are also “fate favored”, meaning each member has a predestined fate seen by the planets’ oracles as absolute, no matter what version of the future they see. However, these fates are a bit ambiguous to say the least.

On the planet Thuvhe two nations are on the brink of war. The Shotet are ruled by the ruthless Ryzak Noavek who uses his younger sister Cyra to torture his enemies and help maintain control over the people. Cyra’s current gift is that she can cause other’s pain at a single touch and is in constant pain herself as a result. Akos Kereseth and his brother are from the nation Thuvhe and are kidnapped by Ryzak and brought to Shotet in order to fulfill their fates. Akos, whose gift counteracts the current and all currentgifts is given to Crya as a servant. The two strike a tentative alliance to help each other survive in the Noavek court. As a rebellion in Shotet brews, the two slowly get to know one another and become friends, and that friendship eventually something more. But their different priorities may make them enemies instead of friends as Akos struggles with his fate and desire to return to his home.

First off, I’m going to talk about my problems with this novel first. This book is slow. Really slow. Things don’t really start to happen until Cyra and Akos leave on the sojourn, and even then they happen a little slowly. They really don’t start to pick up until they get back. Most of the action is in the back half (quarter?) of the book. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and the action to pick up, but it took forever.

Secondly, this book was told half in third person and half in first person. You read that right, it’s half and half. Akos’s point of view was told in third person, while Cyra’s was in first. While I enjoy getting multiple character POVs because it means getting inside the head of more than one character and getting a bigger picture of what’s going on, this was confusing, and at times jarring to switch back and forth. While each chapter was labeled who’s it was, let’s face it if you’re deep into reading, you’re not going to pay attention to chapter headings. I really don’t know why it was done this way, and can’t think of a reason either to have both types of narration. I really think the story would have worked better if Roth had stuck to either both third person or first person narration, or at least alternated in a pattern that wasn’t random.

The names, oh those damn names. While I expect odd names in science fiction and fantasy stories, when it’s in print and you don’t hear the names it makes it difficult. I can’t even begin to figure out how some of them are pronounced with all those odd vowel combinations. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had this much trouble with names in a scifi/fantasy book. Which is why it would be awesome if this book had a pronunciation guide. I also expect a large cast of characters in this genre, but I had a lot of trouble keeping track of who was who, who was related to who and how, and what their currentgift was. So a list of dramatis personae would have really helped too.

Then there’s the map, or lack thereof. The only map included is a map of the galaxy. Which is a beautiful map, it only really helps to understand where the different planets are in the galaxy for the brief time they characters spend traveling from one to other. The bulk of the action takes place in the Shotet capital. It would have been really nice to have a map of the city to understand where everything is and how the city is laid out. How far is the arena from the Renegade’s secret hideout? Or from the palace? I don’t know, but I wish I did. General world maps are great, city maps are better.

I also could have used an expanded glossary of terms. I felt a few terms that weren’t defined there should have been.

Now, for the accusations. This book is accused of being racist because supposedly the Shotet are the black “savages” while the Thuvhe are the peaceful white people. I saw no evidence to support both sides are purely one or the other. In fact, several Shotet are described as being pale skinned, blue eyed, and blonde haired. Even Ryzak is described by Cyra to be “so pale as almost be a ghost.” As for the Thuvhe, several are described as having darker skin, including member’s of Akos’s family. It read to me as if both were of mixed race.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

The Shotet version of why their two nations hate one another claims that they were once nomads that found and settled on an empty planet. The adults left again to sojourn across the stars to honor their past, leaving behind their children. When they returned, the children were gone. Years later they discover the descendants of these missing children working as servants for Thuvhesit families when they speak Shotet despite never having learned it. Because apparently, the ability to speak Shotet is carried in the blood. Now, who the hell leaves their children behind? Anything could happen, a storm, disease, starvation, anything. They’re bloody children for christ sake.

However, we never hear the Thuvhesit version of these events. I think it’s highly doubtful two nomadic peoples settled a barren, frozen world around the same time. The planet is still sparsely populated with only one Shotet city and three Thuvhesit cities mentioned. I think it’s more likely that the Thuvhesit were already there to begin with and no one noticed. Now, if I was a hunter who on a hunting trip stumbled upon a seemingly abandoned town with only children, I’d think those children were either abandoned or that something horrible had happened to the adults. You know what I’d do? I’d take the children home with me. I’d feed them and cloth them and give them a warm bed to sleep in.

The Shotet say their children were kidnapped and enslaved, and that they turned to warrior ways to get their children back. They routinely kidnap Thuvhesit citizens with Shotet blood and call it “reclaiming” them. The say this is why people think they are savage, but they also routinely kill each other legally in arena battles. I don’t know about you, but that alone seems pretty savage to me. And since there’s an arena on their ancient sojourn ship, I have to question when this practice started.

Critics claim this supports the theory that the Shotet are black and the Thuvhesit white colonists. However, I’d like to point out it is the Shotet who claim to have settled the planet, not the Thuvhesit. As I mentioned above, we never hear the Thuvhesit version of these events. Now, there are three sides to every story. Both sides version, and the truth. Until we get both sides, I’m reserving my judgement on who the good guys and bad guys are here. I actually wouldn’t be suprised if they had some common ancestry or used to be one group of people, but that some Shotet disagreed with the Regime or religion or something and left of their own accord to join or become the Thuvhesit, after all we know their are people being exiled now for disagreeing.

In short though, I need more to go on. As it stands, I don’t see this book as racist since we don’t have the whole story/all the facts.

As for it being ableist, as someone who lives with a lot of pain, I think Cyra was very well portrayed. I have chronic migraines caused in part from scoliosis, fused vertebrae (I was born with it), and bulging disks in my neck. My neck doesn’t like to stay in alignment, and when it pops out I have a lot of pain and a migraine to boot. I found Roth’s portrayal of how Cyra feels pretty spot on. Her sluggishness, wanting to sleep the pain away, just wanting it to end, and be pain free. I can relate to all of that. I’ve had these problems my whole life, like Cyra has, and I have developed a high tolerance for pain. I’ve also come to see it part of me. You know why? Because I wouldn’t be the woman I am today if I didn’t have it (or any of my other medical issues), if I hadn’t learned over the years to not let it get me down, to “let it go” and not let it control me. I can also relate to how Cyra eventually says her pain gives her inner strength to face anything. It takes a lot of inner strength to wake up and go to work and deal with the public even though my neck and head are killing me. But I did it all last week, I did it in school, and I’ll do it again the next time I have a bad week. It takes a lot to go through life this way and not give up. Trust me, it does.

Now, at some point in the story it’s said that Cyra thinks she and others deserve pain, and that that contributes to it being albeist. Cyra is being abused, first by a father that all but ignores her existence, and then by a brother that uses her as his personal torture device. In typical abusee fashion, she thinks she deserves this. She has been conditioned to believe this.

Some people also don’t like that the catalyst for her changing her gift is her friendship/growing love for Akos. Because he’s a boy. But let me ask you this, what if Akos was a girl and it was a F/F friendship/growing romance? Would that make it more OK? Because I don’t think it’s because of the love of a boy that she changes. I think it’s her growing up and realizing she doesn’t want to be used anymore, or hurt those that she cares about, especially someone that sees her as a person and not a thing. It’s her realizing she can handle the pain and master it instead of it mastering her. And it takes tremendous strength to do that.

So no, I don’t think this is abelist. I think it’s a pretty accurate portrayal of a teen living with chronic pain and learning to deal with it long term.

Do to my issues mentioned above, boring parts, and generally not being a big fan of Roth’s writing style, I give this one Three Lightsabers.

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4 thoughts on “An Honest Review of Carve the Mark

  1. This book didn’t make any sense to me!! πŸ˜€ I don’t know how Roth could write something like this, I agree with you that it was pretty slow and it just didn’t make a lot of sense. I really recommend Divergent trilogy though πŸ™‚ If you rated this as 3 Lightsabers so Divergent will definitely be 4-5 Lightsabers πŸ™‚

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