*This review will contain spoilers!*
“You think you’re so difficult to like.”
“I know what I am.”
“Oh? And what’s that?”
“A knife,” I said. “A hot poker. A rusty nail.”
“You are more than any of those things.”
As we follow both Akos and Cyra throughout ‘Carve the Mark’, it’s only right to share the first sentence from each.
‘Hushflowers always bloomed when the night was longest.’
‘I was only six seasons old when I went on my first sojourn.’
We get beautiful insights into the Thuvhe and the Shotet people via these two sentences. Hushflowers are the most important thing to the Thuvhesits: their blooming signifies the longest night, and the start of warmer weather and longer days.
Meanwhile, the Shotet go on yearly sojourns to scavenge items from one of eight other planets in the Assembly. A religious ritual which brings them closer to the current, it’s rare for someone as young as Cyra to be able to participate. That’s one of the perks of being the sovereign’s daughter. One of the only perks.
The Shotet and the Thuvhe both live on Uzek. The Shotet are determined to control the planet, finally being recognised as an independent nation by the Assembly who continue to shun them. Meanwhile, the Thuvhesits just want to survive.
Akos’s mother is an oracle, and she knows the fates of all the fate-favored who live on Uzek. She refuses to tell any of her children their fates: they’ll be revealed by time. But when the Assembly decide to take it upon themselves to reveal the fates, all hell breaks loose. Akos and his older brother, Eijeh, are kidnapped by Shotet, their father murdered in front of them.
Each person gets a currentgift, a personal manifestation of the current which runs above all of the planets (kind of like aurora borealis). Akos’s currentgift interrupts the current in everything: he can no longer feel its humming, and handcuffs and cells locked by the current cannot hold him. This makes him the perfect servant for Cyra Noavek, sister of the sovereign of Shotet, whose currentgift is constant chronic pain.
As Akos and Cyra grow closer, they begin to realise that things aren’t as clear cut as they seemed. Akos comes to terms with the fact that the Shotet aren’t the savages that he was lead to believe they were. Cyra needs to deal with the fact that her feelings for her Thuvhesit companion are changing. But with her brother, Ryzek, using Eijeh against Akos and Akos against Cyra, something has to be done about him.
With a rapidly growing renegade uprising trying to take Ryzek out, Cyra knows she has to choose between Akos and her brother. Ryzek’s unavoidable fate is to fall to the chancellor of Thuvhe, but it’s time to hurry that fate along.
When ‘Carve the Mark’ was published, controversy surrounded it. I don’t have the authority to speak out about the racism in this book: as a white reviewer, I don’t want to silence the voices of PoC who have put their concerns into words far more eloquently than I could. Throughout the novel, there were turns of phrase and implications that made me feel uncomfortable. I’d suggest reading reviews from PoC on Goodreads to really understand how deeply hurtful those insidious remarks can be.
That being said, looking at this book from all other angles I thought Veronica Roth did a good job. Veronica’s written a brilliant mixture of male and female characters, subverting stereotypes that generally prevail in sci-fi. Ryzek resorts to taking a calming potion before every death he orders, instead of revelling in his unchecked power. Akos constantly blushes, frustrated at the embarrassment he so obviously shows on his face. Most of the people in power are women: Cyra is the powerhouse behind Ryzek, Isae is the chancellor of Thuvhe, and Zosita and her daughter Teka are the leaders of the renegade uprising.
The LGBT representation is worked in beautifully. Cyra’s cousin and his husband crop up regularly, without question. Cisi, Akos’s sister, and Isae are also in a relationship, and they also receive no judgement. You don’t often find this in YA, even in sci-fi novels! Despite being in a completely different universe, characters often feel that they need to explain their sexuality. There’s also brilliant disability rep: as Veronica suffers from chronic pain herself, she knows what she’s talking about.
Compared to the Divergent series, Veronica’s writing has come a long way. Instead of relying on instalove and the dystopian genre, she’s worked hard to build an intricate world with extremely unique planets. Both Cyra and Akos are wonderful characters embodying the struggle between good and bad. We all fall in a moral grey area. You can do bad things for good reasons, and you can do good things for the worst reasons.
I know I can’t truly comprehend the implications of the racism throughout the book. That’s not something I’m trying to explain away or justify. However, compared to a lot of YA sci-fi writers, Veronica’s obviously trying.
By featuring characters with disabilities triumphing, Veronica is teaching young people a valuable lesson. It’s important to know that having a disability doesn’t make you less of a person. You don’t often find characters with disabilities travelling through space or fighting for their lives. Cyra is a different kind of protagonist, and she’s adding some much needed diversity to the YA sci-fi genre.
I’m looking forward to reading the second book in the Carve the Mark series. This novel ends on a cliffhanger and leaves you with so many questions, and I can’t wait to have them answered. It’s not a perfect book, but none of us are.