The first Veronica Roth book I ever read was Divergent. I was living in Chicago and needed something to pass the time while riding the train to work.
Right away, I was hooked. Roth’s voice is private but crazy accessible.
And if you know the Divergent series, you’ll know that it’s set in post-apocalyptic Chicago. Faction members often hitch rides on the city’s antiquated train cars, or sprint along the roofs, or, you know, violently brawl with each other inside of them.
I didn’t make it through the rest of the series, and I didn’t care for the films so much. But there was something about reading Divergent while actually riding the elevated transit that gave me a huge literary boner, and nobody can take that away from me.
When I noticed that Roth had a new novel coming out, I pre-ordered it.
It’s called Carve the Mark.
I had no idea what to expect at the onset. But Roth is a skilled and wily world-builder, and I quickly immersed myself in her creative juices, happily stewing in a futuristic blend of adventure, pubescent angst, and romance.
In this world, every young person inherits two things; a Gift, and a Fate. Oracles announce the Fates of children soon after they are born in the form of a prophecy, and the topics can range from vague to startlingly clear, damning, even. Gifts are unique and usually emerge out of childhood trauma necessitating protection, but can be diverse in their occurrence and bent.
Cyra Noavek is the only daughter and youngest child of the noble Noavek family. Her Fate is to cross some sort of divide. And her Gift – I was floored. Pain. Her gift is chronic pain.
In the same way that Star Wars has The Force and Name of the Wind has Sympathy, Carve the Mark is woven around something called The Current. The current touches everyone and holds the universe together. It is observed, celebrated, gloried in. For Cyra though, the current is cruel – it exists inside of her actual body and causes her great pain. By touching another person, she can serve them with the same excruciating pain and thus has the ability to torture and kill people.
In another city on the same continent, young Akos lives peacefully with his close-knit family. His mother is a revered oracle, and he and his siblings happen to have valuable current gifts ⎼ gifts that render them very attractive to rival settlements. When Akos and one of his brothers are captured by the Shotet people (Cyra’s people), Akos and Cyra are forced to confront each other. Though years of war and prejudice separate them, they are more alike than at first supposed.
I was totally wooed by Roth’s voice and world-building. The story wove itself around me and I was often surprised by the turns. In Carve the Mark, there are themes of family, hormones, self-harm, lots of interesting made-up words, classism, thinly veiled feminism, abuse, shame, blue balls, drug use, space travel, politics, executions, character deaths, and combat. Cyra is a warrior heroine. Honestly, there’s not a whole lot you won’t find in this book – unless you’re big into satisfying endings.
It ended and I was unhappy. I understand this is a projected two-book series, with the next book coming out in 2018, but I felt cheated somehow. The last few paragraphs didn’t end cleanly—as if I was listening to a speaker who paused for breath in the middle of a sentence and then announced that the seminar was over.
Once the spell was broken, I began to wonder if the characters are really as layered as I thought they were while reading. My reaction to the characters’ experiences was bigger than any other aspect of the book. The book was a bit too close to home for me. Usually, young adult fiction and especially sci-fi/fantasy keeps the fourth wall intact. I expected to view this story through one-way glass.
I was surprised when I found myself considering the philosophical and emotional questions it raised and annoyed when I felt Cyra’s frustration and pain on a personal level, equating her experiences to parallel ones in my life. Not that I don’t think books should be interactive experiences! Of course they should. It’s just that I usually read to escape navel-gazing. I wanted to be distracted by plot and character and not think about my own life this time. And that wasn’t the case. But to be fair, this experience made Carve the Mark immensely more powerful than it would have been otherwise.
Now, if I can get past my lingering experiences of the characters and the abrupt ending, I can see that Carve the Mark is a good book. It seems, despite myself, I wish I didn’t have to wait until 2018 to see what happens next.