I grabbed a copy of Carve the Mark last week, before I’d read or heard a single thing about it. The Divergent series was something I read with my teenage girls, with all of us appreciating the fierce, flawed female lead character.
It wasn’t a perfect series by any means, but we all love a bit of dystopian fiction. That was enough reason for me to trust that Veronia Roth would deliver in this new duology.
“On a planet where violence and vengeance rule, in a galaxy where some are favoured by fate, everyone develops a currentgift, a unique power meant to shape the future. While most benefit from their currentgifts, Akos and Cyra do not – their gifts make them vulnerable to others’ control.
Can they reclaim their gifts, their fates, and their lives, and reset the balance of power in this world? 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 from the peace-loving nation of Thuvhe, and his loyalty to his family is limitless. Though protected by his unusual currentgift, 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.When Akos is thrust into Cyra’s world, the enmity between their countries and families seems insurmountable.
They must decide to help each other to survive – or to destroy one another.”
What I liked.
Another strong female lead character, Cyra isn’t immediately likable. I did, however, feel empathy for her straight away and found her an interesting character. The idea of the older brother as a crazed despot, wielding his sister as a weapon, made for an uneasy dynamic. Cyra knows she is nothing but a tool to her brother and lives trapped between that knowledge and chronic pain. In fact, Veronia Roth says knowing people who live with chronic pain is what inspired this book.
Akos is shaped by his experiences. Kidnapped after watching his father be murdered, he is surprisingly tender-hearted. Akos lives with grief and regret as constant companions as well as a desperate commitment to a promise he made to his dying father; that he would escape and bring his (also kidnapped) brother home.
The development of the friendship between Cyra and Akos is what makes this novel for me. Akos helps Cyra to find her humanity and to realise she doesn’t have to be the monster she’s always felt she is. Cyra shows Akos that strength doesn’t lie only in brutality and force. They are both outcasts who are forced to interact through their circumstances and I quite enjoyed the slow burn of how they warmed to each other.
What I didn’t like.
Thuvhesits vs. Shotet.
The story focuses on two main people; the gentle Thuvhesit and the savage Shotet. The Thuvhesit are painted as civilised, educated and gentle people. They live on the same planet as the Shotet; they call it Thuvhe. The Shotet call it Urek. Shotet people live in a brutal society, ruled by Cyra’s brother, Ryzek. They are two divided people.
The Shotet are portrayed as a people that revel in violence, starting with the callous murder of Akos’s father. We learn that Shotet citizens can challenge each other to fight, to the death, in the arena. Public executions are the norm and their leader is known for his brutal methods. What passes for justice is primitive and corrupt. Th Shotet people are not recognised as a sovereign nation by the other, seemingly more evolved, societies on their own planet or any of the other eight in their galaxy.
And the Shotet are described as dark-skinned. Particularly Cyra, who also has curly hair, through not as tightly curled as her mother’s. I started to wonder if it wasn’t drawing on some tired tropes about brown-skinned savages; less educated, more violent than their pale-skinned and civilised counterparts. I’ve since read a few reviews (such as this one) noting the same thing and observing that Cyra is an example of another stereotype; the noble savage. As her self-awareness grows, she demonstrates an ability to do the right thing even when it’s not the easiest thing. She can be good, in spite of being Shotet.
While this is fiction, the racial stereotypes were a little too close to real life.
Bleak. So bleak.
As a fan of dystopian fiction, I probably shouldn’t complain about it being bleak, right? However, there is little light relief in this. Cyra and Akos develop a relationship and grow close with barely a giggle between them. I know they were living in a dark world fraught with danger and stressful decisions but, despite enjoying the way the characters learn from each other, I could have used a few light moments between them.
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