Since 2011, Veronica Roth has been a single-franchise name. From the core “Divergent” trilogy to the accompanying movies, she’s been deeply entrenched in the dystopian Chicago that put her name on the literary map. “Carve the Mark” represents her first major work that is wholly separate from the “Divergent” world and, as with any artistic venture that follow a mega-franchise, the big question is … does it measure up? My thought — mostly.
“Carve the Mark” is an ambitious break from “Divergent,” which is easily lampooned for being drawn from the same post-apocalyptic, dystopian vein as countless other Young Adult series. Not only does it not take place on Earth, it’s not even the same solar system. Roth has created a whole new set of planets, each with its own extreme environment. But don’t worry, there’s only one you need to know about and that’s Thuve. It’s icy. Thuve is home to Akos and Cyra. Akos lives in the frozen north, where flowers bloom in the ice and things are relatively peaceful. His mother is one of Thuve’s oracles, tasked with monitoring the ever- shifting future and detecting Fate-favored individuals — people that have an event occur in every single one of their potential futures.
Cyra is part of the Shotet people, who live on Thuve but want to claim the planet for themselves.
Her brother, Ryzek, is a brutal dictator who arranges for Akos and his brother, Eijeh, to be kidnapped as part of a plan to raise the Shotet to galactic prominence. Neither Cyra nor Akos are happy being Ryzek’s pawns, thrusting them into an unwilling, untrusting partnership.
To be honest, “Carve the Mark” takes a while to really get going. It’s quite heavy on the world building, with entirely imaginary planets, religions, languages and cultures to introduce, not to mention the Current.
To put it simply, the Current struck me as being very similar to the Force from Star Wars. It manifests as a galactic Aurora Borealis, sweeping over planets and granting every individual a current gift.
These currentgifts, combined with the notion of Fates, are what drive the plot. Cyra’s currentgift allows her to inflict unbearable pain through touch, making her a particularly useful tool for Ryzek to wield. Unfortunately, it also afflicts her with chronic pain, which is where Akos comes in. Akos can block the Current, and is assigned to help relieve Cyra’s pain through skin contact and the potent painkillers he brews.
Eijeh has the currentgift of an oracle’s foresight, which Ryzek wants to harness to avoid his own foreboding Fate.
“Carve the Mark” is all about power struggles — sibling to sibling, race to race, planet to planet. The characters’ constant maneuvering to gain an advantage is one of the most interesting things about this book, since none of them can get what they want on their own. Pride clashes with need, and unlikely alliances are formed between the most disparate parties.
The contrast between strength and weakness is heavily used to highlight character motives and natures. Cyra’s chronic pain is the most obvious example, and I thought it struck a successful balance between being ableist and downplaying her condition. Her pain physically incapacitates her, and being forced to pass it on to others severely damages her sense of self-worth. That being said, she isn’t some frail, doe-eyed maiden who throws herself on Akos’ ability to relieve her. She makes herself as strong as possible, lest people forget that a vulnerable body does not indicate a vulnerable spirit.
The question of how memory forms a person is another key point. Ryzek’s currentgift allows him to trade memories, so he plants his worst memories of his cruel father into others in exchange for more placid ones.
But can ridding himself of past scars really change who he is, and can falsely implanted memories twist an innocent into something unnatural? These questions are set up to be explored in following books.
While it’s slow to start, by its end, “Carve the Mark” has set up broad interpersonal and cultural battles that promise plenty of future tension between old enemies and unexpected allies.
There’s a nice blend of supporting characters that have plenty of room to grow into the spotlight, and a lot of fascinating planets that we have yet to experience.
I enjoyed “Carve the Mark,” but unlike Roth’s “Divergent” trilogy, it didn’t sink its claws into me to the point where I couldn’t put it down. I’ll be back for the next installment in the hope that it takes the best of “Carve the Mark” and makes it even better.
Hannah Ens is the communication specialist at the K-State Student Union.