Roth carves new controversy

“In a galaxy powered by the current, everyone has a gift.” Carve the Mark is Veronica Roth’s newest YA novel, her first since the controversial final installment of the New York Times best-selling Divergent series. Boldly marketed as being the perfect read for “fans of Divergent and Star Wars,” it’s safe to say that Roth’s newest novel has a lot to live up to.

Undeniably gripping, if not predictable at times, Carve the Mark is certainly a departure from the fast-paced dystopic Chicago setting of Roth’s first series, at least on the surface.

Roth creates a downright beautiful, sprawling galaxy composed of planets differing vastly both in climate and culture, bound together by “the current,” an invisible power that gives all people abilities called “currentgifts.” This power can also be channeled into technology, weapons and spaceships, and provides a much needed conflict for the story. (For those fans of Star Wars, think of a less discriminatory ‘Force’: everyone gets a power and there are fancy “sabers” that channel that power, though they’re significantly less shiny.) The planets of Carve the Mark feel whole, built up by histories, languages and world building that ultimately offers more potential for the course of the series than the current story-line. (Pun intended.)

The novel takes place on Thuhve, an icy planet divided between the peace-loving Thuhvests and the brutal Shotet. The story is told through alternating chapters between the two leads, both children of prominent families in their respective cultures. The chapters are split not only between narrators, but between narrative styles; one character, Cyra, narrates exclusively in first person, while the other, Akos, is limited to a third-person perspective. While this switch doesn’t necessarily detract from the story, it certainly doesn’t seem to serve any particular purpose either.

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Fans of Divergent will still find similarities to Roth’s first series, particularly in the novel’s themes, as it grapples with the importance of family, a romance borne out of an unlikely friendship and tense, touchy-feely training scenes, intense action interspersed with banterful humor, conflict between siblings, and betrayal. (Except it’s in space this time! Wooh!)

But there’s another similarity between Carve the Mark and Roth’s Divergent series: the two have stirred up controversy in the literary world.

Carve the Mark has been accused of being racist and ableist in its portrayal of the Shotet people and the main character Cyra’s chronic pain, a symptom of her “currentgift”. Though I personally didn’t find any basis to those claims in my own reading, I know my perspective isn’t the deciding factor in determining whether or not something is racist. I do, however, think that the main character’s conclusion that pain can somehow be not only deserved but considered a gift is potentially problematic. Regardless, the controversy raises important points about the nature of representation in YA literature, especially following the 2016 We Need Diverse Books campaign.

So, does Carve the Mark succeed in carving out a name for its own? While certainly set in a unique sci-fi world, there are times when the novel just misses the mark. Whether you’re a Divergent fan willing to give Roth another chance, wanting to join the discussion about the book’s more controversial issues, or even if you’re just looking for some good YA science fiction, all in all, Carve the Mark is worth reading. Just don’t go looking for anything life-changing.

And, may the current be with you.

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