A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Carve the Mark is a futuristic fantasy from best-selling Divergent author Veronica Roth. The first in a two-volume series, the dual-narrative story includes fantasy violence, murder, kidnapping, imprisonment of innocents, and a planned war. The characters' unique gifts can injure, torture, even kill. There's a buildup of romantic chemistry but only a few kisses, nothing more. However, the violence is persistent throughout the story, from assassinations to drawn-out torture sessions to arena duels to the death. Language includes mild insults and a few uses of "s--t." The book offers up swapped gender roles, with the girl protagonist as the expert fighter and the boy protagonist as the vulnerable, emotional one. Some critics have pointed out problematic depictions of skin color and chronic pain, but that's open to interpretation. The story promotes the message that groups of people are more than the stereotypes about them.
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What's the story?
CARVE THE MARK is the first book in best-selling Divergent author Veronica Roth's new fantasy duology. Set on an icy planet ruled by violence between two neighboring but enemy peoples -- the peaceful Thuvhe and the nomadic, violent Shotet, who carve a mark on their skin after every kill -- the story is told from two points of view. There's Akos Kereseth, the youngest son of a Thuvhian oracle (everyone on the planet has an X-Men-like special gift, whether it's the power of persuasion, swapping memories, or seeing the future), and Cyra Noavek, the younger sister to Ryzek, the Shotet's tyrannical ruler. After Ryzek kidnaps a young Akos and his older brother, Eijeh, the brothers are brought up imprisoned in the Shotet kingdom. Cyra's gift is that she feels and can cause unlimited amounts of pain, while Akos' is that he can interrupt anyone else's gift. Dictatorial Ryzek gives Akos to Cyra as a present, because his touch can relieve her pain. Although at first they're reluctant to trust each other, Akos and Cyra eventually become friends. As Ryzek embarks on a mission to go to war with the Thuve, Cyra and Akos must decide how to undermine his bloody plans.
Is it any good?
Roth's latest twist-filled fantasy is sure to please readers who love epic opposites-attract romances set in war-torn faraway lands. Like An Ember and the Ashes and The Winner's Curse, this is a tale of two protagonists, one who's from a ruling family and caste and one who's practically a slave. Both Cyra and Akos are "fated" -- meaning that oracles see them carrying out the same destiny in a host of possible futures -- and their fates are linked. Cyra's voice is in first person, while Akos' is in third person, fitting their personal styles: She's passionate and rational, he's guarded and emotionally fragile. Their romance is refreshingly slow-building, even though they're forced to spend all their time together. They have to learn to trust each other first, and Roth makes sure to draw out the tension for most of the book.
Roth gets into a bit of trouble with the world-building, which is occasionally sloppy and underdeveloped. The descriptions of the two peoples are a tad stereotypical: The Shotet are multiracial but have darker-skinned rulers (reminiscent of Brazil), and their language is described as harsh (even by Cyra herself, which doesn't make all that much sense, since she loves her language), while the Thuhve are described as practically Scandinavian. With only one more book left, Roth will have a lot of questions to answer and plot holes to fill, but it's clear her finest skills are in building relationships and characters -- not necessarily fully fleshed-out fantasy worlds.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the gender roles in Carve the Mark. Cyra is the strong one who can fight, and Akos is the vulnerable one. What other books offer unconventional gender roles?
What did you think of the level of violence in the book? How do these issues affect the characters? Is violence in books different from that in other media, such as movies or television?
Some readers have complained that the book's description of the peaceful Thuve as fair-skinned and the "bloodthirsty" Shotet as darker-skinned is racist. A prominent disabled critic says the description of pain as a "gift" is also insensitive to those who aren't able-bodied. What do you think?
- Author: Veronica Roth
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Space and Aliens
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
- Publication date: January 17, 2017
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 480
- Available on: Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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