‘Carve the Mark’ by Veronica Roth – Book Review

Blurb from Goodreads

In a galaxy powered by the current, everyone has a gift.

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 the son of a farmer and an oracle from the frozen nation-planet of Thuvhe. Protected by his unusual currentgift, Akos is generous in spirit, and his loyalty to his family is limitless. 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.

Then Akos is thrust into Cyra’s world, and the enmity between their countries and families seems insurmountable. Will they help each other to survive, or will they destroy one another?

Carve the Mark is Veronica Roth’s stunning portrayal of the power of friendship—and love—in a galaxy filled with unexpected gifts.

My Review

Oh dear!! Where do I start?????

  • Racial stereotyping and questionable use of certain imagery (please seek out the reviews from reviewers of colour that can give greater insight into this).
  • Ill advised plot lines that reinforce rape culture rather than expose it as negative
  • Unflagged trigger warnings.
  • And a romanticised depiction of chronic pain (something that is very personal to me).

But let’s begin with the writing. Wow talk about dull! The first half of this book was so incredibly tedious. The pace, the plotting, the world building (what world building?!?!)… It just dragged. It felt uninspired, insipid, unimaginative, take your pick! Was this book set in space??? It didn’t feel like that to me. One of the things that I really didn’t like with regards to the writing was the format of switching points of view. It just did not work because it was so poorly executed. It seemed much too haphazard and really hindered the flow of the narrative.

So the basic set up is there are two races of people sharing some planet. They hate each other because *reasons* and hatred & drama ensue.

Trigger Warning Self Harm:

At this point I would like to draw your attention to some ritualistic behaviours the Shotet people do regarding marking their bodies. In particular during chapter 13 there is a very detailed description of something that could be incredibly triggering to anyone who has issues regarding self-harm. While I personally am okay with the theory behind this behaviour I strongly feel that there should be a warning on the back cover of this book with regards to this behaviour. When are authors and publishers going to take some responsibility for the possible detrimental effects of the content of their published works???

The three main characters in this book are:

  • Cyra, a Shotet girl who experiences chronic pain.
  • Her power hungry, villainous brother Ryzek.
  • And then there is Akos, a Thuvhesit boy fated to serve his Shotet enemy.

Let’s start with Akos…. I’ve pretty much nothing to say about him. He was about as interesting as a piece of cardboard. Zero personality. One dimensional. Boring…move on!!!

Ryzek, the big bad. Likes to rape minds and steal memories. He could have been a quite chilling character but his portrayal descended into pantomime theatrics and a sensitive subject such as forcibly taking what you want and thereby violation of another person was very badly handled.

Content Warning: Rape Culture

So Ryzek rapes Cyra’s mind thus causing the early onset of her ‘currentgift’ which leaves her experiencing chronic pain for which she is ultimately told is her fault because she feels she deserves this pain… That bother anyone else??? Reinforce the idea of victim shaming/blaming???

And finally, there is Cyra. She’s an interesting character. It’s a bold move to attempt to write a character suffering from chronic pain… But was it a move that paid off???

Well with regards to the storyline yes!

With regards to upsetting and offending sufferers of chronic pain then it’s a big no.

Content Warning: Problematic Chronic Pain Representation

So here’s a little information about me.

I live with chronic illness. And one aspect of this causes great physical pain. It causes more pain than I could ever possibly explain to you. My chronic pain took hold of my life when I was still a child. So I think that living with chronic pain for a quarter of a century qualifies me to discuss it.

My first problem with Cyra’s chronic pain is the terminology used. It is frequently described as a ‘currentgift‘.

In the glossary a currentgift is explained as follows:

thought to be a result of the current flowing through a person, currentgifts are abilities, unique to each person, that develop during puberty. They are not always benevolent.

Isn’t that last line about this currentgift not always being benevolent great??? As if it somehow excuses you from the offensive terminology of calling the suffering of the main character a ‘gift’.

Here’s a tip for you.

Do not ever call chronic pain a gift.

Even if it’s in a slightly made-up word that you feel the need to explain in the back of your book.

What really annoyed me in this instance is how Cyra referred to her pain as a gift. I could accept anyone else in the book referring to it as such and put it down to their ignorance and then possibly have Cyra show why it should not be called such a thing…

But she FREQUENTLY called it a gift without any hint of irony, derision or sense of injustice!!!

Only once did she disagree, but then, instead of referring to the pain in some other manner, she continued on with this gift terminology.

My pain is not, and will never be a gift. I will always experience pain. There is no out. And I am incredibly offended by even remotely suggesting that it could possibly be construed as a gift. Where is my gift receipt please because I’m sending this unwanted gift back!!!

Also, my chronic pain is not an ability. An ability???? I don’t do magic tricks with it. Unless you want to see how easily I can swallow large painkillers with barely a mouthful of water so I don’t vomit!!!!!

Okay. I get where the idea of this character is coming from. And there are aspects to the descriptions surrounding Cyra’s pain that I really liked.

The pain was just part of life now. Simple tasks took twice as long because I had to pause for breath

Great stuff! The normality of everyday living changes completely when you live with chronic pain. You don’t have an off switch from it, you have different levels of intensity and somehow you get through a day. And everything takes so very long. Even something as simple as getting out of bed in the morning can take hours.

If anyone is interested in understanding more about the life of someone with a chronic illness I would love to direct you to “The Spoon Theory“. It’s a very simplistic but beautiful way of expressing what daily life can be like for chronic illness and pain sufferers. I would encourage anyone to read up on it so you can understand what normality is for those people like me who live under the radar with our invisible diseases. You can read all about it HERE.

So here’s another problem with the portrayal of chronic pain in the book. It may be stated once or twice that simple tasks take longer etc but I saw no extended periods of fatigue as a result. Cyra was frequently able to fight in a gym type environment… Really??? Like ALL of the time????? Trust me. There are days that no matter how much you try to push through the pain you can’t. You just can’t. There is insufferable and unending fatigue.

However, there was one lovely quote I liked that I could very much identify with:

That he couldn’t feel pain also meant he didn’t know about the grey space just beneath consciousness that made it more bearable.

I love that grey space. I frequently stay hours in that grey space and don’t know where my day has disappeared to all of a sudden. So I needed more moments like this. More explanations to ground Cyra’s pain in reality. Pain so often should have consumed her body so much that she would have laid there motionless until unconscious. You often cannot take the pain and that needs to be shown more. It goes to this whole romanticised notion of pain. How suffering is some great beauty.

That brings me to chapter 25 (mild spoiler ahead)

In this chapter Cyra comes to the conclusion that ultimately:

the gift is the strength the curse has given me… I can bear it. I can bear pain. I can bear anything.

This is insulting and wrong on so many levels. I know that ideologically this is a lovely thought. It goes to the idea that being someone living with pain and fighting through to live another day is admirable.

Look at how stoic she is, so brave, so strong….

So spare me your melodrama!!!

That is an idea for people who don’t live with daily pain. It is there, to comfort them. To justify why some people live lives of pain and others don’t. It goes to the notion that pain is a burden which is only given to those who are strong enough to carry it.

Not true.

Pain is indiscriminate. Pain corrupts. Pain infiltrates your every fibre of person. It changes you. You don’t become strong you become institutionalised to it. You fall back on survival mechanisms. Don’t glorify those mechanisms as some sort of admirable strength. I don’t want to bear “anything” thanks. The pain is quite enough.

It also alludes to a dangerous concept that as pain sufferers we somehow have this skill or ability to take more and more and more. As if we should never feel that the pain is too much???

Trust me, with chronic pain the pain is MUCH too much, and this concept that Cyra thinks that her ability to bear incalculable amounts of pain makes her somehow strong is insulting.

It is okay to not be able to bear unending pain every day.

It is okay to feel like it is too much.

It is okay to need help.

It is okay to not have to suffer in silence.

It is okay to not have to be martyred by pain.

I would also like to have seen a greater emotional impact on Cyra of what it is like to live with pain for so long. I too was a child when pain took hold. I will never forget that first day of experiencing pain. What it was like ripping through my little body.

So where was the hatred? The bitterness?? The why me???

The only self loathing we had on Cyra’s part was because of how she inflicted her pain on others and her guilt over that. (Btw, also offensive. I would never wish my pain on another soul so to say that that is something a chronic pain sufferer would do… Yeah… Not impressed!) But I would have much preferred this loathing to be based on the manifestation of her pain and not some outside event.

I haven’t even touched on the idea that Cyra’s love interest in this story lessens her pain which just adds this book to the myriad of other YA novels out there that tells the reader that love can cure no matter what ails you be it a mental health issue or a physical illness…. At the end of the day, this is a fictional story and Cyra does not suffer from a chronic illness per se (I’m incredibly aware that in future books there is a possibility for a narrative surrounding healing which I hope the author will not explore). But as this is fictional who am I to say that the experiences of Cyra shouldn’t be written as they are. Veronica Roth has claimed that she experiences chronic pain and perhaps this is how she feels… It just is not my experience of life with pain and not the experience of many other people who live with chronic pain that I am familiar with.

On the whole this is a very problematic book.

It has issues with poor writing and character development to start with. There are potentially offensive racial undertones, an unflagged trigger warning regarding self-harm, and what I believe is an ineffectual representation of chronic pain.

But I don’t think that Veronica Roth set out to be racist or ableist or any such thing. I believe that she is just a writer very much out of her depth lacking in proper guidance. I feel there is a sad indictment on the publishing industry that somehow allowed this book to slip through editing and proof reading with the presence of so many questionable aspects.

So my last thoughts on this book are for Ms Roth and for her future writings.

In the words of the great Samuel Beckett:

“Ever tried, ever failed, no matter.

Try again, fail again, fail better.”

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