On Veronica Roth’s “Carve the Mark”

Courtesy of Goodreads.com

This review appears on paperbackparis.com:

As far as unpopular opinions go, thinking that the Divergent series is better than The Hunger Games series borders on blasphemous in the world of young adult fiction.

Alas, I am one of the people who thinks Veronica Roth‘s series was more powerful. But I concede that my preference for the series rests on a personal bias for the whole concept of factions (the Dauntless are my people) and the genetic engineering that comes about in the third book.

Because of my love for Divergent, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Roth’s new novel, Carve the Mark—the first book in a new series. Unfortunately, I was forced to learn a valuable lesson upon finishing this novel: always go in with low expectations.

That isn’t to say that this book is horrible; it certainly isn’t. But it gets off to a slow start. Roth—whom I’ve always considered a great technician when it comes to language and pacing—falls into a style that’s a little sloppy in the first fifty pages or so. The plotting is off-kilter, and so many things go unexplained before the novel’s first major event goes down.

The novel (and the overall pacing) would have benefited from a more in-depth study of Akos and his relationship with his family. That pivotal moment in the first part comes so quickly that the reader barely has time to adjust to the new setting and character introductions in part two. And–this could just be my impression—but I felt like too many consecutive chapters from Cyra’s perspective blocked proper development of Akos’s character.

I did, in some sense, approve of this tactic because Cyra is the driving force that kept this novel interesting for me. Her development as a character ends up turning into a physical transformation that I found moving; oftentimes, these developments in young adult novels can be trite and insincere, but hers is gut-wrenching and born from a real, painful love.

In her acknowledgment section at the end of the book, Roth makes a dedication to women who suffer from chronic pain. Roth clearly found inspiration in their suffering. Enough to create one of her harshest, most complex characters. As a reader who was forced to bear witness to Cyra’s endless agony, I could practically feel the dark mass of her currentgift swirling underneath my own skin.

The whole idea that a person’s currentgift serves as an extension of who they are becomes especially fascinating when Cyra’s changes as a result of her friendship with Akos and her growing selflessness. I especially love the way Roth’s characters have a self-awareness and moral obligation that people outside of fiction often have the luxury of forgetting. Many of them see that dying for someone or something greater than themselves is admirable and sometimes necessary.

This seems to be a theme that Roth will continue to grapple with in her fiction. None of her readers will soon forget how the Divergent series ended. And, in that respect, despite this novel’s clumsy plotting, I look forward to the rest of the novels in this series because the exploration of those high concepts is enough to keep me coming back for more.

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