Friday, January 27, 2017

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

On a planet where violence and vengeance rule, in a galaxy where some are favored by fate, everyone develops a currentgift, a unique power meant to shape the future. While most benefit from their currentgifts, Akos and Cyra do not—their gifts make them vulnerable to others’ control. Can they reclaim their gifts, their fates, and their lives, and reset the balance of power in this world?

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 from the peace-loving nation of Thuvhe, and his loyalty to his family is limitless. Though protected by his unusual currentgift, 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. When Akos is thrust into Cyra’s world, the enmity between their countries and families seems insurmountable. They must decide to help each other to survive—or to destroy one another.

Rating: 1/5 Stars

It is no secret that Carve the Mark has become a controversial book even before its publication. There have been claims of racist tropes as well as ableism, but there have also been people coming out saying that those claims are not true, they are misinformed or downright wrong. Because of this, and because the voices were so conflicting, I decided to read this and see for myself what was going on in the book. Now I have reached my own conclusions but if you’re reading this I want you guys to know that, at the end of the day, this is my take on this and you might have a completely different opinion on it. Don’t take my word for granted, and you are welcome to discuss this stuff with me!

-Carve the Mark and the Dark-skinned aggressor trope. Or is it mixed race or what the heck is it?: 

Back in December I began hearing not so great things about Carve the Mark and its portrayal of dark-skinned people. I eventually came across this post by YA author Justina Ireland where it described how the Shotet were a race of dark-skinned savages who attacked the poor and “peaceful” Thuvhesit. Also known as the white race.

I was appalled by this, but also tired. Having races of “savage” people always being portrayed by dark-skinned characters is always hurtful, and one would think that on 2017 we would have moved past that (though not so much when you remember Trump, ugh). It is also incredibly lazy writing, whenever I find that on a book I roll my eyes at it, spit on it for good measure (don’t tell me what to do with my books) and DNF it.

After hearing this, I didn’t want to read Carve the Mark nor was I planning to, but then I came across a good many deal of reviews, posts and such who told a different story.

There was one review who mentioned how the colors had been confused, and actually the savage people were white, while the peaceful were dark-skinned (pointing out that it was still conflicting to have a “this vs that” with two races of people without delving into it). There were people who said both societies were of mixed race, and that they both had fair and dark-skinned people. There were a few who claimed there was absolutely nothing wrong with the book whatsoever and didn’t understand the criticism. And there were also people who claimed the people seeing any kind of issue were a bunch of “cry-babies” who needed to shut the fuck up. These last ones, of course, I ignored.

But I was confused, you see, there were so many conflicting voices all at once that you didn’t know what was happening!

If it were a matter of opinion I would understand it, but people were contradicting themselves on actual facts of the book, why was that?
The more days went on, the more people came out declaring their thoughts on the matter. I followed people who had gotten early ARCs of the book, and nobody seemed to settle on an opinion. Even now as I was reading it, I checked the status updates from people and found that things remained the same; some were calling out the book for its problematic content, others trying to figure out where the problem was coming from, and a couple more who claimed there was nothing wrong with the book.

Now that I have read it, I can tell you guys what I found.

Yes, there are two races in this book who represent savages/peaceful people; the Shotet and the Thuvhesit with a good deal of descriptions thrown in for good measure showing the stark contrast between them; always making the Thuvhesit be the peaceful and civilized and the Shotet the savages and violent brutes.

And as far as the book showed us (because it did not describe every single character in the entire planet), both societies were mixed race.

We have the main characters, Akos (peaceful) as fair, and Cyra (savage) as brown. But their families and a few secondary characters tell a different story.

Akos father, brother and sister are described with brown skin. Cyra’s own brother has “skin as pale as a corpse” and a couple of other Shotet characters also are described as with pale skin and blond hair.

HOWEVER, that is not the whole story *cue for suspense music* You see, by this point I thought that the people who claimed both societies were mixed race were right. I mean, no side was 100% white or 100% black, right? And yet that’s not the whole story.
Why was it that, of all the people, Roth chose her main characters to be: kind-white-boy and angry-and-violent-brown-girl? It was also strange that, despite how the book talked about mixed race and you had people of both fair skin and dark skin on both sides, there was still a clear distinction.

Despite mixed races, when you took a look at how their own peoplewere described and not just a few loose characters, you still had the same thing. The savages were mostly dark-skinned, and the peaceful folk were fair skinned.
In fact, something I kept thinking about was what Cyra’s words about mixed blood:

“Many Shotet had mixed blood, so it wasn’t surprising-my own skin was a medium brown, almost golden in certain lights.”

“It wasn’t uncommon for Shotet siblings to look dissimilar, given how blended our blood was,[…]”

This suggest a lot of blood mix (as well as some strange behaviour from the genes but… hey! Space book might have different rules for genetics. Who knows? Certainly not me), and at first it would make sense when you take into account the fact that Shotet are described as “nomads”, travelling from planet to planet, recycling other’s societies’ garbage as part of their mission.

One would think this traveling and coming in contact with so many cultures and people would cause this mixed race, right? And yet, I kept thinking about this:

“We didn’t realize our language was revelatory, carried in the blood, because we were always together, moving as one through the galaxy as wanderers.”

Something interesting about Shotet people (savages) is that their language is carried in their blood. Other people can learn it, but without Shotet blood they can never reach full fluency. And Shotet-blooded people who had never been in contact with the language can suddenly speak it perfectly and understand it when they meet other Shotet.

But what I gathered from this it was that, despite their travels the Shotet didn’t seem to have children with other people; otherwise they would have known sooner that their language is carried by blood, right? If they had married and their spouses could never learn the language but their children could, or later on, some of their children could and others not, then they would have made the connexion.
Instead what we get from this and a few other passages of the book was that, although the Shotet did interact with other cultures; they did so by observing. They explored, but they didn’t want to lose their “essence”, as they called it.

“We cull each planet’s wisdom and take it for our own, Otega had said, crouched down beside me at one of our lessons. And when we do that, we show them what about them is worthy of their appreciation. We reveal them to themselves.”

This has to do with where the Shotet and Thuvhesit’s conflict started. The Thuvhesit people (peaceful), see Shotets as savages who attack them because they are brutes who want to usurp their planet, but that doesn’t seem to be the true story.

Later on in the book we hear what appears to be the origin of this whole enmity. The Shotet were nomads, always following the “current” a kind of mystical force that nobody fully understand, but that the Shotet people worship. They once found an empty planet that the current favored, and so they settled there, but because they didn’t want to abandon their nomad roots and forget who they were, Shotet people still did “Sojourns” (travels in which they followed the current and stopped at planets to recycle) while leaving their youngest behind, as it was tradition. But then:

“[…]those who had settled north of Voa to harvest he iceflowers, who called themselves the Thuvhesit, ventured too far south. They came into our city, and saw that we had left many of our children here, to await their parents’ return from the sojourn. And they took our children from their beds, from their kitchen tables, from their streets. They stole our young ones, and brought them north as captives and servants.”

So the adults came back and found their children gone. It wasn’t until they ventured to the Thuvhesit’s territory that they came across a child-servant who could speak Shotet that they realized their language was blood-transmitted (somehow, don’t ask me) and that the white folks had enslaved their kids.

“And then,” he said, “we rose, and became soldiers, so we would never be overcome again.”

So basically, white folk stole and slaved their people and the Shotet became warriors to defend themselves but somehow got thwarted along the way and now they were just savages… bear with me.

This explains why both people seemed mixed race but with only a few having different skin color/hair. The Thuvhesit were originally all described as fair skinned, but as they took the dark skinned children of the Shotet and centuries passed(or just one? It wasn’t explained) we come to a Thuvhesit society that is primarily white, with a few dark-skinned families. Akos and his mom were the only ones with fair skin, since the rest of the children took after their father with Shotet ancestry.

And the same can be explained for the Shotet. I saw about six characters with fair skin in the Shotet society while the rest were described as dark skinned. Now, as I have said before Roth didn’t describe every single character in both sides, but she made a clear distinction when describing their societies and the large majority presented this contrast:

Peaceful folk: Fair skin
Savage folk: Dark skin

And it’s also due to notice that five out of those six white characters from Shotet were actually liberators and rebels, fighting against the brutality of other Shotets. The evil one was Cyra’s brother and Shotet’s ruler, but we are told constantly how “he wasn’t born evil” but rather made that way through their father’s savagery.

Who knows? Maybe in the next book Roth will write something else entirely and prove me wrong, but so far this is what she showed, so I’m gonna work with that.

Truth be told, in Thuvhe we see a society that is white, but so far only Akos’ family was described with darker skin (one was murdered, the other tortured, only the daughter survived). Moreover, Roth is constantly making comparisons between the two people and their sides of the planet as well.

In Thuvhe’s side everything is “beautiful and calming” white with its landscapes covered in snow. It’s harsh, but you can see the reverence Roth feels to the place as she writes about their religion, their devotion and their government. They are seen as calm, happy, loving and beautiful.

In Shotet you had bits here and there of description that was always aimed to make them look bad. The scars they carry (marks of loss) are often described as grotesque and savage. The population live in poverty and darkness (not even the spaceship seems to escape that). Their people are evil, abusers, quick to anger and to resort to violence. Their skin and armour is described as dark, always telling us how menacing they look and making the comparison of dark=bad.

Another issue this presents is that we are never truly shown the Thuvhesit as bad people? They are freaking colonizers! You would think that after learning what they did they would be shown in a different light, but everything remains the same. They don’t seem to have recollection of what their ancestors did, and so they have moved past that remaining as a peaceful society trying to fight the cruelty of the Shotet. While the people who were hurt, the Shotet, remain as uncultured, violent and cruel people.

Not even the romance between the two mains escapes this trope (as underdeveloped as it was). After they have both accepted their feelings for each other, things are starkly different. Cyra is willing and cooperative with the Thuvhesit, she wants to help them succeed and feels a bit ashamed of who she is and what she’s done. Akos says to love Cyra, but he never stops viewing the Shotet as violent and uncultured, wanting to take revenge on them but not wanting tobeviolent like them.

In the end, and despite conflicting opinions, I did find that the author used rather insensitive and harmful tropes with little thought or care on what she was doing.

-The world-building, or why the heck is there a spaceship- oh wait… right: 

Something that calls the attention as soon as you begin reading Carve the Mark is the world-building. While Roth sets herself to describe a lot of what happens in this world, the writing and the explanations are convoluted and unhelpful; we have tiny info-dumps located in every sentence or so of the book. Instead of incorporating the information on this universe in an organic and engaging way, she just tried to jam as much of it into the reading as possible. So we had sentences like:

“Oh, and this is a tea*inserts centuries old information about tea and customs that shall never be brought up again or ever be relevant to the story.*”

Hell, I got to the last chapter and Roth was still trying to give me explanations like these on mundane stuff.

It was a shame, because we have SPACE and I absolutely love anything that has to do with SPACE but it didn’t work. Truth be told, I kept forgetting we were talking about space and planets and galaxies because the atmosphere simply wasn’t there (was that a pun? Yeah I think it was). This book could be set anywhere, any time. It could be historical fantasy for all I knew, which was why it threw me off every time they mentioned a space ship. I had to stop on my tracks and go “Wait, why the heck is there a space ship here?... Oh, right, this was set in space… I think.”
Ten pages later I would see another spaceship and it was the same thing all over again “A spaceship?...” The story and world-building were too convoluted to be coherent enough for a story. We had little things that were explained with excruciating detail, and then you had important stuff that were completely ignored or barely mentioned at all.

Thuveth people weren’t really explored much since most of the book is spent with both characters in Shotet, but what we do know is that they worship iceflowers; some strange kind of flower that grows in the ice thanks to the current and that is used for medicine, but we never really see more than that. Their economy depends on its exportation, and they are attacked by the Shotet, a People who they (want to) believe invaded their planet and is trying to steal it from them. 

The Shotet’s culture is more developed thanks to most of the novel occurring there, but there are still many things that are either not explained or make little sense.

“You understand that we are a poor country, right?” I frowned back at him. “We have no real exports, and hardly enough natural resources to sustain ourselves independently. Some other planets send aid-Othyr, among them-but that aid falls into the wrong hands, and is distributed based on status rather than need.”

Their people is ruled by the Novaek family, and after the death of their parents, Cyra’s brother Ryzek is their tyrannical emperor. He’s shown to be a merciless leader; a brother who used to be kind to Cyra before his father’s abuse broke him and he became nothing short of a monster. He keeps his people ignorant of other languages so he can twist all propaganda to his own end, making the other planets look bad and his own regime as good. But most of their population except for the small high class, are very poor, starving and sick.

As far as I know, their people survive on their scavenges ehhh… I assume the land they live in too but we never see them harvesting or anything? And I don’t know if they have anything to export, like Cyra said; they don’t seem to have resources to sustain themselves with but readers never learn how big their population is, how they live, family structures, government (other than evil Ryzek)… now that I think about it, I know virtually nothing about them.

I know they worship the current and have technology to “follow” it wherever it guides them, settling on a planet to recycle their garbage. They pride themselves in being brutal and skillfull in the art of war, and they also use current blades… but I don’t know if they are the only people using them or if other cultures use them too. I also have no freaking idea of what a current blade is other than a knife made with “channelling material” so the current can flow through them, but what does it do? Is it like a regular knife or can it do something especial? They were mentioned all the time, but until this day I still have no idea on what they do or how they work.

There is also an association of nine planets? But we only know five cultures, Shotet and Thuve share a planet, but the rest I’m not sure. What about those other societies? What about other planets?? Cyra mentioned how they have travelled across the universe but only their solar system had planets with lives. What about outside their galaxy, can they go beyond that? Have they tried?

Oh, and there’s also a place for refugees of the Shotet reign to gather and… be a resistance, I guess? But, again it’s not explained and mentioned in passing.

-The villain was all over the place too: 

So, the main villain in this book is Cyra’s brother Ryzek. Both siblings are fate-favored which means they both have a fate they can’t escape from; Ryzek’s is to fall to the Benesit family AKA the Shotet’s enemies. Since birth, his father was considerably harsher on him, blaming him for the fate he didn’t chose, a shame on his family. As a result of this constant abuse, Ryzek went from a sweet and caring boy to a freaking sociopath.

“Ryzek had lived his life in a daze of cruelty, obeying the instructions of our longdead father like the man was standing over him, and relishing none of it. Men like Ryzek Noavek were not born; they were made. But time could not move backward. Just as he had been made, he had to be unmade.”

The relationship between him and Cyra is a very complicated one, especially since he was the one who caused the awakening of her painful gift… and has also been a little shit since then. Ryzek’s gift is to exchange memories at will; with his father’s abuse Ryzek would go to someone and force them to exchange one of his horrible memories for his victim’s happy ones. 

I have to say, the scene in which he does this with Cyra was quite reminiscent of sexual abuse, but I don’t know if the author realized that. You have him, Cyra’s older brother and someone she thrusts going to her saying-it’s only fair, that they should both share that burden since he gets the worse of their father’s wrath. Then he grabs her and forcefully takes a happy memory while leaving behind a horrible one of his. It is this act of violence, this violation of her mind that activates her gift. It was also interesting to notice that, when the doctors asked what made Cyra come to her gift so young (8 or 9 I think) her mother was quick to cover the truth and protect her son despite what he had done to her daughter and to herself as well.

Again, I don’t know if she intended this, but it was hard not to make the comparison as I was reading it and I was appalled that it was never addressed either. However, if anything, I feel like Ryzek is a character similar to Caleb; the sister to the main character who, for some reason I don’t get, the MC thinks it’s worth saving and shit happens.

Except that, after going back and forth Cyra seems to finally settle on her brother being evil… I think. Maybe she’ll change in the next book, it was weird.

There’s really not much else to say about him, because just as the rest of the novel his character was rather underdeveloped and the author preferred to be mysterious and ominous, throwing hints here or there about what he was doing or how he was like. I was expecting to find this HUGE plot twist by the end of the novel base on all that shade, but I had already predicted pretty much everything.

For some reason he kind of reminded me of Balem Abrasax though?...


Actually, no. Balem was creepier but he was a GOOD CHARACTER. Also, Eddie Redmayne is adorable. I don’t know how that’s relevant to this review but SCREW IT, HE IS AND HE STAYS IN THIS RANT.

-On the Romance or Wait this Was a Love Story? Where? Why? 

CTM has a romance between Akos and Cyra, but I honestly won’t go very deep into it because the book never did.

At the beginning of the book we see Akos and his brother being kidnapped by Shotet after they murder their father. Sometime later on the story (don’t ask me how long because the book never tells) we see how Ryzek gives Akos to Cyra as a servant. His gift is to annul other people’s powers, which means he can stop the pain Cyra constantly feels. This will lead to them spending a great deal of time together, and thus developing a relationship.

Or it would have if there had been a good development here.

In truth, we never really know why these two decide they love each other. There’s no chemistry between them, and they never address any issues in their relationship; like the fact that Akos is her slave, her family butchered his, or how his thirst for revenge constantly puts Cyra into danger and he gives no fucks about it.

Basically the two talk, Cyra begins to feel bad about his situation (kind of, it’s more like an afterthought but whatever) she suddenly realizes that she can change, that she was weak before when she was forced to torture others and that she can handle the pain. All through the power of love… I guess. And then Akos… I guess he finds her… ehh… maybe pretty? Although he never says so or anything and then he… ehhhh…ahhh…uhhh

Okay FINE! I have no idea of what they see in each other or why they suddenly love each other. They still treat each other pretty badly, Akos still sees all Shotet as savages and passive-aggressively blames her for stuff, and Cyra is just… there feeling bad and trying to redeem herself in the eyes of white folks by selling out her own people.

-On Ableism and Chronic Pain: 

Before I start discussing this, I want to clarify that I do not have chronic pain so my critique will be done by analysing the quotes provided by the book. However, I’m leaving here a link of a blog post written by the wonderful Jenny Trout who explains the issues with ableism and Carve the Mark much better than I ever could. Check her out! Especially if you want to see the point of view of someone whodoes have chronic pain.

Alright, let’s get started.

You know, at the beginning of the book and for some idiotic reason I actually thought the author might do something good with the inclusion of chronic pain. Be respectful, even. We see how Cyra’s mother visits several doctors in hopes of finding something that will relieve her daughter’s pain, and one day they come across this asshole:

“That your daughter’s gift causes her to invite pain into herself, and project pain into others, suggest something about what’s going on inside her,” he said. “A cursory assessment says that on some level, she feels she deserves it. And she feels others deserve it as well.”

Cyra’s mom is, understandably, horrified. She says her daughter is in horrible pain, and that it is definitely not her fault. Go mom! I actually thought that Roth was going to make a parallel with how people with Chronic Pain are treated in real life like she said in her interview. That it’s not a “big deal” and if they are feeling pain, it might be because they want to.

I don’t know why I had assumed that she would actually do some research, especially if she has friends with chronic pain, and try to do some good with it. But it became clear as I read that Roth used this illness as a plot device, and very disrespectfully. Because further into the novel, we get to see Cra interacting with someone who has a more positive gift. Akos sister Cisi has the gift of making other people feel better, when Cyra asks her how this has changed her and her relationship with other people, she says:

”The gift comes from me,” Cisi said. “It’s an expression of my personality. So I guess I don’t see a difference.”
It was, essentially, what Dr. Fadlan had said to my mother in his office, that my gift unfolded from the deeper parts of me, and it would only change as I changed.

You see, it is as Cyra falls for Akos and realize how savage and violent she used to be that she changes, and so her gift changes with her and stops hurting.

“But there was no denying another thing Dr. Fadlan had said-that on some level, I felt like I, and everyone else, deserved pain.”

Before this, Cyra had been relentless in believing that this gift was a curse, that she did not want it nor believed her or anybody else deserved pain. When she finally “comes to terms” with the realization that the pain comes from her because she feels like she deserves it, and that other people deserve to be in pain too, she’s practically cured!

“You told me that I could choose to be different than I had been, that my condition was not permanent. And I began to believe you. Taking in all the pain nearly killed me, but when I woke up again, the gift was different. It doesn’t hurt as much. Sometimes I can control it.”

I REPEAT, thanks to peaceful and civilized Akos, she realizes that she can stop being so savage and therefore her gift magically changes! She doesn’t hurt anymore! Ohh young love, so powerful! So fucking convenient! 

What kind of messages does that sends? That people with chronic pain have a gift that allows them to become stronger.

”The gift,” I said, “is the strength the curse has given me.” The new answer was like a blooming hushflower, petals unfurling. “I can bear it. I can bear pain. I can bear anything.”

I guess Roth tries to send a positive message with Cyra in the way that, she has suffered but has become stronger because of it. I say, why suffer at all? Why is it that Roth has this weird fixation with women being martyrs *cough* Allegiant *cough cough*, suffering in silence for the sake of others? How fucked up is this??
So what, people with Chronic pain should just… embrace their pain because it makes them “stronger” and somehow, by changing their attitude they’ll stop hurting? What?

Sorry, but that’s fucking horrible. Who thought this was a good idea? 

I don’t understand how the editors, proofreaders and everybody involved in the writing process thought this was okay to publish but hey, they also didn’t give a crap about the violent black people, so they are clearly out of fucks.

I reached the end of the book enraged and in disbelief. My mind cannot comprehend how people have seen this as okay, and then go ahead and put it on a pretty cover and sell it? And it’s a fucking best-seller WTF!?

As a final thought, I think that if you have made it this far you have realized by now that I wasn’t a fan of Carve the Mark. Even if none of these issues had been present in the book, you are still left with a poorly thought world, bland characters, cry-worthy slow pace, and predictable twists. Truth is, I would have DNFed this one long ago, but I wanted to get to the end so I could write this review.

Wished I could forget this.

1 comment:

  1. Yay! Someone else who follows the amazing and hilarious Jnney Trout! As soon as I heard the online chatter about the issues with ableism in this book, I knew she'd have it covered on her blog and she didn't disappoint. I was sent an ARC of this book and having heard all the conflicting opinions, wanted to read it to make up my own mind too. But all the criticisms I'd heard were more than justified. It's a shame, because I don't think any of the stereotypes and depictions were intended to be hurtful, they were just incredibly lazy, and it blows my mind that this book made it to print without anyone in the process of getting it to the shelves calling that shit out. Great review!