I LOVE that the characters are so aware of what they’re doing. It’s fine to have a story filled with unassuming characters who fall into events accidentally, but I believe allowing characters to choose, even when the choices are bad, especially when the choices are bad adds a level of intricacy to a story that piques interest. When characters are faced with uncertain circumstances, sometimes they choose right or wrong, but it’s easy to let them off the hook. When faced with certain circumstances with known negative consequences and they still choose a “bad” path, it is so much more interesting to read. And it’s not just the “good” characters who display this moral dichotomy. There’s the “bad” guy who has to drug himself to hurt people because it upsets him. There’s the “bad” guy who seems evil but is really just very detached from reality. There are several others, but I don’t want want to share more details for the fear of spoiling you.
I think the best and worst thing about Carve the Mark is that I am left with an overall sense of wanting more. This is good in that I’m excited about the series and eagerly anticipating the sequel. I find the society and setting of the book endlessly fascinating and hope to see more of both in the sequel. I think I didn’t get a good sense of Akos and Cyra and their relationship until part four, which is roughly 65% through the book. That’s not great, considering it’s a large book. I do think some deeper characterisation earlier on would help readers understand the characters and the story, but in the end, you do get the information you need, and I did still enjoy the book overall.
I do think Roth’s technique has improved vastly in four years since Divergent first published. I think the writing is stronger. I think the world and its inhabitants are more interesting. I think the story is bolder, and I think all its elements have allowed more room to develop. As a nerd for all things English, I’m really interested in all the things that make up the non-narrative part of the book. I think it’s really cool that Cyra and Akos are narrated differently; Cyra in first person and Akos through a limited third person. At first, I didn’t understand the division into parts and the use of one narrator or the other in each part, but it’s an interesting style of choice that does a bit of story-telling by its own merit. Having finished the book and thought about it some more, I can see the big picture and I totally get it. Also, a little more than halfway through the book, I thought to myself “I could really go for a map,” and then I realised there will be one.
One last thing that literally doesn’t fit anywhere else: I like that every time I forgot these are teen characters, I was reminded by some small detail. Cyra casually mentions so many tiny things that are part of the average teenage girl experience, and it helped bring me back to close focus on the individual characters as opposed to HERE’S THIS WHOLE GALAXY THAT MAY OR MAY NOT BE FACING WAR. It’s so small that small people might not notice, but I did and I appreciate it. Things like mentioning bras, periods, small crushed, having to borrow underwear when you’re a fugitive and didn’t get to pack, stuff like that.
Overall, I really like Carve the Mark. I think readers who love Roth’s previous work will fall in love with this new series, and to anyone who is on the fence or wants to write it off because they don’t like hype or they didn’t like Divergent, I urge you to give it a shot.