Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the “The Mark” series.
Akos is the youngest son of the present oracle of Thuvhe, one of nine planets in the Assembly of planets. In this universe, an unseen energy force, known as the current, flows through every living thing. It also gifts each person with a certain power.
Each of the planets has a rising, falling and current oracle. Akos and his older brother and sister are fate-favored, which means they have a specific role in the future that an oracle has seen. Only the oracle and the governing Assembly know the specific fates until the Assembly decides to make them public, putting all the fate-favored in danger.
Akos’ father retrieves Akos and his older siblings, Cisi and Eijeh, from school to protect them. But Shotet soldiers ambush them at their house. The Shotet are the feared enemy of the Thuvhe people. The soldiers kill Akos’ father and take Akos and Eijeh prisoners.
In the land of Shotet, Cyra Noavek is the sister of Ryzek, the ruler of the Shotet people. Their parents have taught them to value strength and power above emotions and beauty, unlike the culture of the Thuvhe. They are also fate-favored. Cyra will one day cross the Divide, which she assumes means she will have some interaction with the people of Thuvhe. Her brother’s fortune says that a member of the Benesit family will kill him.
Ryzek kidnapped Eijeh because he learned Eijeh is destined to become the next Oracle of Thuvhe. Ryzek wants to use Eijeh’s power to change his own fate. Ryzek also learned that Akos’ fate is to die in the service of the Noavek family.
Akos and Eijeh are separated. Eijeh is tortured to try and bring on his current gift of prophecy, while Akos is taken away to learn to fight so that he might protect the Noaveks.
Cyra’s current gift emerged when she was very young, before she could fully understand or control it. The current flows like black tendrils of ink over her skin, causing her immense pain. She lives in constant agony, unless she takes painkillers, which make her numb, physically and mentally.
Ryzek blackmails her into using her current gift to torture his enemies. When she touches them, her pain is transferred to them. It is the only time she gets relief from her own agony, but it often drives the victim mad. She hates when Ryzek uses her this way, but he has threatened to tell their people that she killed their mother with her gift, and that would cause them to kill her in retribution. Although the story is true, it had been an accident, one for which Cyra cannot forgive herself.
Several years later, Ryzek gives Akos as a servant to Cyra. Akos’ current gift is that he can interrupt the current so it does not affect him. She can transfer her pain to him, and he feels nothing. The following day, Akos gives her a painkiller he has made. It is not as mind numbing as the others, but still makes her agony manageable. He proposes that he teach her how to make the medicine so she will not have to rely on anyone else for help. In exchange, he asks that she help him become a better fighter so he may one day free his brother. Although to do this is treason, Cyra agrees.
The Shotet people prepare for their annual Sojourn. They were once nomads in the universe and scavenged to survive. Each year, the current directs them to a planet. They ask permission of the rulers and are granted the right to scavenge the planet’s garbage for their own benefit. The Sojourn is marked by a week of celebration before those old enough go into their spacecrafts and travel to the chosen planet.
Akos accompanies Cyra on the Sojourn and is given a room off of hers. Rumors begin to circulate about their relationship. Although they are becoming friends, they keep their distance romantically. Akos learns that the Shotet believe his people once raided their nation and kidnapped all their children while the parents were away on Sojourn.
Many years later, while on a Sojourn, they discovered a little girl on another planet who could speak their language. The Shotet believe it is their duty to become great warriors so that they will never be overcome again. They also believe that all descendants of those original children can speak their language naturally. Akos is able to speak Shotet, even though he has never been taught, and no one in his family was Shotet, to his knowledge.
While on Sojourn, terrorists sabotage the ship so that no lights work. They also try to kill Ryzek, but are stopped. Cyra, however, meets one in a darkened hallway, Teka, and lets her go. Later, she tracks down the traitor as Ryzek has sworn he will kill an innocent person in retribution.
Cyra convinces Teka to give her the name of a person within the resistance. Teka’s mother offers to sacrifice her life for her daughter’s. Cyra offers to help the resistance overthrow Ryzek in exchange for their help in freeing Akos. Before that can happen, however, she is summoned to use her gift to torture a traitor.
Akos and Eijeh are also summoned. Akos is disturbed to find his brother has changed. Ryzek has used his gift on Eijeh. He can trade memories with a person and has made Eijeh more like him. Eijeh barely acknowledges his brother and is unconcerned when Ryzek beats Akos in order to make Cyra torture a traitor.
Meanwhile, Akos has made a bargain with a Shotet named Jorek. Akos will fight Jorek’s enemy and kill him in a sanctioned duel. In return, Jorek will help Eijeh to escape. Although Akos wins the duel, the taking of another’s life emotionally cripples him. Upset at Akos’ reaction, Cyra asks the resistance fighters to free Akos sooner than they anticipated, and they agree as long as she will help them kill Ryzek.
Their plan is foiled, but Cyra sacrifices her freedom so the other resistance soldiers can escape. She is thrown into prison. Ryzek has learned that when Akos is physically weak, his current gift also weakens. He has Akos beaten, then uses a trusted servant to force Cyra to touch him. As Akos screams in agony, Cyra begins to control her pain so that it will not transfer to her friend. Cyra is condemned to life in prison, but the resistance manages to free Akos.
Akos wakens back in Thuvhe. Ori Benesit, an old family friend, meets him. Ori and her twin sister, Isae, are also fate-favored. Ori will eventually die for Isae, who will become the chancellor of Thuvhe. Akos’ sister, Cisi, arrives to take care of him. Shotet soldiers kidnap Ori and Isae as Ryzek knows one of them is fated to kill him.
Akos helps Isae and Cisi escape, but Ori is taken prisoner. Akos leads Isae to the resistance where Jorek’s family aids them because he killed their family’s enemy. Jorek tells him that Ryzek scarred Cyra, pulling the skin from half her face, as punishment for her betrayal.
Cyra is forced to fight for her life as an amusement for the citizens of Shotet. The soldier she must battle is Vas, a man whose current gift is that he does not feel pain. It means Cyra must win by strength and cunning, even though Vas is a trained soldier and much stronger.
Before Vas can kill her, Akos storms the arena and helps Cyra escape. As she heals from her wounds, Akos assures her he does not blame her for the pain she caused him during his interrogation. The two share a kiss. Cyra agrees to help the resistance find and rescue Ori from Shotet, and kill Ryzek.
Akos and Cisi’s mother arrives. She foresees several possible outcomes for their attempts to save Ori and Eijeh, but cannot be certain which will take place. Akos asks Cyra to spare Ryzek’s life. He is afraid if Ryzek dies, Eijeh will never recover the memories Ryzek stole from him. Cyra cannot make that promise. Instead, she finds an old acquaintance, a woman named Yma. She gives Yma a vial of poison to slip into Ryzek’s drink.
Akos, Cisi and Isae make their way into the prison where they believe Ori is being held, but Ori is gone. An old adversary, Vas, stops their search. Akos fights Vas and eventually kills him, while the others escape. In the arena above the prison, Cyra challenges Ryzek to a duel. Once he accepts her challenge and comes down to the arena to face her, she tells him he has been poisoned. He gestures up to the stands where Eijeh holds a knife to Ori’s throat. If Cyra does not give him the antidote, Eijeh will kill Ori. Cyra knows that even if she did spare Ryzek, she, Ori and the others would all be killed. She attacks her brother, even as Eijeh kills Ori.
Chaos erupts within the arena. Akos, Cisi and Isae try and save Ori, but it is too late. As the resistance lowers a ship to them, Isae drags her sister into it. Eijeh is unconscious as they take him into the ship as well. Cyra calls for Akos’ help to bring Ryzek’s body aboard. Akos tells her to leave Ryzek behind but then sees her knife, which has no blood on it. She has not killed her brother. The drug only rendered him unconscious. She has left him alive so that they might find some way to save Eijeh’s mind. When Ryzek regains consciousness, he torments Cyra with the knowledge that she is not really his sister. She is not a Noavek at all. He also tells her that his father is still alive.
Isae sets a course for Assembly headquarters, where Eijeh and Ryzek can be imprisoned. Akos’ mother speaks as the oracle and tells them all that she has seen war coming, in every vision she has been given. Although the future is dire, Akos is content for the moment as his family is together again, and Cyra is by his side.
A current flows through everything that has life. To every person, it gives a gift, a power of some kind. Cyra’s gift is pain. Cisi’s gift is to be able to transfer her mood to other people. Akos can interrupt the current so he can alter others’ gifts. The Thuvhe people believe the current is a spiritual guide.
Akos says the Thuvhe do not know if their prayers are answered. Akos’ mother serves as oracle to Thuvhe. As such, she sees potential futures for her people. The future has many different roads, but if a person is given a fate, it is certain to happen. To some Shotet, reverence to the current becomes a kind of religion. Some will not eat or drink certain foods because they have mind-altering effects, something that interferes with how the current interacts with them.
Some Shotet will not use certain machines that are driven by harnessing the current, as that would denigrate its power. When the Shotet kill someone, even in battle, they use a knife to carve a mark into the person’s arm, memorializing the person. Cyra tells Akos that her mother was beloved, treated like a deity among the Shotet people. Cisi says a prayer to the current after Ori dies, asking it to guide Ori to a place of peace.
Akos’ father dies trying to protect his children. Akos remembers him as a loving man. His mother chose to honor her job as the oracle over protecting her children. When she reunites with Akos, it is obvious that she loves him dearly. Cyra’s mother was a strong and loving woman whom everyone adored. Her father was cruel and sadistic. He forced Ryzek to order and watch executions to turn him into a leader of the Shotet.
D–n, s— and bulls— are used. The word butt is also used.
Rumors are told about Ryzek and Cyra, including that they keep their enemies’ eyeballs in jars and had kill marks all the way up their arms. Their grandmother murdered her own siblings.
Shotet invaders killed Akos’ grandmother. Shotet soldiers hit Akos and kill his father. Although not described in detail, the story is repeatedly told of how Akos killed one of the Shotet soldiers as he was being taken prisoner.
Ryzek uses Cyra’s current gift to torture his enemies. She pushes her pain into them, causing them excruciating agony. If she pushes hard enough, she can kill them, as she accidently killed her mother. Often the pain never leaves the victim, causing him to go insane or to kill himself to get relief.
Cyra describes killing a creature called an Armored One. The Shotet kill these creatures and use their hides for armor. Cyra remembers how the creature’s dying moans gave her nightmares. Vas, Ryzek’s bodyguard, beats Akos and threatens to crush his trachea with his foot.
Cyra kills a woman who challenges her to a duel. Cyra kneed her in the face, then used her current gift to kill her. Akos also kills a man in a duel. The two engage in a hand-to-hand fight before Akos stabs him in the side and then cuts his throat. Cyra uses her current gift numerous times to kill soldiers as she helps the resistance.
There are many descriptions of combat between Akos and resistance soldiers fighting Shotet soldiers, many times ending in the soldiers’ deaths. Ryzek forces Cyra to torture Akos. The agony they both feel is described in detail. Ryzek punishes Cyra by having the skin removed from half of her face.
She is forced to fight Vas in the arena. Vas stabs her several times before Akos arrives to save her. Vas and Akos battle. Akos allows Vas to cut him several times before getting close enough to stab Vas. Eijeh stabs Ori, causing her death.
Akos and Cyra’s relationship grows from servant and master, to friendship, to love. Akos first kisses her on the cheek as he imagines sharing a more intimate moment with her. The two share several passionate kisses after they are reunited.
Homosexuality seems to be acceptable in this universe. Cyra casually mentions that one of her male cousins is attending a gathering with his husband. It is hinted that Cisi and Isae are in a relationship together.
Drugs: Many people extract drugs from flowers and plants. Cyra takes some to help her sleep and to lessen her pain. Ryzek takes some to dull his mind before he tortures or executes a person.
Smoking: Eijeh’s mother warns him not to get caught with a pipe again, but it is not revealed what he is smoking.
Alcohol: Some characters drink wine
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