Carve the Mark is the newest science fiction YA novel (and first book in a new trilogy, I suspect) for Veronica Roth, the author of the wildly popular Divergent series. In this new book, Roth has taken a huge leap to outer-space, where she has created an elaborate a series of worlds, each with its own language, culture, religion, climate and political system. These far flung and diverse worlds maintain a fragile co-existence thanks to The Assembly, the universal law makers who travel around in a planet-sized ship policing and legislating. To aide the Assembly, each planet has three Oracles who predict the future and whose powers are harnessed to plan for disaster and avoid emerging conflicts.
The power-hungry Assembly has grown impatient with the current system in which they must rely on the vague and secretive visions of the Oracles. They begin to legislate the ways the Oracles divine the future and control how the predictions are “broadcast” to the universe. In short, they want the power to hear the predictions first and to be able to “interpret” them in ways that favor The Assembly’s power.
Adding another complex dimension to the story; each resident of the universe has a magical power, called their “currentgift,” which manifests itself at puberty. These gifts can vary from special culinary talents to the ability to kill with just a touch. What a person’s currentgift is can determine their place among their people: a poor child with an extraordinary gift may find he is elevated to the ruling caste; the child of an important family may be devalued if her gift fails to be useful.
The story’s action centers largely on the planet Thuvhe which is home to two peoples: the Thuvhet of the frozen northern latitudes and the Shotet of the southern hemisphere. Despite efforts by The Assembly, these two nations remain at war, each one convinced they are the rightful rulers of the planet. The Shotet are led by a cruel and violent ruling family, The Noavek’s, who have convinced themselves and their people that the Oracles have lied about their lack of legitimacy as rulers and set out to change the future by capturing the youngest sons of Thuvhe’s Oracle to see if they can force an alternative future from their minds.
As the book unfolds, two primary characters emerge from the — very, very large — cast. Cyra, the daughter of the Shotet ruling family, whose currentgift is the ability to cause immense pain or death to anyone she touches. Her violent, unstable brother, Ryz, leads their people in a bloody campaign to defeat their northern neighbors, the Thutve. His only use for Cyra is to torture and kill his enemies and he is blind to her growing unease with his tactics and the war he is waging.
Akos is a young man who, along with his older brother, was kidnapped from his Thuvhe family and raised as a captive of the Shotet. Tortured for years, the brothers are held as hostages because Ryz is convinced that one of them is fated to be the next Oracle of the planet. If that is true, Ryz hopes his years of abuse and brain-washing will allow him to control the future.
Roth seems to be drawing inspiration from Star Wars, X-men, Game of Thrones, and maybe a dash of Harry Potter. The combination is an ambitious, far-reaching, and deeply imaginative novel that transports readers into another universe, literally. The major drawbacks seem to be that the book is very humorless and relentlessly dismal, making it feel tiring at times to continue reading. Additionally, the book seems a but more complicated than necessary, but perhaps those details that seem superfluous now will illuminate the later books in the series. Overall an interesting, if complex, book.