BOOK REVIEW: Carve the Mark, by Veronica Roth

BOOK REVIEW: Carve the Mark, by Veronica RothTitle: Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth
Series: Carve the Mark #1
Published by Katherine Tegen Books
Published: January 17th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 480
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Work
Goodreads

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.

So, I should preface this with a few key points. I work for a bookstore and received an ARC of this book through my job. All opinions are my own. This review is not an attack on the author, the publisher, or anyone else. I am also white, and I am aware this affects my position to call something out as racist. I find that it’s helpful to raise awareness of problematic representation in the media we consume.

In regards to advance copies being sent out to reviewers, I’ve noticed in a lot of Goodreads reviews that the bloggers state either at the beginning or the end of their review that HarperTeen (HT from here on out) sponsored these reviews. Further research led me to discovering that HT paid this set of bloggers to review Carve the Mark. This behavior from a publisher is unsettling. Generally speaking, if one is going to be paid for reviewing something, one will not review the thing unfavorably (and if one reviews unfavorably, that reviewer runs the risk of tarnishing the relationship with said publisher). This behavior by the publisher is akin to self-published authors paying readers to post positive reviews of the work in order to boost sales. That’s what I feel like HT is doing. Perhaps HT was aware of the problematic material in the book and decided to garner a set of positive reviews to boost sales before the book’s official release. I feel as if that money could have been better used to assist Roth in adjusting some of the problematic ideas presented in the book.

I stopped reading at page 66. I was simultaneously bored and unsettled by the book and set it aside. This being said, I do not know how the book ends or develops, and I honestly don’t care. Here are the main things I found problematic within those first 66 pages:

  1. The Thuve and the Shotet. The Thuve are presented as a lighter skinned race who are passive. Akos, one of the main characters, views the Shotet as a brutal and fierce race of people (the Shotet killed Akos’s grandmother). The first time the readers are introduced to the Shotet, the Shotet arrive to Akos’s family farm and brutally murder his father.
  2. The Shotet language is described as harsh and gutteral by Akos compared to his own softer sounding language (who discovers he has the ability to speak other languages without prior conscious knowledge of them). This view of languages is similar to the comparisons of the “music” of Romance (white) languages (French, Italian, Spanish) to the “harsh, guttural” (black) languages of the African continent.
  3. While the Shotet are described has having varying tones of skin, Cyra’s mother is described as having hair curly enough for fingers to be trapped in the curls while Cyra’s is not as curly as that. Um. Okay.
  4. Cyra’s brother Ryz forcibly trades one of his memories for one of Cyra’s. Cyra obviously struggles against it and can’t fight it, and you know what? That’s rape. Forcing someone to take something mentally (and inevitably physically) is an act of rape. Cyra was raped by her own brother. As a result of that rape, Cyra’s power manifests itself as pain. Literally. Pain. By page 66, Cyra cannot touch other people without feeling pain, and other people cannot touch her without feeling pain.
  5. Later, Cyra’s mother asks the doctor “You’re saying this gift is my daughter’s fault? That she wants to be this way?” And the doctor (male) says, “Cyra, the gift comes from you. If you change, the gift will, too.” So a man is telling a woman that her rape and her pain from that rape is her own fault and that she can change it at will. Yep. That’s a blatant reinforcement of rape culture.
  6. The religion of the Shotet draws heavily from Islamic ideology. Some of the religious leaders are called clerics, and some of the practices reinforce the negative views the West has on Muslim culture. We need to move past these harmful stereotypes.
  7. While I enjoyed the Divergent trilogy well enough for what it is (even if it’s a blatant knockoff of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, it is also somewhat original in its ending), Carve the Mark is a lazy reimagining of the Star Wars and X-Men universes. It tries to be unique and diverse, but the glaring insensitivity within the first sixty pages result in its failing.

I was excited for this because there aren’t too many science fiction novels lately for the YA audience. However, the problems in the novel fail its readers by relying on outdated, racist tropes that should be a thing of the past in 2017. Science fiction is about creating new worlds, exploring new ideas, and finding some kernel of society to examine. Carve the Mark does none of this. Instead of drawing on redundant, harmful tropes, science fiction should offer the author and the readers the ability to create something new, to flip tropes and reinvent them. It seems as if the editors failed to notice or didn’t care, knowing that they’d have a cash-grab with the popular name attached; or it seems as if Roth is privileged enough to be unaware of the damage she has caused with these themes. Maybe it’s a combination of both.

After the roller coaster of the last several years with the Black Lives Matter movement, the systematic oppression of Muslims, and the discussions I have had and read, I’m finding myself more and more sensitive to the plights of those who are oppressed. I want to give those people a voice rather than reinforce harmful views. Instead of purchasing or reading this, I recommend finding, like many others have suggested, an own voices/diverse work. My personal recommendation is N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season.

BOOK REVIEW: This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab

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BOOK REVIEW: This Savage Song, by Victoria SchwabTitle: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Series: Monsters of Verity #1
Published by Greenwillow Books
Published: July 5th 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 427
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

There’s no such thing as safe.
Kate Harker wants to be as ruthless as her father. After five years and six boarding schools, she’s finally going home to prove that she can be.
August Flynn wants to be human. But he isn’t. He’s a monster, one that can steal souls with a song. He’s one of the three most powerful monsters in a city overrun with them. His own father’s secret weapon.
Their city is divided.
Their city is crumbling.
Kate and August are the only two who see both sides, the only two who could do something.
But how do you decide to be a hero or a villain when it’s hard to tell which is which?

 You wanted to feel alive, right? It doesn’t matter if you’re monster or human. Living hurts.

I really enjoyed this book. Victoria Schwab has quickly risen to be one of those authors that I’ll auto-buy anything she writes. This Savage Song is set in a post-apocalyptic North America in which humans and monsters are separated by a literal divide. August and his siblings are monsters who use musical abilities to wreak havoc against their enemies, and Kate and her father are humans who are on the opposing side of monsters. August is sent across the border to get to know Kate, and instead of becoming enemies, the two become friends.

There are things I didn’t really enjoy but I know, in the end, are acceptable and understandable in the grand scheme of the narrative. The first fifth of this book was a little slow for me (and I wondered if I was going to even like it, but then it got unputdownable) and Kate is very similar to other main female characters in Schwab’s other novels (her snark seems almost forced and goes against her character for a bit of the novel). I think for a world that’s unfamiliar it’s good to have a little bit of a build-up with a slower beginning, and it’s perfectly understandable to have a signature sort of character.

The idea of August’s weapon music through his violin is amazing, and I can’t wait to see how that develops in the sequel. I also really enjoyed that the two main characters weren’t romantic in any way. I find that refreshing in the sense that so many books geared for YA audiences seem overly focused on romance instead of friendship, and friendship is a very important aspect of anyone’s life. The horror aspect of the monsters gave me the shivers and added a depth to the terror rising throughout.

It’s not an entirely new type of story in the world of YA fantasy, but it bends expectations and thrilled me while reading it, and it earns a solid recommendation from me.

BOOK REVIEW: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

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BOOK REVIEW: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, by Ransom RiggsTitle: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Series: Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #1
Published by Quirk
Published: June 7th 2011
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of curious photographs.
A horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.
A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

We cling to our fairy tales until the price for believing in them becomes too high.

Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is one of those odd books that I liked but also didn’t like. It’s difficult to explain, and the only thing I can come up with is that I like the premise and I like the atmosphere created, but I found the characters and a lot of the writing to fall flat. I couldn’t put it down while I was reading it, but after I finished the book, I just felt sort of ehh.

It’s pretty much a meh execution of a really excellent idea. I was expecting something scarier, but it wasn’t all that scary. The writing most of the time felt juvenile, and I feel like I might have liked this book had it been shelved in the children’s section rather than in Teen/YA. I have expectations of depth of writing when books are categorized in certain sections, and this being shelved in the YA section most of the time is misleading in terms of the depth of the story.

The best parts about this book are the weirdly manipulated photographs that add more to the story than just the words (which shouldn’t be the case, but it is) and Miss Peregrine herself. I like the idea of time loops and that the children are stuck in them forever, and I wish that idea was developed a little bit more in this book (and maybe it is in the following books!).

I wish the book had a different narrator. Jacob seemed bland and boring, and I’m over the whiny rich boy narrators because I felt he had no depth and no change in character, but I do understand the bland character as a narrator as it allows the reader to self-insert and connect with the story more (which is not the greatest tactic in grabbing your reader’s interest).

I may eventually pick up the rest of the series (or borrow them from the library) because while I enjoyed this story for what it was, the executed concept fell flat and didn’t totally wow me enough to rush out and read the next two.

BOOK REVIEW: Empire of Storms, by Sarah J. Maas

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BOOK REVIEW: Empire of Storms, by Sarah J. MaasTitle: Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
Series: Throne of Glass #5
Published by Bloomsbury USA
Published: September 6th 2016
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 693
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those who don't.
As the kingdoms of Erilea fracture around her, enemies must become allies if Aelin is to keep those she loves from falling to the dark forces poised to claim her world. With war looming on all horizons, the only chance for salvation lies in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.
Aelin's journey from assassin to queen has entranced millions across the globe, and this fifth installment will leave fans breathless. Will Aelin succeed in keeping her world from splintering, or will it all come crashing down?

I won’t lie, I was so excited for this book. Queen of Shadows had enough of a cliffhanger that left me wanting more. But then I started reading Empire of Storms, and I was sitting there, thinking to myself, what happened? This isn’t going to be a very favorable review, and I’m a little sad about it, I think, because I realized I’ve grown out of this series, maybe? This review also contains MAJOR SPOILERS, so please be forewarned if you haven’t finished the book yet.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Graces, by Laure Eve

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BOOK REVIEW: The Graces, by Laure EveTitle: The Graces by Laure Eve
Series: The Graces #1
Published by Amulet Books
Published: September 6th 2016
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 352
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

It was a stupid, pointless thing, anyway, to try and make people love you. Everyone was alone. We were bone alone and we died alone. Whatever we did in between was nothing but a series of attempts to stave off the darkness we knew was always waiting for us.

Laure Eve’s The Graces will appeal to a younger set of YA readers. I think I was a bit too old to find most of this novel entirely believable, but it’s supposed to be, in a way, a little out there and a little fantastic. River meets a family (the Graces) in her new town and, after hearing the rumors about them, decides (obsessively) that she wants to get to know them. After getting to know Summer, River becomes obsessed with trying to be one of the Graces.

I don’t often read much contemporary YA, mostly because I find myself unable to relate to many of the high school situations, hierarchies, and dramas because I was homeschooled, and this is probably one of the reasons why I failed to really connect with the novel. The characters often are too flat or too melodramatic. It tries to be “edgy” without much depth. But that might be because we’re seeing it through River, the “edgy,” melodramatic teen girl obsessed with the Graces, rumored to be witches, and Fenrin Grace, the boy everyone wants.

As the novel unfolds, we learn that River’s obsessions and behavior have severe consequences in her past and present, and she ultimately has to face what she does. Some of the ideas I liked in this novel were that there is something to be said for intention and that there needs to be truth in that intention and that bisexuality (while not named directly) is brought up and treated relatively well in a YA novel by the younger set of characters.

The Graces reads almost like a melodramatic eighties teen film but with more melodrama, if that is even plausible because let’s be real. Teen films from the eighties were sometimes over the top. It wants to be Heathers with witches but it fails to meet the Gothic complexities it wants to have. But The Graces is fast-paced and easy to read and will appeal to readers who enjoy a high school drama with a taste of the paranormal.

This book was provided to me by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.