In 2011, 23-year-old Veronica Roth’s debut, Divergent, set the stage for a series that would become a worldwide phenomenon. And while the series is ripe for obsessing, Roth took the story of Tris Prior to a shocking place—a place not every fan wanted to go. This unflinching pursuit of weighted questions carries over to her new duology as Roth considers faith and loyalty within a sci-fi setting. Carve the Mark is set in a solar system where a supreme force called the current flows through all beings, imbuing people with gifts similar to X-Men abilities.
The story opens when Akos and his older brother are kidnapped from their peaceful home in Thuvhe, in the northern part of their icy planet, by Shotet soldiers. The Shotet are an unrecognized nation of scavengers and warriors, and as their prisoner, gentle Akos (a win for Hufflepuff heroes) is trained as a soldier and charged with attending to hard-edged Cyra, the sister of the tyrannical Shotet ruler. Their friendship will change them both, but this is a world bound by fate, where kills are marked on the arms of killers. Loyalty to one’s family is everything, and it seems violence may be the only way to change that.
Roth’s cultural worldbuilding is meticulous and intricate, although explanatory passages slow the novel’s pace. But Roth’s conjuring of religions, belief systems and language differences is well done, and her prose has strengthened with this new series. Diehard Roth fans will be rewarded.