The frozen planet of Thuvhe, unlike the other eight planets in a far-off galaxy’s solar system, is divided into two countries. One is Thuvhe, a peaceful country supported by farming medicinal iceflowers, chief among them the beautiful hushflowers that bloom on the longest night of the year. The other is Shotet, a despotic state peopled by galactic nomads now ruled by Ryzek Noavek. The solar system in which Thuvhe is a planet is surrounded by the Current, which pulses through all living things, including people, who develop “currentgifts” upon reaching puberty. These gifts soon manifest themselves, but greater gifts do not: in some families, children have their fates foreseen by all the oracles on the various planets as people who will shape the future of all the worlds in the system. The Assembly, a ruling body that floats above the planetary orbits and rules the solar system, knows these fates but has always kept them confidential.
Some 20 pages into this 468-page book, however, the Assembly, doubting the powers of the oracles, publishes the classified fates, among them the fates of three children in the Thuvhesit Kereseth family, Eijeh, Cisi, and Akros – and of Shotet’s Ryzek Noavek. Terrified because his fate is one of failure, Ryzek orders his henchmen to capture the two Kereseth boys. Thus Akros, our hero, finds himself in the power of Ryzek and his teenage sister Cyra, the latter terrifying even to the Shotet because her current gift is constant, unbearable pain, which she has the power to pass on to everybody she touches. Ryzek, who has blackmailed Cyra into torturing his enemies by transferring her pain to them, has captured the Kereseth brothers because the elder one, Eijeh, is fated to become an oracle. Hoping than Eijeh’s powers will allow him to see the future and avoid his fate, Ryzek gains power over Eijeh by using his currentgift: the ability to replace somebody else’s memories and replace them with his own. Since memory is essential to forming self-knowledge, Eijeh gradually loses his own personality and takes on Ryzek’s. Unfortunately, this fascinating psychological idea receives only minimal attention in a book that centers upon the friendship and eventual romance of Akros, Eijeh’s younger brother, and Cyra. Cyra, a study in chronic pain, is also a fine warrior who teaches Akros to fight so successfully that he becomes a skilled warrior himself. Like other warriors in this violent society, he follows each kill by “carving the mark” in his arm, one for each victim. And he is determined to save his brother from Ryzek.
Roth is famous as the author of the Divergent series whose three volumes have sold a total of 35 million copies and been made into movies grossing $743 million. There is, believe it or not, a down side of such success: editors and agents press for more books. One result is the hurried writing that is unfortunately visible in Carve the Mark. The setting, though it owes much to Star Wars, is well done, and some of the psychology promising. But the book is a third longer than it needs to be, and the dual narrative undercuts itself by contrasting Cyra’s tough first-person voice with Akros’s bland third-person narrative. The repetitive plot contains amateurish errors: and three quarters of the way through, the reader is asked to cheer on the rescue of a character who appeared briefly in the first 10 pages and has not been heard of since. The violence is unrelenting, happiness unattainable, and the coming volume promises only more warfare to the unlovable people in Roth’s interesting galaxy.
Laura Stevenson lives in Wilmington and her most recent novels, “Return in Kind” and “Liar from Vermont,” are both set on Boyd Hill Road.