I finished Carve the Mark last week and I sat down today to write a review on it. I have a normal enough process; finish book, jot down my thoughts, check out other reviews to get a feel of what everyone is saying and then write review. This time around I noticed a huge amount of articles on how Carve the Mark is racist, and although this isn’t a topic I usually like to get involved in, I felt like I needed to give my two cents because of all the misinformation being spread.
First of all, I don’t understand how people can call this book racist, truly. They either haven’t read it carefully enough or they opened it looking for something to come across as racist. If it’s the former, they should have paid more attention, and if it’s the latter, that’s incredibly sad in my opinion. I personally think it’s an unhappy marriage of both, but it’s also because many of the articles I read have the misinformed notion that the book’s Shotet people (known for their barbarity) are dark skinned and the Thuvhesit people (known as a peace loving people) are white. This is not fact.
Most of the articles I’ve read calling out Carve the Mark for its supposed racism (like this popular one by Justina Ireland that I disagree with) base their article on the idea that the Shotet people are dark skinned. Far from being true, there is huge diversity in both the Thuvhesit and Shotet people. The villain of the series, Ryzek, who is a Shotet person and the head of the cruel Noavek family, is constantly described as white, pale, and skeletal. Cyra, on the other hand, who is described as dark skinned like her mother is actually the hero of the story. Akos, who is a white Thuvhesit person kidnapped by Ryzek’s goons, is not the hero and this is obvious to anyone who has read the entire book; he is a main character for sure but he consistently fails in his attempts to escape and would never have done so had Cyra not been as heroic and self-sacrificing as she is.
Not only does she put herself in danger numerous times to allow Akos to escape, she also puts aside the revenge she wants so that Akos can try to save his brother. Cyra is a completely selfless character constantly trying to help Akos despite the fact that if he left her, she would always have to deal with the excruciating pain her currentgift inflicts on her. She is willing to forever bear her pain so that Akos can be free. She is a hero in every sense of the word. So far we have a dark skinned hero, a white villain and his white slave; how exactly is this a racist book?
Eijeh and Cisi, Akos’ brother and sister, are both described as having brown skin despite being (the supposedly all-white) Thuvhesit, as is the chancellor of Thuvhe, Isae, who has light brown skin. As well as this, Shotet characters Teka, Zosita and Yma are all white characters described as having pale blonde hair. They are Shotet, not Thuvheist, so again, how have people come to think that the Shotet people are all dark skinned? Honestly, readers who claim Carve the Mark is racist are betraying their own deeply rooted prejudice, in my opinion, particularly because many did not finish it. It seems once Cyra was described as being a dark skinned Shotet person (a people known for their barbarity), they assumed the rest of the Shotet were also dark skinned. That says more about the reader than it does about Veronica Roth.
The only thing in this book that came across as remotely problematic to me was the description of Cyra’s mother’s hair, when Roth said it was “so curly it trapped fingers”. Now obviously this is an attempt to describe natural afro hair and although I don’t think Roth did a particularly good job at explaining this, I think it’s a far cry from racism. She’s not inferring her hair is inferior because of how curly it is, she’s simply trying to describe it, though I agree it could’ve been written much better. There is a great website called Writing With Colour that really helped me when writing characters of colour in my own novel, so check it out if you’re having trouble with descriptions as well.
I think this book actually has a very important message; that what we don’t understand, we fear. The Shotet and Thuvehesit people do not understand each other at all, and they have created so many rumours and lies about each other over the years that both sides have different versions of the truth; they have opposing origins for who started their feud, who is the hero and who is the villain. This is in parallel with our own real lives where many of us have irrational fear for other cultures we know little to nothing about. It is an expression of reality, and reality is not always pleasant or fair.
The people who allow fear to lead them – and in this case both of Carve the Mark’s cultures fall prey to this – will always be blind. It also shows us that hatred is learned, that prejudice is taught, and that whole cultures and whole groups of people can’t be tarred by the same brush. The Shotet and Thuvhesit are not divided by skin colour, they are divided by culture and prejudice.
You may disagree with me, but I read this book very recently from cover to cover and even went over passages again to check characters’ skin colours and confirm what I’ve said in this article. This isn’t something I thought I’d find myself doing when I first bought the book, but so be it.
Finally, Carve the Mark is not perfect by any means, but by that I mean the overall plot and pacing of the novel. It’s sloppy at times and a little inconsistent, the world building is quite blurry and it’s often plagued by a slow pace, but it’s not racist and it doesn’t encourage damaging, problematic tropes of dark skinned people being aggressors.