Veronica Roth clearly has no qualms about venturing off the beaten path. In her Divergent series, she did the unthinkable by breaking rule number one of novel writing: killing off the main character (but we’re not going to go there). Her twist in Carve the Mark isn’t nearly as daring, but it still carries important implications for how the story unfolds.
Carve the Mark is a fantasy story set on the planet of Thuvhe featuring two main characters, Akos and Cyra. Roth tells the story from both of their perspectives, alternating every couple of chapters. As we YA readers know, this in and of itself is not unique. In fact, this technique is becoming more and more popular, especially in YA. What sets Roth’s use of multiple viewpoint characters apart is that she uses both third person (he, she) and first person (I, me).
This unique format is fascinating for many reasons, but Roth didn’t do this just to create an interesting talking point for us book lovers. This format works perfectly for a couple of reasons.
Roth avoids any confusion by containing these viewpoint shifts to the beginnings of chapters. Try making this kind of shift in the middle of the chapter, and she’s probably going to lose us. This book is packed with momentum, the goal being for the reader to keep turning the pages as quickly as possible. If we need to slow down, go back to where the shift happened in the middle of a chapter and try to remind ourselves who is narrating, this will disrupt the momentum. Even if we’re able to keep it straight in our heads who is talking for most of the time, the risk of confusion still isn’t worth it. Plus, there are more benefits to this twist.
To empathize with Cyra, we need to be inside her head. Cyra has a very abrasive personality because of all she’s suffered at the hands of her father and brother in their quest for power, but we can’t understand that nearly as well if we’re on the outside looking in. Even if Roth relays her entire backstory in third person, we meet Cyra after Akos, who has suffered greatly at the hands of Cyra’s family. Because of this, we might very well feel that she deserves her suffering. Maybe you are more compassionate than I am and would have still have empathized with her, but the point is by telling Cyra’s story through first person Roth doesn’t run the risk of readers feeling apathetic or spiteful toward one of her main characters.
The first person point of view also allows us to truly understand the full extent of Cyra’s pain, which is vital because it’s her pain that (at least originally) makes Akos important to her. This is because Cyra’s currentgift, an ability that manifests itself during a crucial point in a person’s development, allows her to torture anyone she touches—but simultaneously causes her great pain.
Akos’ currentgift is the ability to cancel out the currentgifts of others, so when he touches Cyra, she is pain-free for the first time in years. When we understand the incredible pain she endures because of her currentgift, we believe that she would do anything for relief—even if it means that she is once again at someone’s mercy. Because Cyra’s narration is from the first person, both her physical and emotional pain are much more vivid, and therefore better understood.
At the same time, Akos’ side of the story is better relayed to us with a little more distance, as the third person point of view allows. He is already likeable even though we don’t know his innermost thoughts. He’s just the type of character you want to jump into the book to protect from the cruel fate the author has given him. Watching his enemies murder his father? Being kidnapped? Desperately burdened to save his weak older brother? It’s just not fair! We’re also introduced to him first, so really the only thing we’re cheering for (at least at first) is for Akos to save his brother and return home to his mourning mother and sister.
However, the story isn’t just about Akos saving his brother and returning triumphantly home; it’s about Cyra too, and many things greater than both of them. Since we’re immediately inclined to root for Akos, the third person distance removes us from him enough that we are still drawn in to Cyra’s narrative, and therefore the greater plot.
His third person perspective has the added bonus of helping Roth avoid confusion by having two narrators relaying the story in the first person, which I would say is impossible to do, but so was writing a successful series where the main character dies (okay, so we still went there).
Overall, Roth succeeds in weaving two very different viewpoints and personalities, creating a vivid world and adventure. However, this all begs to question how Roth will handle the narration in the next book.
Since she is set to write a two book series, she could very well leave the narration structure as-is…but she could also easily switch it up. By the end of the first book, Akos has hardened from suffering and Cyra has softened from hope. It wouldn’t be too crazy for Roth to decide that for this round we’ll need to know Akos’ innermost thoughts. Ultimately, it comes down to whatever epic trials and battles Roth has planned for the finale. All I know is I can’t wait to pick up book two and see what twists she has in store this time!