Marked repeats all the worst flaws of Tamora Pierce’s Alanna series without the strength of character that makes Alanna (mostly) sympathetic. Like Alanna, the protagonist Zoey Redbird is designated by the author as special, and that point is hammered home so hard and so often I ended up with a slight concussion. A mere sampling of the ways in which we’re told Zoey is special:
- She has a special tattoo. By the end of the book her tattoo is even specialer.
- She has special magic powers.
- She has a special unique bloodlust.
- She has a special mentor who had a special vision of her.
- She herself has special visions.
- Everyone constantly reassures her that she's wonderful.
- Goddesses literally intervene in person to tell her how amazing she is.
- She has a special cat, which I assume was ripped directly from Tamora Pierce.
- She has a special ability to just somehow know the right thing to do by instinct. (This is a trope I absolutely hate with a burning passion. If your character has no actual reason to make the next plot step, rethink your plot. Don’t just lazily give her special intuition.)
- She’s being lined up to become the next high priestess, except super special because of her amazingly special magic powers.
Yup. That’s the scale of the plot here -- gossip, backstabbing and dresses.
A key problem is the lack of an external antagonist posing a real threat to the protagonist and her comfortable world. In Richelle Mead’s excellent Vampire Academy series, protagonist Rose Hathaway has a driving purpose in life: to protect her charge Lissa Dragomir by fighting the evil Strigoi. That’s why Rose gets up in the morning. That’s why she fights, why she struggles, why she sacrifices. That threat, which cases a progressively longer shadow across the series, puts everything into perspective. Schoolgirl bitching is a minor irritant when your best friend could be murdered and your world crushed at any moment.
By contrast, Zoey has nothing to worry about. Her world contains no threat greater than another girl stealing the boy she’s crushing on, no purpose greater than earning queen-bee status among her classmates. The protagonist is innocent to the point of childishness; her worldview divides people into into slutty evil bitches and perfect beautiful people. (As you can probably imagine, this immaturity sits a little oddly with the dubiously-consensual public blowjobs -- it comes across slightly like an eight-year-old set loose on the set of a porn film.)
And that’s why this novel feels small and shallow to me. All the epic specialness and personal visits from goddesses are wasted on high-school bullies and slut-shaming.
Zoey Redbird needs to grow up.
Verdict = 2 out of 5 stars.