I kept seeing chatter on Twitter about Prized by Caragh M. O’Brien that made it sound very interesting, so I kept an eye out for it. When I got the chance to review it, I pounced. *cue the evil laugh* I didn’t realize at the time that it was the 2nd book in The Birthmarked Trilogy. As it turns out, Prized stands alone very well so that didn’t matter. The 1st book, Birthmarked, is very inexpensive, and there’s a free bridge book between the two, so you might want to read them in order. I didn’t do that, however, and had no problem jumping right into Prized.
Prized takes place in a dystopian future but it’s very different from the other dystopian novels I’ve read. Its world is extremely believable, as is the way its people have reacted to their conditions and evolved their culture. Although this is a YA series, it will definitely appeal to all ages.
Gaia Stone, a 16-year-old midwife, flees her home after her mother dies in childbirth. Alone, except for her newborn sister, Maya, she strikes out across the Wasteland desert to find her grandmother’s home, a place she believes has water and might not be as harsh an environment as the Enclave. Her baby sister is all Gaia has left but she’s listless, and Gaia fears neither of them will make it. When a traveler on horseback appears seemingly out of nowhere, Gaia doesn’t protest his insistence that he will get them to safety and get help for her sister.
“Decisively, the outrider lifted Gaia from the ground and up to the saddle. She grabbed the pommel to balance herself and Maya, and swung a leg over. He passed her the bottle and her cloak, then collected her meager things into her pack and slung it over his own shoulder.”
As Gaia quickly learns when she arrives in Sylum, safety has a high price. First Maya is taken from her and she is not allowed to see her. Even worse, she is accused of endangering Maya’s life – a crime in Sylum. Then there’s something about the area that prevents people from being able to leave. Anyone who leaves dies a painful death and no one understands why.
“’You have a decision to make Mlass Gaia. Staying in Sylum is like coming through a one-way gate. You can enter, but anyone who tries to leave Sylum dies. We don’t understand fully why this happens, but we find their bodies.’”
This dwindling matriarchal society is run with an iron fist, dictating whether men and women can literally touch each other and how many children married couples must have. Men are thrown in the stocks and/or prison for seemingly arbitrary reasons. As a strong-minded, independent person, Gaia quickly runs afoul of Sylum’s pregnant leader. Her ability as a midwife is likely the only thing that saves her, that and the fact that Sylum is desperate for more women. For some reason, girls are not being born any more so every woman is highly sought after and prized.
In addition to trying to adjust to her new surroundings, fulfilling her role as a midwife, trying to reunite with her baby sister, and fending off (or not) likely suitors, Gaia is determined along with her rescuer, Peter, and his brother, Will, to learn why there’s such a disparity in male vs. female births and what prevents people from being able to leave this strict society. The girl’s got a lot on her plate to say the least, and it makes for a non-stop roller coaster ride you can’t put down.
Prized features a fascinating world/future that is completely believable. Although Gaia is a teenager in Prized, I could imagine an adult, who came from a more open technological society and was accustomed to speaking her mind, being just as outraged by the strictures in such a closed society. Gaia probably showed more restraint that I would have shown. LOL If you’re anything like me, you’re going to love this novel!
Prized was released on November 8, 2011, and should be available at your favorite bookseller below:
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