Friday, November 4, 2011

Review of Prized by Caragh M. O'Brien

Prized by Caragh M. O'Brien; Roaring Brook Press, 2011.

In this second installment of the Birthmarked series, Gaia Stone continues in her role of midwife, but her beliefs are put to extraordinary tests. While running from The Enclave with her infant sister, Maya, Gaia is “rescued” by Will, an Outrider, and taken back to Sylum, a dystopian commune ruled by a blind Matrarc named Olivia. People are trapped in Sylum because there is something in the atmosphere that will kill them if they try to leave. Gaia learns that Sylum is run by women, although they are outnumbered by men. The courting rules are strict, and even a touch or a kiss could bring death for a man, even if he is not the one at fault. A woman who is in the gene pool may ask a man to marry her, and they are encouraged to have as many children as possible.

Gaia is accused of putting Maya’s life in danger by traveling, and the sickly infant is given over to a couple to raise as their own child. A prison on the outskirts of town houses male “criminals”, and it is there that Gaia discovers Luke, from The Enclave, being held there. Once per month, Sylum has a holds a contest where single men compete against each other for the right to live with a woman of his choosing in a cabin for thirty days. Luke wins one particular contest, and he chooses Maya, even though she is an infant, to live with him. Ultimately, he also chooses Gaia, because someone must take care of Maya. Gaia also brings along her friend, Mx Josephine and her infant daughter, Junie, because Maya needs to be nursed. Gaia ends up being part of a love triangle and must choose which path her life will take.

Prized is a fabulous read! The descriptions of Sylum, its rules, and its citizens blew me away! The class system used in Sylum and the customs followed by its inhabitants made me keep turning the pages as fast as I could! There were so many twists and turns in this plot; all I wanted to do was sit and read!

The men in the book were extremely chivalrous, hoping for women’s attentions, and, eventually, marriage, which was considered very sacred. Most of the women in the book were strong, developed characters, as were the main male characters. Gaia is strong-willed and believes in helping others, many times at the cost of hurting herself.

It was a great idea to have men take women’s last names when they marry, unlike the conventional manner in which it is usually done. Additionally, many of the terms in the novel were plays upon other words--Sylum for asylum; cuzines for cousins; Matrarc for matriarch; and so on, giving implied meanings to similar words in the novel. The autopsy scene was chilling and shocking, as was the pact between Gaia and Will not to divulge its results.

The book had a surprising, but satisfying ending, and readers can look forward to a third installment of the Birthmarked series! Also, the cover art is exceptional—beautiful and intriguing! This book will be released on November 8, 2011. I recommend this novel for high school and public libraries.

Note: This review was from an advanced reader’s copy of the book obtained from NetGalley and read on iPad.