Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Review: Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien


Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien

Series: Birthmarked (#1)
Pages: 361
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Published: May 2nd, 2011
IBSN: 9780857071392

IN THE ENCLAVE, YOUR SCARS SET YOU APART, and the newly born will change the future.
 In the future, in a world baked dry by the harsh sun, there are those who live inside the walled Enclave and those, like sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone, who live outside. Following in her mother's footsteps Gaia has become a midwife, delivering babies in the world outside the wall and handing a quota over to be "advanced" into the privileged society of the Enclave. Gaia has always believed this is her duty, until the night her mother and father are arrested by the very people they so loyally serve. Now Gaia is forced to question everything she has been taught, but her choice is simple: enter the world of the Enclave to rescue her parents, or die trying.

Gaia's always been in the business of midwifery. Outside the Enclave, completely dependent upon them for basic commodities, it's her job to advance newborns to them. Life is better in there, anyway, and she's proud to serve the Enclave. But then her parents are convicted of harbouring a mystery code, and in venturing beyond the wall to find them, she's forced to rethink the faith she has in the Enclave.

While the premise of a girl in a dystopian world realising the inherent flaws of the system she lives in isn't exactly unique (t
hat said, the coding aspect was interesting, and I was constantly trying to solve them before our characters), and this specific premise occasionally felt a little far-fetched (so many baby emergencies around her!), Birthmarked had a readable quality that built as as the story progressed. 

The beginning I found quite dull, but the drama was akin to a snowball rolling down a hill, constantly growing (people who've actually seen snow, tell me in the comments just now crappy my uneducated metaphor was!).

The setting --  or settings, rather, with such close areas so vastly different and cleverly juxtaposed -- at its basic level, a world ruined by climate change, felt plausible. Plausibility in a dystopian future is an absolutely vital element for me. I reserve high suspension of disbelief for fantasy. The atmosphere of the oppressive society and despondent environment was well-captured, and most key elements of the setting were justified. But it felt like too little was distinguishing O'Brien's future world from one of the past, and the way this world transitioned from an initial struggling community to dictatorship was blurred.

Gaia was a likable enough character, with a personality portrayed distinctly in the narrative voice, but I never found her story or her emotions arresting. A couple months from now, Gaia probably will join the expanding list of characters whose names and natures escape me. Birthmarked for me was driven by the plot, rather that the characters, though her determined nature did aid the plot significantly.

Birthmarked is something I'd recommend for devout fans of dystopia, specifically to the subset of you who aren't dissuaded by more unsettling themes. It's very readable, but not something fresh and engrossing for the reluctant dystopia reader.

I give Birthmarked a 3 out of 5.