Saturday, November 12, 2011

Review: Prized by Caragh O'Brien


Prized by Caragh O'Brien

Series: Birthmarked (#2)
Pages: 368
Publisher: Simon & Shuster
Published: November, 2011
IBSN: 9780857074959

Striking out into the wasteland with nothing but her baby sister, a handful of supplies, and a rumor to guide her, sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone survives only to be captured by the people of Sylum, a dystopian society where women rule the men who drastically outnumber them, and a kiss is a crime. In order to see her sister again, Gaia must submit to their strict social code, but how can she deny her sense of justice, her curiosity, and everything in her heart that makes her whole?

After her bittersweet escape from the Enclave -- she's away from their oppression, but she left Leon behind. She's safe for now, but her future is uncertain -- Gaia's saved by an outrider from Sylum, the place she's supposed to follow her grandmother to. She's fleed one terrible city to another, tough this one has an eerie force holding her there.

(Are you guys pumped for a review where I pretty much compare this to Birthmarked? On rereading that's all I've done here.)

Prized tests the characters, putting them through more difficult emotional and mental trials than the physical of Birthmarked. Gaia and Leon are more thoroughly fleshed out through the disagreements they have. I appreciated the way they pushed each other to be stronger and better, and formed a realistic and healthy relationship. They grew much more that I expected, and turned the series around from primarily plot-driven to placing emphasis on character development.

Their voices and personalities are defined clearly, and the setting and emotions are described smoothly and adeptly. Where in Birthmarked, I'd be bothered by the characters knowingly putting themselves in dangerous situations, something about the voice makes me worry about them instead.

The new setting of Sylum, so different from the Enclave yet fundamentally the same, was atmospheric and its history and settlement detailed thoroughly but not lengthily. In this new society where women lead, Gaia realistically felt briefly favourable towards the system that gave her a position of power for the first time in her life. This feeling warmed me to her, having a side to her beyond her once do-gooder nature revealed.

Prized has done an excellent job as the 'middle book'. The plot stands apart from the first, but leaves off with promises of returning to the Enclave. I appreciate that this series is beginning to feel different to other dystopia in that it carries a relevant message: that strength can be found through unity. I'm very excited to see where the trilogy heads, and confident that O'Brien won't let me down.

Prized definitely improved upon Birthmarked. It feels as though O'Brien's found her element now, with a much more arresting narrative voice and a justified and frightening setting. Readers like me, who only felt so-so about Birthmarked, shouldn't write Prized off so quickly.

I give Prized a 4 out of 5.