Prized By Caragh M. O'Brian

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?

On the verge of collapse, Gaia Stone and newborn sister Maya have been navigating the Wasteland in an attempt to find salvation. Maya is starving, malnourished, and only moments away from death when the two sisters are found by a man known as Chardo Peter and taken to the settlement of Sylum, where she expects her grandmother once fled to. With thoughts of Leon's fate weighing heavily on her mind, Gaia has finally found the illusive Dead Forest... But is it the sanctuary that Gaia's grandmother, mother and old Meg had described? Gaia has fled from the oppressive confines of the Enclave, laving behind the memory of her father being murdered, her mother passing during childbirth and the brother that she had only just found.

In Sylum, women are a rare commodity, with the last girl being born more than two years ago. At an average of one woman per ten males, females hold the power within the community. Gaia has a decision to make, to become a member of their community, or to leave instantly... Leaving baby Maya behind. Anyone who attempts to leave the community, mysteriously dies. New arrives endure an acclimation period, but Gaia is being accused of endangering Maya's life and forced to reflect on her actions. Maya is taken from her, given to another family to which Gaia is expected to have no part of. She's lost everything, now the one hope she's held onto, has been ripped from her hands. The Matrarc demands respect and ensures that the community obey her rules, anyone found to incite change is left for dead in the Wastelands. Sylum isn't all that different from the Enclave, but now the women, known as the Cuzines, are in power... But that is where the similarities end.

Gaia is expected to abide by the rules, to assist in her role as a midwife, and no touching any male except in an emergency. It's the female's right to choose who she marries, with her choice of many, many suitors. But each woman is expected to have ten children, increasing the chance of giving birth to a daughter. Any woman found to be pregnant out of wedlock, is cast out of the community. Gaia forms an instant bond with the Chardo brothers, Will and Peter, who rescued her from the Wasteland. Will is the community Morteur, and enlists the aide of Gaia when performing a secret autopsy on one of the many infertile men in Sylum, known as Expools, due to the fact that they cannot enter in the pool to be grated a wife. But when it's discovered that the deceased in fact, has a uterus, this is one secret that Will and Gaia need to keep to themselves... For now.

The talk among the village is that nomads have been found and it isn't until Gaia spots Leon, that she can breathe a sigh of relief. Leon is in bad shape and his uncontrolled temper and failure to comply leave him imprisoned. When Gaia fails to tell the Matrarc which girl she assisted to miscarry, Gaia is put on house arrest and gone is Leon's chance of being freed. His only escape from the harsh confines is the monthly games the village holds, where a soccer tournament is held, the eventual winner choosing one female to share the winners cabin. With Will, Peter and Leon all playing for what seems to be Gaia's affections. Leon is beaten and bruised, but with grit and determination, can he come out on top.

It seems Leon has more influence within the village that any other criminal, or man, has ever held and rallies the males to demand that the village share the voting responsibilities. The Matrarc is furious and believes that Leon is trying to incite a riot. While Leon is fighting for equality, Gaia may have just discovered why no one is able to leave the village. But how will Gaia leave when she is forbidden to take Maya with her, or is she fated to a life where two brothers are vying for her affections, Leon is disgusted at the sight of her and once again, she's forced to live under an oppressive regime?

Prized is the second release in the Birthmarked series, which follows the story of Gaia, who recently lost both her parents, has never known her brothers whom were taken away before Gaia was born and only has her newborn sister left. Gaia has faced prejudice since at two years old, was deliberately burnt by her parents so that she couldn't be advanced to a wealthy family inside the walls of the Enclave, and she still carries the scar to this day. Now, she's fled to the Dead Forest to seek refuge for her and her baby sister.

I've really enjoyed the Birthmarked series so far, and Prized is quite entertaining. For the most part, the storyline is engaging and characters are well developed, but I felt it ended too soon, wrapped up within a few chapters. It's almost as irritating as a cliffhanger, but it was anticlimactic. It was good, but not great. I can only hope that the final in the trilogy will be as intense and entertaining as the original.

(Birthmarked: Book Two)
Written By Caragh M. O'Brian
Published 08 / 11 / 2011
264 Pages

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