Birthmarked, Prized, and Promised by Caragh M. O’Brien (Goodreads)
The Birthmarked trilogy introduces us to our heroine, Gaia Stone, a teenage midwife living in a society about 400 years in the future. She lives in a unique world, in which a slightly ramshackle, dystopian community and a scientifically advanced city exist side-by-side, separated by just a wall. The city inside the wall, the Enclave, is a pristine, white safe haven, where the privileged reside and thrive due to the scientific and technological advancements at their disposal. Outside the wall is Whartfon, a dusty, dilapidated community in which all of the basic necessities, even water, are rationed by the Enclave. The families of the Enclave have been dealing with problems of infertility and hemophilia, and as a solution the Enclave requires that the residents of Wharfton fill a monthly quota of “advanced” babies – infants that are taken from their parents in Wharfton and brought behind the wall to be adopted by the families inside.
This is the state of affairs when we first meet Gaia. After her parents are arrested for reasons she doesn’t understand, Gaia begins to question the work she does for the Enclave and the morality of taking newborns away from their mothers. Gaia becomes determined to save her parents, and this decision kickstarts a whirlwind adventure through three novels as she takes on the government.
Now, I am pretty much the antithesis of a baby person, so the fact that our main character is a midwife made her a little hard for me to relate to at first. That really has nothing to do with the character herself – I just personally don’t mix well with babies. But once I got used to the idea, I really grew to love Gaia. I really enjoyed her character development throughout the series, because I felt like she actually grew as a person in a natural way. She messed up, she made mistakes, she made some really bad choices, and she had to live with the consequences – and she learned from her mistakes and moved forward.
In addition to my love for Gaia, the development of all the side characters was my favorite aspect of these books. The supporting characters are so beautifully developed that I feel like I know them all very well. Gaia’s main love interest is Leon, a boy from behind the wall who starts out as a very cold and stoic character. But let me tell you, I am IN LOVE with Leon, and if these characters were real, I would be stealing him away from Gaia in a heartbeat. This trilogy also includes a love square – that’s right, there are three guys vying for Gaia’s attention. I pretty much always hate love triangles, but this square was awesome. It didn’t take over the story and blind Gaia from seeing anything but the men in front of her. It was always present and caused some tension, but it wasn’t the main focus of the story, and I really appreciated that. All of the men were kind and loving, and I enjoyed the fact that they could all love Gaia without becoming petty or dramatic, as is so often the case in YA novels.
Honestly, I could probably write a paragraph on each supporting character and how wonderful they are, but you would probably stop reading this review. So I will just say this – Gaia has a cast of characters surrounding her that is so diverse, caring, supportive, and devoted to this young girl that their sense of community is almost tangible. It’s a beautiful thing, my friends. Promised – book three – had me bawling throughout the whole book because I was so attached to each and every one of the characters.
This trilogy also has one of the best bad guy teams I have ever read, and it really caught me by surprise. The Protectorate, the leader of the Enclave, and (for lack of a better word) his lackey, Mabrother Iris, are appalling. They are so stinking creepy. The Protectorate is evil in a more subtle way – he needs to save face as the ruler of the Enclave, so he can’t do anything outwardly evil. But Mabrother Iris gives me goosebumps. He is a vile man that has no concern for anyone and will do anything it takes to get the answers he wants. The reader gets little glimpses of what these men are capable of throughout all the books, but it wasn’t until I read Promised that I realized how despicable they are. Definitely some of the creepiest villains I have ever read.
Something that makes the Birthmarked trilogy different from anything I have read before is the fact that these books take us to two different dystopian societies. That’s right, you get two different worlds to learn about. In Prized – book two – Gaia ends up in a village called Sylum, a very unique place where the men greatly outnumber the women, but the women run the society. I thought this idea was absolutely fantastic. So many trilogies suffer from “second-book syndrome” – the second book is quite frequently the worst in the series. But this is not the case with Birthmarked. Something that I think is so cool about this plot line is that it gives the reader two different ideas of what could happen in a dystopian future. We are given clues about the fall of our society, but we never find out exactly what happened. But with the two societies of the Enclave and Sylum, we get to see how two groups of people dealt with the collapse and survived with what they had.
There is no doubt that a ton of hard work and research went into these books. Both Birthmarked and Prized contain different codes that the characters need to break. These codes were created by Caragh O’Brien herself, and I have to admit, they are very clever – it took me a long time to figure them out. Also, since the main concern in these books is linked to infertility and hemophilia, there is a great deal of genetics that needs to be discussed. O’Brien makes it easy for the reader to understand what is going on and follow along with the story.
I haven’t heard very much buzz about the Birthmarked trilogy and I think the series deserves way more credit. My love for this series snuck up on me in a sense. I did enjoy reading Birthmarked and Prized, but it wasn’t until I started crying while reading Promised that I realized how invested I was in these characters and their story. It really was quite fun to follow Gaia and Leon and all of their friends through their love, loss, triumph, and suffering. What an adventure we had. It takes a spectacular book for me to deem it worthy of a reread – right now the only books I ever plan on rereading are Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. But as soon as I finished the last sentence of Promised, I really wanted to go back to the beginning and start my journey all over again. I will definitely be visiting these characters again soon.
When you want to start rereading a book the second you finish it…..
…..blame it on the books.