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?
About the Author
Since earning an MA in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, Caragh M. O'Brien has been a high school teacher, an author of romance novels, and now a novelist for teens. Her novels Birthmarked and Prized were named YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults. Birthmarked was also a Junior Library Guild Selection and chosen for the ALA 2011 Amelia Bloomer List. She lives with her family and writes from her home in Connecticut.
Read an Excerpt
SHE GRABBED THE HILT of her knife and scrambled backward into the darkness, holding the baby close in her other arm. Beyond the fire, the wasteland was still, as if the wind and even the stones had frozen in the night to listen, and then she heard it again, a faint chink, like a footfall in pebbles. Someone or something was out there, watching her.
Gaia turned the knife in her palm, resettling her grip, and peered toward where the far edge of the firelight touched the boulders and the gnarled, wind-stunted trees of the gulch. Without dropping her gaze, she felt by hand that the baby was secure in the sling across her chest, her warm, light weight hardly more than a loaf of bread. She'd left the baby bottle on a ledge of rock, out by the fire, and she hoped whoever was watching her wouldn't take that bottle, whatever else they might do.
The chinking noise came again, drawing her gaze to the far side of the fire. Then a head, an enormous, animal head, big as a cow's but long of face, appeared at the edge of the firelight, looking directly at her. A horse? she thought, astounded to seean animal she'd believed was extinct. She checked its back for a rider, but there was none.
Inadvertently, she lowered her knife. In that instant, a powerful hand closed around her wrist and another touched around her throat.
The voice came softly from behind her right ear. Sweat broke out along her arms and neck, but still she clasped the knife. His grip did not move, did not lessen or increase at all, conveying his confidence that he simply had to wait until she obeyed. So completely, so imperceptibly had he crept up around her that she stood no chance of fighting back. Below her jaw, she could feel her own pulse beating against the firm, pernicious pressure of his thumb.
"Don't hurt me," she said, but even as she spoke, she realized he could have killed her already if that had been his intention. Rapidly, she imagined trying to twist free of him with a kick, but the baby might get hurt. She couldn't risk it.
"Just drop it," came the voice again. "We'll talk."
With a sense of despair, she dropped her knife.
"Do you have any other weapons on you?"
She shook her head.
"No sudden moves," he said, and his hands released her.
She sagged slightly, feeling the adrenaline still coursing through her. He picked up her knife and took a step toward the glow of the fire. A broad-shouldered, bearded man, he wore clothes and a hat of the same worn, dusty color as the wasteland.
"Step forward where I can see you properly," he said, and held out a hand to invite her forward. "Where's the rest of your group?"
"We're it," she said.
Gaia stepped into the firelight, and now that the burst of fearthat had given her strength was receding, she doubted she could stand for long. The campsite, she knew, must reveal how she'd been reduced to the last, pathetic shreds of survival. He picked up the baby bottle. She watched his gaze settle on the sling that crossed her chest and the protective hand she kept there. He jogged up the brim of his hat with his thumb in obvious surprise.
"You have a baby?"
Gaia braced a hand against the tree trunk. "You don't have any baby formula with you, do you?"
"I don't usually carry that. What's in this?" He gave the bottle a little shake, and the translucent liquid caught the golden firelight.
"Rabbit broth. She won't take it anymore. She's too weak."
"A girl, even. Let me see her."
She curved back the edge of the sling for him to see, and as she had done a thousand times since she'd left the Enclave, she checked her sleeping sister to see if she was still breathing. Firelight flickered over the little, pinched face, bathing it in brief color before sending it back to black and white. A delicate vein arched along Maya's right temple, and a breath lifted her little chest.
The man touched a finger to the baby's eyelid, lifted it a moment, then let it go.
He gave a sharp whistle, and the horse came nearer. "Here we go, then, Mlady," he said. Decisively, the outrider lifted Gaia from the ground and up to the saddle. She grabbed the pommel to balance herself and Maya, and swung a leg over. He passed her the bottle and her cloak, then collected her meager things into her pack and slung it over his own shoulder.
"Where are we going?" Gaia asked.
"To Sylum as directly as we can. I hope it's not too late."
Shifting, she tried to arrange some of the fabric of her dress between herself and the saddle. She could feel the dark, cool air touching her legs above the tops of her boots. When the outrider swung up behind her on the horse, she instinctively leaned forward, trying not to crowd against him. His arms encircled her as he reached for the reins, and then he kicked the horse into motion.
The horse's movements seemed jerky to Gaia at first, but when her hips relaxed into the horse's stride, the ride became smoother. Behind them, the gibbous moon was low on the western horizon, casting a light strong enough to create shadows in their path, and Gaia peered to her right, toward the south, to where the Enclave and all she'd left behind had long ago dropped beneath the dark horizon.
For the first time in days, Gaia realized she might live, and hope was almost painful as it reawakened inside her. Inexplicably, she thought of Leon, and a lightless, lonely feeling surrounded her, as real as the outrider's unfamiliar, protective arms. She'd lost him. Whether he lived or died she would never know, and in a way, the uncertainty rivaled the unhappiness of knowing definitively that her parents were dead.
Her sister could well be next. Gaia reached her hand into the sling, easing her fingers between layers of fabric so that she could feel the baby's warm head in the palm of her hand. She made sure the cloak couldn't smother the little face, and then she let her eyes close. She nodded gently with the rhythm of the horse.
"Maya is dying," she said, finally admitting it to herself.
The man didn't reply at first, and she thought he must not care. But then there was a careful shifting behind her.
"She may die," he confirmed quietly. "Is she suffering now?"
Not anymore, she thought. Maya's crying, before, had been hard to bear. This was a much quieter, more final form of heartbreak. "No," Gaia said.
She slumped forward, dimly aware that he was helping, with singular tenderness, to support her and the baby both. Why a stranger's kindness should amplify her sadness she didn't know, but it did. Her legs were chilled, but the rest of her was fast becoming warmer. Lulled by despair and the soporific, distance-eating gait, she gave in to whatever relief oblivion could bring, and slept.
It seemed like years passed before Gaia became dimly aware of a change around them. She ached everywhere, and she was still riding, but she was leaning back against the man whose arms were supporting her and the baby securely. The baby's body was warm. Gaia took a deep breath and opened her eyes to search Maya's face. The baby's skin was translucent, almost blue in its pallor, but she still breathed. When sunlight flickered over the little face, Gaia looked up in wonder to see that they were in a forest.
Tiny dust motes floated in shafts of sunlight that dropped through the canopy of leaves and pine needles, and the air had a lush, humid luminosity that changed breathing fundamentally, filling her lungs with something warm and rich each time she inhaled.
"What is it, in the air?" she asked.
"It's just the forest," he said. "You might be smelling the marsh. We don't have much farther to go."
Even when it had rained in Wharfton, the air itself had remained sere between each raindrop, aching to suck away any moisture, but here, when she lifted her hand, she could feel a trace of new elasticity between her fingers.
"You talk in your sleep," the outrider said. "Is Leon your husband?"
The thought of Leon as her husband was too ludicrous and sad to bear, no matter what she might say in her dreams. "No," she said. "I'm not married."
She glanced down, checking to see if the necklace Leon had returned to her was still around her neck. She tugged the chain so her locket watch rested on top of the neckline of her dress and loosened her cloak. As she straightened, the man let her go, using only his right hand to hold the reins. His fingers, she saw, were clean, with stubby fingernails.
"Where are you from?" he asked.
"South of here. From Wharfton, on the other side of the wasteland."
"So that still exists?" he asked. "How long have you been traveling?"
She thought back over a daze of time in the wasteland. "The formula for Maya lasted ten days. I lost track after that. I found an oasis and caught a rabbit. That was, I'm not sure, maybe two days ago." There'd been a corpse at the oasis, a body with no visible wounds, like a harbinger of her own pending starvation. Yet she'd made it this far.
"You're safe now," he said. "Or almost."
The path rose one last time, turned, and the earth dropped away on their right. Stretching far toward the eastern horizon was a great, blue-green flatness that reflected bits of sky between hillocks of green.
She had to squint to see it clearly, and even then she could hardly believe what she was seeing. "Is it a lake?"
"It's the marsh. Marsh Nipigon."
"I've never seen anything so beautiful," she said.
Lifting a hand to shade her eyes, she stared, marveling. Gaia had spent much of her childhood trying to imagine Unlake Superior full of water, but she'd never guessed it would be like having a second, broken sky down below the horizon. The marsh expanded across much of the visible world: part serpentine paths of water, part patches of green, with three islands receding into the distance. Even from this height, she could breathe in the cool freshness of it, laced with the loamy tang of mud.
"How can there be so much water?" she asked. "Why hasn't it all evaporated?"
"Most of the water is gone. This is all that's left of an old lake from the cool age, and the water gets lower every year."
She pointed to a swatch of dark green that rippled in a slow-motion wave as the wind moved across it. "What's that area there?"
"There? That's the black rice slue," he said.
The path took a long, left-handed turn along the bluff, and as they rode, Gaia could see where the landscape dipped down to form a sprawling V-shaped valley. At the wide end, the forest descended to meet the marsh. A patchwork of woods, farmland, and backyard gardens seemed to be stitched together by dirt roads and pinned in place by three water towers. Where the path curved down to meet the sandy beach, a dozen groups of men were working around canoes and skiffs.
"Havandish!" the outrider called. "Hurry ahead and tell the Matrarc I've brought in a girl with a starving baby. She needs a wet nurse."
"We'll meet you at the lodge," a man answered, swinging onto another horse and bolting ahead. People turned to stare.
"Who's the Matrarc?" Gaia asked.
"Mlady Olivia. She runs Sylum for us," he said.
He steered his horse rapidly up the shore and through the village, and for the first time, the horse stumbled. Gaia clutched at the pommel, but the horse regained its footing.
"Almost there, Spider," the outrider said. "Good boy."
Caked with sweat, double-burdened, the horse flicked back an ear and pushed onward. The road turned to abut a level, open oval of lawn, edged with oaks and ringed farther out by sturdy log cabins. Simply dressed people paused in their work to follow their progress.
Ahead, a sun-scorched strip of dirt separated the commons from a big lodge of hewn, dovetailed logs, and in this area stood a row of four wooden frames, like disconnected parts of a fence. Puzzled by the jumbled sight, Gaia stared at a hunched form in the last frame until understanding came to her: they were stocks, and the dark form was a slumped prisoner, passed out or dead under the noonday sun.
"Why is that man in the stocks?" she asked.
"Is the girl okay?" Gaia asked. What sort of place have I come to?
"Yes," he said, and dismounted from behind her. Rugged and lean, bearded and strong, the outrider ran a hand down his horse's neck and turned to look up at Gaia. He isn't old, she thought, surprised by her first clear look at him. She'd seen the outrider only by the light of the fire, and she was curious now to see how this man, to whom she owed her life, matched his voice and clean hands.
He tilted his face slightly, regarding her closely, and she waited for a question about the scar that disfigured the left side of her face. It never came. Instead, he took off his hat to rake a hand through hair that was dark with sweat. Decisive, perceptive eyes dominated his even features with inviting candor.Beneath his beard, the corners of his mouth turned down briefly with a trace of regret.
He donned his hat again. "I hope your baby makes it, Mlass," he said. "For your own sake."
Startled, she instinctively held her sister closer, but before she could ask what he meant, a light tapping noise came from behind her. She turned. A wide, deep veranda spanned the width of the big lodge, and a white-haired woman with a red cane was coming through the screen door. She stood straight, and her pale blue dress draped over her pregnant form with regal simplicity. A bit of gold and glass hung from a necklace, gleaming against her dark skin.
Six months, Gaia estimated. The Matrarc was six months pregnant.
Half a dozen women were coming out of the lodge behind the Matrarc, openly curious, and more people were gathering in the commons.
The Matrarc held out a slender hand in a gesture of expectation. "Chardo Peter? You brought in a girl and a baby?"
Gaia noticed a subtle disconnection between the Matrarc's gesture and the direction of her gaze, and put it together with the significance of the cane: she was blind.
"Yes, Mlady," he said. "The baby's a girl and nearly dead from starvation."
"Bring them here to me," said the Matrarc. "I suppose the girl is weak. Carry her if you must."
Chardo propped his hat on the pommel and reached up to help Gaia. She shifted her sling to make sure Maya was secure. As her feet touched the dirt, her knees buckled, and he caught her before her legs gave out entirely. "Forgive me, Mlass," he said. He scooped her up in his arms and delivered her to the top of the steps. Gaia steadied herself against a log pillar andglanced furtively around. She didn't know why she was uneasy, but something felt wrong.
"Please," Gaia said. "We need a doctor."
The tip of the Matrarc's red cane nudged Gaia's boot, but then she set the cane aside and extended her hands. "I want to see the baby." There was a melodious, deep quality in her voice that took the edge off her direct command, and yet she clearly expected to be obeyed.
Gaia gently extricated Maya from the sling and lifted her into those expectant hands. Unbelievably scrawny and fragile, the baby was hardly more than a listless bundle of blankets. The Matrarc cradled Maya in one arm and ran quick fingers over her face and arms, settling at the baby's throat.
Up close, Gaia saw the Matrarc's complexion was a deep tan, with darker freckles splayed across her nose and cheeks. Her wrinkles were few. Despite prematurely white hair, which was arranged in a soft, heavy bun, the Matrarc was in her mid-thirties, Gaia guessed, and obviously competent with a baby. The clear, translucent brown of her sightless eyes was lit by an alert, trenchant expression, and then she frowned with concern.
"You see?" Gaia said.
"It's not good," the Matrarc said. "When was she born?"
"About two weeks ago. She was premature."
"Where's Mlady Eva?" the Matrarc said.
A woman was hurrying across the commons carrying a baby of her own. "I'm here!" she called. Her apron had streaks of red, and her dark hair was coming loose from its ponytail. "I was just putting up my preserves, but Havandish told me this couldn't wait. Why do you need my baby?"
"You'll need him to get your milk flowing," the Matrarcsaid. "A baby has just arrived who's too weak even to suck. Do the best you can for her. Mlady Roxanne, take them in. Quickly, please."
The Matrarc passed Gaia's sister to a tall, angular woman who gave Gaia a swift look through her glasses, then took the baby into the lodge. Mlady Eva was untucking her blouse as she hurried after them.
"Wait for me," Gaia said.
"No, stay," the Matrarc said. "We need to get acquainted. What's your name, child?"
Gaia peered anxiously through the screen door, but already the others were out of sight. She tried to follow, but her legs were still too wobbly. "Where are they going? I need to be with my sister."
"She's not your own child, then?" the Matrarc asked.
"No. Of course not." Gaia glanced at Chardo to find him regarding her with faint surprise, as if he had been operating under the same misassumption as the Matrarc. "I would never have been feeding her rabbit broth if I could have nursed her myself," she said to him.
"I didn't know what to think," he said.
"Obviously, you've been through an ordeal," the Matrarc cut in, lifting a hand. "Let me see your face."
Gaia backed against the railing to avoid the Matrarc's touch. "No," she said.
"Ah!" said the Matrarc in surprise, dropping her hand.
"Mlass, you need to cooperate with her," Chardo said.
Cooperating, Gaia had learned, could be dangerous. "I need to be with my sister," she argued. "Take me to her and then I'll cooperate."
The Matrarc drummed her fingers on top of her cane. "Youhave that backward, I'm afraid. How old are you? Where have you come from?"
"I'm Gaia Stone," she said. "I'm sixteen. I left Wharfton two weeks ago. Now let me in there. We're wasting time."
A puzzled crease came to the Matrarc's forehead. "Why do I know this name?" she asked. "Who are your parents?"
"They were Bonnie and Jasper Stone." A thought hit Gaia. "Do you know my grandmother, Danni Orion? Is she here?"
The Matrarc touched her own necklace, and took a long moment before she replied. "Danni Orion was the Matrarc before me. I'm sorry to tell you she's been dead these ten years now."
As the Matrarc released her necklace, Gaia saw the pendant clearly for the first time. It was a gilt-edged monocle, and the familiarity of it stunned her. Years ago, in one of her earliest memories, she'd seen the same monocle in the sunlight as her grandmother twisted it to dazzle her.
"You have my grandmother's monocle," Gaia said in wonder. Gone was the chance to ever know her grandmother, replaced by a concrete truth: this was the place she'd been seeking for weeks in the wasteland, her grandmother's home, the Dead Forest that Gaia's mother and Old Meg had urged her to find. She gazed out at the big, shady trees and lush greens of the commons, proof that nothing here was dead except the possibility she would ever be reunited with Danni O.
"Gaia Stone," the Matrarc said slowly, testing the name. "Your grandmother told me about your family. A brother was taken away from you, I think. I remember now. They burned your face, didn't they?"
Everything inside Gaia slowed down, and she let her gaze drift up to the woman's sightless eyes. It was beyond strange to come all this way and meet someone who knew, without seeingor touching her, that her face was scarred. She untucked the hair behind her left ear to let it slide forward.
"Two brothers," Gaia said, correcting her, as if it still mattered. "The Enclave took both of my brothers. One I've never met. The other left for the wasteland shortly before I did."
"Why weren't you taken into the Enclave? I don't understand."
"The burn scar kept me out of consideration for advancing or I might have been taken, too."
"Where are your parents now?" the Matrarc asked.
"Dead, back in the Enclave. My father was murdered. My mother died giving birth to my sister."
"I'm sorry," the Matrarc said.
Gaia stared bleakly toward the screen door. "Please," she said. "Let me go to my sister. I need to be sure she's okay."
"You can't do anything more for her, and there's something we need to settle," the Matrarc said. She made a gesture. "Bring her a chair."
Chardo fetched one from farther along the porch, and Gaia eased down upon it gripping the edge of the wooden seat.
"Tell me something," the Matrarc said. "Why did you go into the wasteland with a baby? Why would you risk her life?"
"I didn't have a choice," Gaia said.
"Maybe you didn't for yourself," the Matrarc said. "But why couldn't you leave the baby behind? Surely someone in Wharfton would have cared for her."
Gaia's eyebrows lifted in surprise. She had promised her mother to protect Maya, and for Gaia, that had meant staying together as a family. "I couldn't leave her."
"Even knowing it was likely she would die?"
Gaia shook her head. "You don't understand. I had to take care of her. I didn't know it would take us so long to cross thewasteland." Then she remembered that her friend Emily had offered to care for Maya, and she'd refused. Had that been a mistake?
"Or what you would find on the other side, I expect," the Matrarc asked. "It was a terrible risk. A desperate, suicidal risk, in fact. Were you persecuted in your home? Were you a criminal or a rebel of some kind? Did you leave to escape the law?"
Gaia looked uneasily at Chardo and the others.
"I resisted the government in the Enclave," she admitted. "But I didn't cause any rebellion. I did what I thought was right. That's all."
"'That's all'?" the Matrarc echoed, and then laughed. She pensively circled her cane tip against the floor while her eyes grew serious again. "You have a decision to make, Mlass Gaia. Staying in Sylum is like coming through a one-way gate. You can enter, but anyone who tries to leave Sylum dies. We don't understand fully why this happens, but we find their bodies."
Gaia's eyes grew wide. "I saw a corpse," she said. "At the oasis two days ago. He was only recently dead. I was afraid it meant the water was poisonous."
"A middle-aged man with a full beard and glasses?" the Matrarc asked.
"Dressed in gray," Gaia said. It had both frightened her and given her hope that she was nearing civilization.
"There's your crim, Chardo," the Matrarc said. She turned to Gaia. "He escaped from prison here four days ago. It happens to anyone who leaves. We've had nomads pass through, but if they stay with us even two days, the same thing happens."
Gaia had never heard of anything like it. "What could cause that? Is there a disease here?"
"We think it's something in the environment," the Matrarc explained. "There's an acclimation period while your bodyadjusts to being here, but after that, there's no harm to those of us who stay. Beyond the obvious."
Frowning, Gaia gazed at the gathered crowd, trying to see what was so obvious. Aside from the man in the stocks and the Matrarc's own blindness, the people looked healthy and fit. There were tall people and short, a few chubby ones, and none very skinny. Old men and young lounged nearby, with a fairly even distribution of skin tones, from pure black to birch white. There were plenty of children, and attire suggested a mix of affluent and poor.
"What do you mean?" Gaia asked.
Laughter came from the women on the porch. Gaia turned to Chardo, puzzled.
"We don't have many women here," Chardo said. "Only one in ten babies is a girl."
Gaia looked around again in amazement, seeing how few women there were, mostly congregated on the veranda around the Matrarc. Out in the commons, nearly every face was masculine, and many had beards. Even the children were nearly all boys. How had she not noticed?
"It's more than that," the Matrarc added. "The last girl was born here two years ago. And since then, only boys."
"How can that be?" Gaia asked.
The Matrarc shrugged. "You don't have to understand it to realize you need to make your choice. Leave today, or stay forever."
"But that's no choice at all. Where would I go? How would I survive?"
"There was a small community west of here a few years ago," the Matrarc said. "And there are nomads who cycle through from the north. You could take your chances in either direction, or you could head back to your own home in the south."
Gaia couldn't possibly go back, not in her weak condition. She could hardly stand. "I can't go," she said. "Besides, I'd never leave my sister behind."
"I thought you'd say so," the Matrarc agreed. "Here's the other side of your decision. If you stay, you must agree to follow the rules of our community. You might find them strict at first, but I assure you, they're fair."
"I can put up with anything as long as I'm with my sister," Gaia said.
A faint breeze moved along the porch, and a tendril of white hair shifted across the Matrarc's face. She smoothed it back, blinking. "Tell me," the Matrarc said in her soft, lyrical voice. "What would have happened to the baby if Chardo Peter hadn't found you?"
Gaia swallowed back the thickness in her throat. "She was dying," she admitted.
The Matrarc nodded. She drummed her slender fingers around the top of her cane again. "She still might die. If we didn't have a mother here to nurse her, she'd have no chance at all. Correct?"
"Is that a yes?" the Matrarc pressed.
Gaia didn't like where this was going. The Matrarc's gentle manners belied a quiet, unyielding brutality.
"Mlass Gaia?" the Matrarc said, waiting. "Say it."
"Yes," Gaia said. "My sister would be dead."
The Matrarc eased back slightly. "Then from now on, we will consider your sister to be a gift to Sylum. A small and precious gift. What's more, in light of your gift, and depending on your compliance during your probation, we may pardon your crime."
"You knowingly, deliberately put your sister in deadly harm."
"You're implying I tried to kill her," Gaia said, rising stiffly in alarm. "I didn't! I've done everything I could to keep her alive."
"You admitted yourself she would be dead without our intervention," the Matrarc said. "You have forfeited any claim to the child. Your sister, the one you cared for, is dead. The only baby that's alive is the one Chardo saved, and right now, she needs stable care and a new mother."
Gaia had a terrifying glimpse of what it must have been like for the mothers when she herself had taken their babies to be advanced to the Enclave. "Oh, please. Let me see her," Gaia begged. "She could be dying right now. I need to hold her."
The Matrarc turned slightly, tapping her cane once on the wooden planks. "I'm sorry for your loss, of course. It's terrible to lose a child."
She was speaking as if Maya were already dead.
"You can't do this!" Gaia said. "You don't know what we've been through. I've lost everyone I care for." Gaia impulsively grabbed the Matrarc's cane, jerking it in protest. "You can't steal my sister!"
The Matrarc released her cane and lifted her hands, stepping back. "Take her."
Gaia was grabbed from behind and instantly dragged down the stairs. The cane fell rattling to the floorboards. Gaia's arms were wrenched behind her while half a dozen men sprang between her and the Matrarc.
"She's my family!" Gaia shouted, struggling to break free. "I can't lose her!"
The Matrarc smoothed the tendril of her hair back again, and then held out her right hand, palm up, in a silent request. One of the men put the handle of her cane in her hand, and Gaia watched the Matrarc grip it with steely fingers.
"I want her all the way down," the Matrarc said.
Gaia was pushed down so fast that her knees hit the ground hard, and she had to catch herself with her hands in the dirt. It was humiliating. Her chin was millimeters from the dusty ground. She was so weak that it didn't take much for a guard's heavy hand to keep her there, physically, while inside she screamed in defiance.
"She's down," said Chardo, and she realized he was the one holding her there. She struggled once more, unbelieving. He'd been so gentle with her before, but now he had the force of a stone block.
"You'll listen to me, Mlass Gaia," the Matrarc said, and her voice had dropped to a honey-smooth alto. "There is only one leader here. One. And I speak for everyone. You will learn to obey our rules, or you will be sent back to the wasteland to die."
"What would my grandmother think of the way you're treating me?" Gaia demanded.
"Mlady Danni would be the first to support me," the Matrarc said. "She taught me everything I know. Chardo," she called.
"Yes, Mlady," he said.
"I left him back at our camp. There wasn't time to circle back to him."
"Return to him as soon as you can get a fresh horse. And keep an eye out for her brother or anyone else. I'll send out extra patrols. I don't for a minute believe she's the only one out there. Something must have happened down south."
"Yes, Mlady," he said.
"Gaia Stone, are you ready to cooperate?" the Matrarc asked.
Gaia ground her teeth. She would get her sister back, whatever it took. Groveling included. "Yes, Mlady," she said, parroting Chardo's words.
"Bring her up, then," the Matrarc said.
At the first indication his grip was loosening, Gaia jerked free and staggered to her feet. She flashed a scathing gaze at Chardo. "You rescued me for this?"
The outrider met her gaze without flinching, as if he wasn't sorry at all. "It was the right thing to do."
The right thing. He'd known all along that the Matrarc would take her sister.
Sylum was as bad as the Enclave. But the women were running it.
Text copyright © 2011 by Caragh M. O'Brien
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1 - the wasteland,
CHAPTER 2 - libbies,
CHAPTER 3 - a deal,
CHAPTER 4 - peony's request,
CHAPTER 5 - in the morteur's barn,
CHAPTER 6 - concoction,
CHAPTER 7 - chainmates,
CHAPTER 8 - a period of reflection,
CHAPTER 9 - brothers,
CHAPTER 10 - shirts and skins,
CHAPTER 11 - the thirty-two games,
CHAPTER 12 - prize,
CHAPTER 13 - loyalty,
CHAPTER 14 - riding double,
CHAPTER 15 - chicken,
CHAPTER 16 - bachsdatters' island,
CHAPTER 17 - bow and stern,
CHAPTER 18 - the winner's cabin,
CHAPTER 19 - lightning bugs,
CHAPTER 20 - innocence,
CHAPTER 21 - cinnamon,
CHAPTER 22 - paradise,
CHAPTER 23 - the tribunal,
CHAPTER 24 - the stocks,
CHAPTER 25 - the matrarc's choice,
CHAPTER 26 - power,
CHAPTER 27 - further,
Preview: Vault of Dreamers,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Wow, I seriously couldn't put this book down! In fact, I read this in one sitting because I couldn't put it down. The hopelessness, the fear, the anxiety, these were so well instilled in this book. Knowing that she doesn't have anywhere else to turn, Gaia ends up in a different dystopian society. Except that this one is run by women, as opposed to men, which is obviously very different from the Enclave. Gaia has her baby sister taken away from her because she's been deemed incapable of providing for her. To go back to the traveling, Gaia traveled for two weeks and then was rescued and taken by horse to Sylum. I found myself wondering exactly how far she had walked, and how far the horse ride back was. It wasn't entirely clear in the book, but to me it seems like the two societies are pretty close to one another. Which is sad considering people in the Enclave feel like they're the only people who exist. I was ecstatic when Leon arrived into Sylum, although his entrance wasn't that grand. I wanted to be furious with Leon. I tried, I really did. But I couldn't help but see his point of view regarding this new life. He made some really good points regarding Gaia and the society they were now in. Prized ends with a nice set up for the third book, which obviously I'm going to want to read since I could barely put down the first two books. I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.
Birthmarked was good, but Prized was even better. I found myself giggling with excitement like a teenager during some passages. Love the main character and love the storyline. I can't wait for the next book!
I loved her first book Birthmarked and this sequel doesnt disapoint. It starts directly where birthmark left off, which was a good move on the authors part, it keeps you drawn in, especially if you liked the first one as much as i did. Although i like the plot better in the first book the second is where Gaia becomes herself and grows into the type of character she'll have as a woman. She tries iut a new lifestyle and finds what she truly believes through all the chaos around her. Her relationships get compliated considering more then one comes up. But Leon remain her grounding post to remind her of everything shes thinks she can forget. Leon is what makes the difference in this book, he becomes more of a person as he sheds his layers so you can feel his turmoil over what hapoens. Great read.
I have to say this book was a very entertaining read for me. At the same time i didnt like gaias attiude in the middle of the book. One moment her soul is broken the next shes her old defiant self. Still a huge fan of the series and eagerly awating the next one.
I ADORED Birthmarked, as you can tell from my review of it way back in March. I have been waiting on pins and needles for this second book ever since then and as a result, I believe my standards were simply set too high. This book, while quite the enjoyable read, didn't quite live up to my expectations. Prized begins with Gaia alone in the wilderness, running away from the Enclave with her baby sister. Her sister is clearly suffering and Gaia herself is weak. The pair has long since run out of most supplies and is barely getting by when they are kidnapped/rescued by a mysterious man on horseback. He takes them to Sylum, a whole new world that is different that anything that Gaia has every imagined. The women run everything, despite a population of mostly men, and relationships are strictly controlled. O'Brien's world-building really shines in this second book as she creates a whole new dystopian society. A part of me felt like this was a bit unnecessary since we already had an established society in book one, but I guess I understood that she had to create something new since Gaia was entering unknown territory and leaving behind the Enclave (and these new people had no real knowledge of the Enclave). While the world-building was superb, the characters--specifically, Gaia--suffered a bit in this book. Gaia goes from the incredibly smart, strong girl who saved a dead woman's baby and escaped the Enclave prison to a weak, timid, and easily manipulated young woman. I couldn't believe the ease with which she seemed to fall into the woman's role in Sylum and leave behind her strong beliefs. I understand that she faces some really difficult things when she first gets there, but she seems (to me) to concede far too easily to the demands of the Matrarc. When she first submits, I hope that it's a show and in private we'll still see the strong, courageous Gaia of Birthmarked, but it was not so. Towards the end when things finally get crazy, Gaia seems to rediscover her passionate, courageous nature and finally stand up for something. She finally makes the tough decisions that she knows in her gut are right. She redeems herself quite a bit in the final chapters. Overall, I really did end up enjoying this novel, simply not as much as the first book. Since this is set to be a trilogy, my hope is that book three will continue with Gaia as the strong woman that we know she is and possibly (hopefully) return our characters to the original setting--the Enclave. As Sylum has a lot of problems, I see this as highly likely and look forward to the confrontation that would seem to loom on the horizon. My hope is that this book simply suffers a little from "middle book syndrome" and Ms. O'Brien will once again completely "wow" readers in book three. Despite some of my problems with this book, I am definitely still looking forward to a fabulous conclusion to this trilogy!
Prized is the second novel in the Birthmarked series. It picks up right where the first book (Birthmarked) leaves off, but it can be read as a stand-alone novel. Still, I recommend reading them in order. For a fairly new author, Caragh O'Brien is very polished. The story starts off fast and just keeps going, never dragging. Prized is in such a different setting than Birthmarked that if not for the characters Gaia and Leon, I might have felt I was reading a different series. That was fine with me, I was impressed with how O'Brien masterfully created two different worlds and bridged them together in the two books. This is a fascinating dystopian series. It will be published on November 8, 2011. Officially it's for young adults, but us older kids are allowed to enjoy it, too! *Disclaimer: I received this book for review from the publisher through Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review.
Gaia has fled the Enclave after discovering the horrible truth about the elite society she has been serving her whole life. With her parents gone and the entire Enclave searching for her, Gaia has no choice but to leave the city. She must escape for her own protection and for that of her newborn sister, a baby she delivered with her own hands as she watched their mother die. Guided by the belief that her grandmother is still alive somewhere beyond the reach of the Enclave, Gaia discovers an entire community of people. While a new city could mean a new life and safety for Gaia, she only trades one form of servitude for another. In Sylum, women have nearly ceased to give birth to females and their entire community is in danger of dying out. A female child is a rare and much sought after gift and Gaia's little sister is immediately taken away from her. Forced once again to serve as a midwife, Gaia struggles to obey her new captives in hopes that she can get her sister back. So I really liked Birthmarked, the first book in this series. It was different, edgy and I liked Gaia because she wasn't the run of the mill, gifted beautiful leading lady that everyone fell instantly in love with. But where I found Birthmarked uniquely gritty and disturbing, I struggled with the sequel's predictability. I really, really felt as if I'd read this story before- only I can't remember where. So much of what was included seemed irrational, even for a dystopian story where anything can go. I seriously doubt that nearly 2000 men would let a handful of women completely control them, even if they do have bows and arrows and the proverbial "thing that all men want." I just couldn't wrap my mind around it. I mean, a community of mostly men and a blind pregnant woman is in charge? I mean it sounds ideal, I'll give you that, but not very realistic because even in a fictional future- men are still men.Gaia is the new girl in town, she's unattached, possibly fertile and one of the few remaining females, so of course her milkshake is bringin' all the boys to the yard. I liked that O'Brien could see the silliness in her "love square" and even acknowledged it through Gaia. Still, there were some very sweet, romantic moments, though not with the initial love interest from the first book- he's still just a flaky as he was before (and now he apparently has like ten different personalities). I'm Team Peter all the way.I'm still on board for the next book. O'Brien puts a lot of detail into her world and it's an extremely interesting place to visit. Just please, please do something with Leon as he is so very unlikeable.
*This is the second book in the Birthmarked series. This review may contain spoilers for the first book*I read Birthmarked, the first book in the series, prior to having a blog of my own. Of course that means I never reviewed it. I can tell you it was a book I absolutely knew I would want to read the sequel too. Many first books in a series I read and never have the desire to pick up book number two¿Birthmarked had me wanting to read Prized right after reading the last page. I even picked up my review copy the day after I received it, that¿s how much I wanted to read this book!Birthmarked initially was written as a stand-alone. You could never tell by how well everything flows together from book one to book two. We¿re left in book one with Gaia leaving the Enclave with her baby sister and we have no idea what¿s in-store for her.Gaia is brought into a different society of people in Prized. In book one and in book two, the lives of everyone revolve around genetics¿it¿s a huge part of the story. The problems with genetics are totally different from the two books. Gender roles are flipped within this different group of people. I was surprised by this, but it does make sense for what the characters are living through, but at the same time I personally hate it. A villain who you wouldn¿t expect is in Prized, I seriously despised her from the beginning. I could see where many people may sympathize with her¿I loathed her.I normally am someone who complains about having to learn about a whole new world when the book is a second in a series. This book is the exception to the rule for me¿I enjoyed learning the ways of a completely different set of people in the same world and time. The people and society Gaia stumbles upon is Prized in different than anything else I¿ve ever read. the world stands out on it¿s own.If you¿re looking for a dystopian unlike any other the others out there right now, the Birthmarked series is for you! I can¿t wait to see what Caragh has in-the-works for us for book number three!Sidenote: Gaia gets herself stuck in what she calls a ¿love square¿ which had me dying laughing. It works well for the story because of the situation the characters are in.
I read the first book last year and really loved it. Now that I got to read the next one, I admit I expected more but still loved it nonetheless. The book pikes up right where it left off from the first one. Gaia is off looking for another settlement that is not crazy like her last. But what she falls into is not what she thought it was. Some parts of this book made me angry! Gaia has been searching for a settlement, one that is okay to live in. But instead she finds an even crazier one. At first I was little confused as to what this new place does. But once I read more into, I came to enjoy the new element that Ms. O'Brien used...Leverage.Once where Gaia is strong and brave she is now being held to submission because more it at stake. The reader see's Gaia doing things she never thought she would. At first I thought it was okay but I came to see that I didn't Gaia like that. Submissive and doing what she is told. I liked her fiesta and brave. Rebellious and spontaneous. I am glad that an old character comes back bringing her to who she really is and not who she is becoming.The love interest in this book really rocked. I loved that there is a sort-of love triangle. It isn't something dragged on and on. It is lighting done and it give the book more emotions and drama to deal with. I really love how well Ms. O'Brien write this book. You can read the passion of the writing just flowing in the pages.I suggest that you start this series right away. This book, being the sequel in no way it is ruined. Sometimes sequels lack, not this one. If anything, it was way more intense. I felt such excitement in returning to Gaia story. It felt like as if I never left. Beautifully written, Prized deserves to be acknowledge. It nothing what I thought it would ever be.
400 years from now, the earth is hot and dry and 16 year old Gaia lives outside of the Enclave near unlake Superior and is learning to be a midwife from her mother. Then her parents are arrested and Gaia becomes embroilled in the politcal quandry that surrounds the business of taking babies from outside of the Enclave in order to try to stave off the hemophelia that is increasing due to inbreeding there. Gaia has been lead to believe that life inside the Enclave is wonderful and that the babies who are chosen to live there live wonderful lives, but she soon learns that things are not as she was taught. Though she is scarred and believes that she is ugly, one of the guards finds her to be beautiful and helps her as much as he is able to. I had a difficult time putting this book down and read it in two days. It is the first in a trilogy and I look forward to reading the other books as well!
This book was just as a-m-a-z-i-n-g as Birthmarked, if not even better! I admit, I was very surprised by where this actually went, I thought Gaia and Leon would continue opposing the Enclave, but something kept them from doing that: a place, where the women rule with a pretty cruel hand. Okay, I can imagine this not being an all too bad place for females, BUT every woman is expected to aim to give birth to ten children.Gaia is opposed to many rules the Matrarc (the leader) has imposed on her people, and the things that they believe in. I found many things pretty unbelievable, too, but not because they were written unbelievably, just because they were ... well ... unthinkable. I read it in two sittings, and I think I may have found another new favorite series! I was a bit annoyed with Leon at times, found Chardo Peter (or Peter Chardo if you want to write it like we would) pretty childish and some things a little over the top, but nothing that needs mentioning here. I think I suspected halfway through what would happen at the end, but it was still nice to see it all play out. Maybe not exactly like I imagined, but close.So if you haven't read Birthmarked yet, you absolutely should and while at it, pre-order Prized! I personally like the covers I feature better than the blue ones, so these are the ones you will see!
I have to say, I think that "Prized" is far better than its predecessor ("Birthmarked", the first book in the trilogy) and definitely on my best of 2011 list. Why? Because this book takes some pretty big risks. Love triangles? Try love rombuses. You thought the politics were crazy in the first book? The issues introduced in this book blow the ones established in the first way out of the water (or should I say Unlake?). I absolutely ADORE O'Brien for taking these risks, knowing how sensitive (in particular) American audiences are to issues like these. This woman has a uterus of steel. Or maybe titanium. Either way, it's absolutely awesome.Now, spoiler alert: this book delves very, very deeply into the issue of abortion rights. If that makes you uncomfortable, or if you're really pro-life, you might want to avoid this one (though I urge you not to, and listen to what Gaia and O'Brien have to say on the matter). I think the reason why this book worked so very well in terms of discussing reproductive politics is because O'Brien really amped up Gaia's voice, making it the voice of a professional midwife despite her age, and not O'Brien's own opinions (though they may be her own). She does not preach at us, but urges the reader to look at the issue from both Olivia Matarc's side, and from Gaia's side -- that of the female body. In a situation like you have both in Sylum and in the Enclave/Wall, and the goal is to keep the human species alive and reproducing no matter what, to whom does the female body belong? Both sides make really good cases, echoing years and years of debate in current American (and Western) society. She does not preach at us, she does not just blast us with her opinion, but opens it up for discussion. In a time where girls are starting to mature earlier and earlier, this is a very important subject that needs to be talked about, especially within non-contemporary YA lit. Why not contemp YA lit? Because so much of the time, there's a spin for either side. A girl has an abortion because she has no other choice, regrets it, and so forth. Oh, and finds a man by the end of the story to whom she can sob/find love again. Or the reverse - she keeps the baby because of the same reasons. But in the contemp YA lit that I've read that has broached the subject, there's far too much of an emphasis on either side, and not a fair presentation of the entire case as a whole. Couching the ideas within sci-fi/dystopian YA lit helps release the matter to be contemplated as a whole, where you can see cause and effect for both sides without (as much of) the bias. O'Brien makes "Prized" her best book yet because she opens this subject up so very well, and made it so easy to digest. It had me thinking and rethinking my own opinions on the matter, and I hope that other YA gals who read it do the same. While the end of the book does end favoring one side over the other, the message is still the same - discussion is important, and without it, you have a dystopia. Without discussion, you have the end of research and thus, growth. And finally, the biggest punch in the gut of all (which O'Brien did so wonderfully) -- without growth, there is only death. The end of evolution. The end, period.And then there's a love rhombus thrown in, but that too makes perfect sense when you look at how Sylum is populated in a female to male ratio. I enjoyed that, and chuckled quite a bit when Gaia herself brings it up in one of her POV asides.This may be one of the best YA dystopia books for girls yet in terms of discussing gender and reproductive rights. I urge everyone to read it, despite whatever side of the matter you're on. "Prized" is definitely one of the best of 2011, and I can't wait to read the final book in the trilogy whenever it does get announced/released. (posted to goodreads, shelfari, librarything, and witchoftheatregoing.wordpress.com)
Note: There are necessarily spoilers for Book One in this series, but not for this book, Book Two.This is book two in the dystopic Birthmarked Trilogy, and picks up right after Birthmarked left off. Gaia Stone, age 16, left the town of Wharfton on the run two weeks earlier. She is carrying her infant sister Maya, whom she helped deliver from her dying mother¿s body. Trying to make her way through The Wasteland to a safe haven, she has run out of baby formula. Maya is almost dead when the two are apprehended by an outrider from the town of Sylum and they are taken there to get help.Sylum (as in Asylum) is yet another variation on dystopic societal organization, where men outnumber women ten to one but women are the rulers, and the only ones authorized to vote. The usual gender relationships are upended as well; it is men who are submissive and tend to the women. [Wait! That's not dystopic! But I digress....] Moreover, the proportion of men to women is getting worse with each generation; hardly any female babies are born, and some four to five hundred of the eighteen hundred men in Sylum do not have viable sperm. No one knows what is going on. There is also an interesting mystery about people who stay for even a short while in Sylum not being able to leave; if they try to do so, they get sick and die.Enter Gaia, who, like many of the female heroines in YA dystopias, seems to be the first one to ask meaningful questions, and to research possible answers. She has no shortage of help, either. Leon, Gaia¿s love interest in book one, follows her to Sylum, although Gaia, suddenly quite popular with the guys, does a great injustice to Leon. (Her characterization here in book two was, I thought, inconsistent with that of book one.) Although it was a bit too much for me that Gaia had three great-looking guys after her, I appreciated the fact that this was in spite of a very disfiguring burn scar on her face. I should also note that the leader, or ¿matrarc¿ of Sylum, is blind. There is really no plot-related reason for her to be blind, and I liked that it was never an issue.As the book ends, most of the mysteries are solved, but that only opens up the door to other problems the residents of Sylum need to address. And Gaia must also figure out who and what are most important to her, and with whom she will make her future.Evaluation: While I didn¿t like Gaia¿s character as much as I did in the first book of the trilogy, I like all the unique environmental problems and societal permutations posed in this future world, and look forward to seeing how it all turns out.
Birthmarked was one of the best books I read last year. Though another entry into the somewhat over-abundant YA dystopian genre, Birthmarked felt original and unique. It was a really excellent book that screamed for a sequel. With Prized, author Caragh O'Brien delivers another wonderful, though unexpected, journey into Gaia's world.After fleeing from the Enclave in Birthmarked, Gaia sets out into the Wasteland with her infant sister only to be captured by the people of Sylum, a matriarchal dystopian society. While it may seem like a great setup, Gaia finds that she's traded one tyrannical government for another, where kissing is a crime and there are strict codes when it comes to virtually every aspect of life. And if Gaia ever wants to see her baby sister again, she must abide by every single one of them.I was a little surprised by Prized. It's not the the book was bad at all, but just not what I expected and, frankly, a little out there compared to where the story was going in Birthmarked. I kind of felt like there wasn't a great deal of cohesion between the first book and this one, other than the presence of the main character, almost like the plot went off into something else completely -and I think it became somewhat obvious that the author didn't originally intend for Birthmarked to be a trilogy. But despite this, I really enjoyed this book. Gaia is a strong character that readers want to see overcome her circumstances and succeed. The setting is even more chilling than in Birthmarked and, most importantly, Prized was filled with unexpected twists and turns that kept me filling pages up until the very end.If you enjoyed Birthmarked, Prized is a satisfying sequel, but if you haven't read Birthmarked, you won't have much trouble jumping in now, as Prized feels like somewhat of a stand-alone novel compared with Birthmarked.
Gaia and her baby sister Maya have finally escaped the nefarious clutches of the Enclave and their twisted ways¿only to stumble into a completely different society that may be no less stifling and dystopian. Sylum is a haven of an established community a ways away from the Enclave, but it is strange in its own rights: women rule, although they are outnumbered by men almost ten to one; there are strict rules dictating relationships between men and women; and, perhaps most troubling of all, once one enters Sylum, one can never leave.Almost immediately, Gaia clashes with the Matrarc of Sylum, who is determined to quash Gaia and her different ways, even though the community desperately needs Gaia¿s midwifery skills. Gaia is encouraged to forget about her past and try to fit into her future, but how can she forget about all that was wrong with her past life, and all she had to leave behind¿especially when an important part of it shows up again in her new life?The trouble with the first book in a trilogy rocking your world is that, as much as you anticipate the first opportunity you get to read its sequel, you simultaneously fear that it won¿t live up to how much you enjoyed the first. Sadly, in PRIZED¿s case, this was true. Whereas I couldn¿t put Birthmarked down, I struggled at times to push myself through PRIZED¿s copious use of info-dumps and inconsistencies in characterization and plot that really pushed the limit on my tolerance of YA lit clichés.I read Birthmarked in one night, forgoing sleep in my complete absorption within the Enclave and my desperation to discover the fates of these beloved characters. Unfortunately, I did not feel as invested in PRIZED. Perhaps rereading Birthmarked would have helped, but I also felt like PRIZED veered off in an entirely different direction: little but the names of the main characters carried over from the first book into the second, with the result that PRIZED had to create for us an entirely new dystopian world¿and not necessarily with complete success.The rules of Sylum are explained to readers mostly through ¿tell-all¿ conversations with little plot and nothing concrete to tie all the Sylum-related facts that are unloaded onto readers in one fell swoop after another. I felt like the motivations for various characters¿ actions were never fully illustrated. Why did the Matrarc demand such rigid obeisance to their society¿s rules? Why was Gaia so insistent on defending her actions without fully considering their impact on herself and those around her? Why did she so strictly divide public opinion regarding her when she doesn¿t really do anything at all?For that matter, why is Gaia so appealing to everyone? If you thought love triangles were getting a bit ridiculous in YA lit, wait until you catch a whiff of this book¿s love square. Sure, readers love when the protagonist is loved by someone who sees the beauty in them despite her awkwardness/incompetence/insecurity, but Gaia¿s situation felt like extreme overkill, like an intervened twist in the story purely for reader gratification. The utter unnaturalness of the situation really prevented me from becoming emotionally and intellectually invested in the story.PRIZED unfortunately seemed to cut corners in explanation of character motivation or plot progression. With little to no relevance to the first book, except through the recurrence of a handful of characters and a promise at the end of a reconnection in the last installment, this could have been an entirely different YA dystopian series¿not exactly what you want from the second book in a trilogy. I think I¿ll still read the last book, if only to see how Sylum and the Enclave tie back together, but overall it was a rather large disappointment.
In Prized, the author transplants the heroine Gaia into a new society which is completely different from the setting of the first book. Sylum has climate change survived by becoming a matriarchal society surviving on marshland north of the Enclave. A mysterious genetic defect has caused an imbalance in the number of males and females being born in Sylum, resulting in the men outnumbering the women 9:1. The matriarchal nature of the society means that 90% of the population does not get to vote. Sylum, quite frankly, scared me. The imbalance of the sexes has caused the citizens of Sylum to only allow children to be born to traditional, nuclear families, punish abortion by death, outlaw any form of physical contact between non-married couples and prize female babies above all else. This completely foreign world allows the author to examine some controversial issues about feminism, slavery and basic human rights.The character development in the book is at first glance unsatisfying. After standing up to the Enclave and having a strong moral compass in Birthmarked, Gaia becomes a weak, submissive character in Prized. The interaction between Gaia and the brothers Peter and Will was cliche at best, with both acting as foils for Leon, the hero of the last book. The growth of Leon was also very confusing, with the darker side of his character, which was hinted at in Birthmarked, coming through strongly in this book. However, once I had finished the novel I felt I understood the motivations behind the characters and their growth. There were three love interests in this novel, creating a 'love square'. Normally the introduction of a second love interest in the story to test the love of the hero and heroine has always irked me, because the heroine it usually makes no sense. However, in this society where women are few and far between, it makes sense that Gaia, being a smart, strong woman, would have more than one suitor. The way she handles the men is immature and although Gaia is only sixteen and acts according to her age and experience, I found myself wanting to slap her at times because of her naivety.A well realised dystopian novel which tackles some controversial issues in a very different setting, Prized is a great novel with plot twists that will keep readers hooked until the last page. Don't miss the stunning sequel to Birthmarked!
I got an eGalley of this book through NetGalley(dot)com. This is the second book in the Prized trilogy, the third book entitled Promised is due out later in 2012. There is also a short story called Tortured that will be released in early Dec 2011 that bridges the time between Birthmarked and Prized. I enjoyed this book overall, it was very engaging and Gaia has to face a hard situation that is both the same and opposite of the one she faced in Birthmarked.Gaia has traveled the wasteland with her baby sister Maya only to be captured by the people of Sylum. Sylum is a place where the men vastly out number the women but a woman rule's the city. For a man to even touch or kiss a woman is taboo and considered rape. Sylum is in desperate need of a midwife though, so they are greatful for Gaia. But when Gaia fails to comply with the strict rules of Sylum her sister is taken away and she is forced into seclusion. Now Gaia will find herself not only in a power struggle with the powerful woman ruler of asylum, but with her heart torn between multiple the multiple men who woo her.The first part of this book was an incredibly engaging and intense story. I just got completely sucked into the story. The Sylum society is interesting in a number of ways. First of all the society is matriarcal which is interesting considering the shortage of women in Sylum. Secondly anyone who tries to leave Sylum after they go through the acclimation sickness dies; so once Gaia decides to stay there she is trapped. Thirdly when they find out why the society is so short on women it is incredibly interesting. Since most of these issues were addressed in the first half of the story I was absolutely intrigued and engaged for the first part of the book, especially by some of the genetic and scientific implications about what was going on in Sylum.The social codes in Sylum are very interesting, basically topsy turvy of how old Victorian codes were for women. It was interesting that the rules were so strict and that for the most part they were followed. I did find it a bit unrealistic that the men would be mostly content with the way society was ruled; the majority of the men were so docile about it even though they were occasional the victims of abuse. I was surprised that it took Leon pointing these things out to the other men to rile them against the strict matriarchal rule.Gaia wasn't my favorite character in the first book and she continues to be a weak point for me in this book as well. I felt like she made some pretty poor decisions early on in the book that drew out her confrontation with the leader of Sylum far longer than it needed to be drawn out. In this book she is in a sort of love square; she even jokes about how silly it is to be in a love square. She finds herself torn between loving two men who are brothers and loving Leon when he shows up searching for her. I thought that way too much time was given to Gaia angsting about her choice in men in the latter part of the book. I mean seriously, Leon is pretty much the only one for Gaia and that is apparent pretty quickly...so why spend all this time having Gaia angst about it?I enjoyed some of the side characters a bit more. I have to say though that characterization wasn't the strong point of this book; it was the world that was built and the society that Gaia was forced to live in that really propelled the story forward. Also the fact that Sylum is slowly dying from a lack of females really engages the reader; you are constantly wondering what will become of this village.Overall I was absolutely enraptured with the world and the society depicted in Sylum so I really enjoyed the first portion of the book. I still have some problems with Gaia as a character though; she is just too passive aggressive for me...even more so in this book than the last book. I also didn't enjoy how much time was spent listening to Gaia angst about her trio of boys. I am still very curious to see ho
I just finished the first book, and felt that it kept wavering between parts that were very interesting and parts that weren't. I found my self skipping over all the parts that described the surroundings to get to a part where something actually happened. It was okay, not great. I was looking at the reviews of the second book to try to find out whether to get the sequel, and the reviews had so many spoilers that I don't know if I need to read the book. PLEASE, if you are going to post a spoiler, be polite and say SPOILE
While I enjoyed the first book of the series, I did not like the second and third books. Very strange, made me sad.
Ohh my it just got good!!!
LOVED IT!! I WAS LIKE WHAT??? HOW THE HECK IS THIS HAPPENING!!! **TEARS**(MORE LIKE A WATERFALL)
Stupid. Stupid stupid. Let's make a series about women's rights and about what things would be like with women ruling. Guess what? Women are still "prizes" that get to be won by the men in a contest of physical strength and agility. Does this sound revolutionary? No? How about a girl whose very essence is all about "life first" and then helps with an abortion without a second thought? I don't really get offended easily, and this didn't bother me the way it bothered most everyone else who gave this a bad review. For me, it just doesn't fit her character. She's all "I can't kill anyone I only choose life and babies and they are so magical and I must risk my neck in stupid attempts to save lives" and then does an abortion. Makes. No. Sense. And the STUPID love rectangle or whatever that was. Seriously? It's not enough that she was one guy, or even two guys after her. She needs to have THREE and two of them are brothers. Which also makes no sense, because the entire first book puts so much emphasis on her damn scar and then suddenly no one notices it anymore? Really? No.