Prized by Caragh M. O’Brien
In this sequel to Birthmarked, Gaia has escaped into the wasteland with her infant sister, following a rumor to guide her. Gaia is reaching the end of her strength and her baby sister is perishing when she is discovered by a rider from Sylum. When she is brought into their matriarchal society, Gaia is forced to give up her sister into the society for care and must submit herself to their rules. No man can speak to her first much less touch her, and a kiss can get you jailed. Sylum is slowly dying, since there are many more male births than female. But Sylum also cannot be escaped easily. Newcomers get physically ill and then after that violent illness are unable to leave. If they try to leave, they will die of an even more extreme illness. So Gaia is trapped in Sylum without her sister, trying to follow their rules, when she discovers that Leon is also there, imprisoned. In order to free him, Gaia has to give up the last of her will to the ruler of Sylum.
I adored the first book in this series. The Enclave was a skewed society that was fully rendered and well thought out. O’Brien has done the impossible in a single series and created within her world another complete society that makes sense, surprises, and then displays its darker side. Sylum is a world run by women, but also a decaying society where there are few rights especially for those who refuse to follow the rules. It is a beautiful, green but dreadful place where the darkness is right below the lovely surface. In short, it is immensely readable and a wonderful dystopian setting.
O’Brien introduces us to new characters just as we are getting reacquainted with those we enjoyed in the first book. Gaia remains a fierce, independent force who is bright, inspiring and strong. She is a character thrown into a society she does not understand, who makes waves with every step and friends too. There are two brothers who serve as additional love interests in this complex society that forbids touching. They are wonderfully similar but also very different, attractive in different ways to Gaia. Still, there is also the angry and ever-frustrating yet fascinating Leon to consider. As Gaia muses, it is actually a love square rather than a triangle.
This is a compulsively readable book, just like the first. The world is well drawn, but it is the different societies that truly shine here. I look forward to the rest of the series, because this book was very unexpected and I can’t guess what is going to happen next. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
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