Birthmarked – Caragh M. O’Brien

25 Jul

Series: Birthmarked, #1
ISBN:  9781596435698
Genre: Dystopian
Audience: Young Adult
Overall Rating: 10/10
Gaia Stone lives outside of the Enclave near the shores of Unlake Superior. Trained as a midwife by her mother, it is Gaia’s job to advance a quota of three babies per month to the Enclave, where they’re given a “better” life. But all is not well within the enclave. When Gaia’s parents are arrested, she must go against everything she’s been taught in order to rescue them. But in doing so, she places what the Enclave so desperately wants straight to their hands. And leaving with her life intact seems to be nothing more than a dream.
I had been thinking about reading this book since seeing it in a catalog used to order books for work. I hadn’t picked it up, though, because it didn’t seem to be quite my style. How wrong I was. The plot was deep and unpredictable, with twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. I found Gaia’s adventures interesting and suspenseful to follow, with the result that I might have set the book down once in order to reapply sunscreen (it was one of my Florida beach reads!) before starting right back in again.
The powerful Enclave made an imposing enemy. The thought of a utopia has kind of terrified me since reading The Giver in eighth grade, and this was no less terrifying. Instead of admitting problems (like chronic anemia due to a small genetic pool), they attempted to cover it up and make it seem like everything was hunky-dory, when in fact, all was not. It showed what a government could be if it became too powerful. And who wouldn’t find the prospect of having a newborn child taken away from them absolutely horrifying?
Chilling. I think chilling is the word I’m looking for—and Birthmarked managed it.
Gaia Stone is one of those characters that confuses me, but I think that means that she was well developed. I tend to prefer characters I can identify with—characters who have some traits that I think I have, too. I didn’t see that with Gaia, but I still liked her as a character. She was likable, but not perfect, and she grew stronger throughout the story.
The cast of supporting characters was varied and eccentric. Each character had their own motives and histories that enriched the story and made me want to keep reading. Good characters are, in my opinion, the number one factor in a story that can make it or break it, and Birthmarked succeeded in making it.
One of the setting points that made me grin was the Unlake Superior. I haven’t figured out if the book is set in Canada or Michigan (or Minnesota or Wisconsin, I suppose!), but I liked trying to visualize that massive body of water where I’ve spent some time just GONE. It might not be quite as daunting to someone who hasn’t seen how expansive the Great Lakes are, but it certainly added to the overall feeling of the book for me.

The rest of the setting—the Enclave, the town outside the enclave, the plight of the people living outside—are all richly described, leaving me wanting nothing more. The mixture of “ancient” technology (read: our modern technology), and the necessity to go back to actually-ancient-technology in order to deal with the lack of resources was executed flawlessly.

Also, the culture of the people, which I’m including in setting for lack of a better place to put it, seemed well developed. I love that—it’s something some fantasy/sci-fi books leave out, developing a good culture for the people they’re living with. It was needed in this book, too, because it showed the reader that taking away people’s children was a matter of course for midwives and the people, which makes it all the more horrifying.

One Response to “Birthmarked – Caragh M. O’Brien”


  1. Book Review: Promised (Birthmarked #3) by Caragh M. O’Brien | More Than One Page - November 1, 2014

    […] should have reread them before reading this! My only read of Birthmarked happened back in 2011, as you can see by the old format of this review, and I didn’t even review Prized, which must mean I read it sometime in 2012 before I started […]

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