In the desert-dry future,
when the oil is depleted and hope is imprisoned,
there are rumors of a safe place beyond the wastelands.
Gaia and her tiny infant sister actually make it to Sylum, to a lake with more water than the teen midwife has ever dreamed of, to morning mists instead of parching winds, to the Matrarch‘s iron-fisted rule over everyone – the women citizens and the second-class males who vastly outnumber them.
Her own grandmother fled here years ago, and Gaia had hoped against hope that she’d still be in Sylum. Alas, she died a decade before their arrival, but left coded messages addressed to Gaia’s parents. Perhaps they’re family history, perhaps they’re clues to why fewer and fewer daughters are born to Sylum each year.
To fully appreciate Gaia’s story, read Birthmarked first, but if you just can’t wait to jump into this dystopian world, the author subtly brings in enough snippets of information from the first book to let you read Prized by itself. If you have read Birthmarked (book 1) and want a “bridge” to Prized, or if you just want a bit more backstory on The Enclave, look for O’Brien’s short story “Tortured” (free eBook at this time).
A mystery, a love story, a cautionary ecological parable.
My Recommendation: Gaia is afraid that her infant sister might not survive their escape across the wasteland, but the rumors hadn’t prepared her for the women-ruled settlement that rescues them. Staying in the Enclave would have enslaved them both; living in Sylum will give Maya to someone else to raise as the Matarch rules everyone. And once Gaia stays in Sylum for two days, she can never cross its borders or she’ll die.
So few females have been born in Sylum during recent decades that Gaia, with the birthmark streaking down her face, is accepted at once, and Maya is doubly prized. Now men drastically outnumber women, and they are forbidden to touch women or to vote in assemblies – a kiss means time in prison for assault. Men who have been tested as fertile have a chance to marry, if they impress a woman during the thirty-two games and the Matrarch approves.
When Gaia uses her midwifery skills to help a young woman in distress and won’t tell who, the Matrarch puts her under house arrest. Eventually, Gaia relents, stepping into the sunlight and a wealth of confusion as two brothers very delicately express their interest in her as a wife – and an intruder turns out to be Vlatir, who helped her escape from the Enclave!
As time approaches for the thirty-two games, Gaia gets strong hints that she’ll be the winner’s choice for chaperoned time together. Even prisoners can be chosen to play, so seeing Vlatir on the field is only a slight surprise. But the winner’s choice of companion shocks the whole community, and Gaia finds herself in a whirlwind of old secrets, new information, and terrible danger.
Can Gaia discover why so few girls are born here? Will the Matrarch let her act on any knowledge that she gains? Can she or Maya or even Vlatir survive in this strange place of marshes and lakes and women-archers who guard the assembly hall?
Readers who begin the Birthmarked Trilogy with this second volume will easily follow Gaia’s story as the author skillfully weaves in characters and incidents from the first book throughout the tale. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.