Warning: This will contain some spoilers for Birthmarked that will probably make no sense if you haven't read it. But be warned.
4/5 StarsI remember liking Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien. I remember the basic plotline - girl midwife in a dystopian society where they're taking babies from the poor and advancing them to the rich. Girl discovers flaws of society, rebels, story ensues. This is how Dystopians tend to go and I've read a lot of them now. But I very much remember liking this one, as vague as that memory has become because the piles of books I've read since.
So when I saw Prized on Netgalley I felt obligated to request it. Then I started to worry that I wouldn't remember enough about book 1 to read book 2.
Luckily, that was not the case. Prized started out great, throwing me immediately back into Gaia's story without forcing me to read a lot of backstory. Not remembering was OKAY because the story kept moving forward. I was relieved. The first chapter rocked, fast paced, throwing life-or-death risks and new problems at me immediately.
Then there were a couple chapters where I'm not going to lie, this book made me nervous. I get a little worried when I feel like an author's politics are showing. It's a little like your bra strap sneaking a peak to the world. There's a place for your politics and just like a bra there's a way to use them wisely and subtly that really makes an impact. I'm not going to play coy with you because I really think you're smarter than that. Because this book involves a midwife, it's the abortion issue. I like books that broach these issues with enough sensitivity that neither side of the debate is off-put by the conversation. And books bringing up the topics need to be more conversational and less soapbox.
I quickly realized it was not so much the issue itself that bothered me, but the introduction and execution felt a little clunky and deus ex machina in my opinion. Gaia has just arrived somewhere new. She's there for less than 2 days when this young lady approaches her about helping with a miscarriage. Nobody knows Gaia and there's no time spent building that trust or her reputation as a midwife. It's just thrown at you a little too quickly. It does become integral to the plot, but like I said it needs to be executed better.
Then I nearly went into panic mode when I thought there was going to be a long-drawn out love square. But thankfully Leon from the first book appeared and that shifted the balance of the book very quickly. He was angry at Gaia, a little bit bitter, and a huge reality check for our main character. His character's words and story gave me the most guttural reaction, almost bringing tears (really!).
From there I was engrossed and everything started clicking in place for me. Gaia saw herself, her flaws and her mistakes for the first time and had to face her own selfish behavior. Most YA heroines have a selfish streak (as do most teenagers & most people) but rarely is that acknowledged. Once this book hit it's stride I stayed up past midnight reading, but oddly not for Gaia but because my heart ached for Leon. He brought an honesty and bite that stopped the love square woe in it's tracks. He called her out, spoke the truth and for me made this book.
In the end I liked this book and will look forward to the next in the series. For the most part it's an intelligent dystopian, with flawed main characters that are more human than we're used to. I really like that aspect, really like the balance between the two main characters and am glad I stuck with the book through my doubts.