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Book Review: Prized by Caragh OBrien

prized caragh obrien Book Review: Prized by Caragh OBrien

Debut novelist Caragh OBrien surprised me last year with her thoughtful postapocalyptic novel Birthmarked, in which global warming has devastated the Earths population, leading to a careful division of the genetic haves and the genetic have notes in an attempt to prolong humanitys viability. Though such a premise is ethically fraught, OBrien navigated it with sensitivity and depth, allowing plenty of grey to slip between what might initially seem clear moral blacks and whites. Not only did OBrien touch upon the social factors associated with whats essential a eugenics approach, but also on the biological issues that can arise through a narrowing of the gene pool. It was a bold novel, and it was one that made an impression on me. Still, I wasnt overly delighted when I heard that it was part of a trilogy, having thought that it stood perfectly well on its own, and I admit that I had mixed feelings when Prized'arrived in my mailbox.

Prized'begins almost immediately after where Birthmarked'left off, with protagonist Gaia having escaped, with her newborn sister, from the terrifying, totalitarian confines of the Enclave. She soon finds herself lost and unwell in the Wastelands, and all looks quite dire until she is rescued by a young man from the village of Sylum. As a midwife, Gaia has skills that make her highly desirable in her new home, particularly as reproductive rights and issues are at the top of the agenda. But although Gaia allows herself to be offered the position of village midwife, she soon finds that there are myriad social and political issues surrounding birth and intimacy that she could never have imagined.

Sylum suffers from a vast gender disparity, with the number of men by far overwhelming the number of women. As such, the women are highly sought after, and are placed in a position of authority. The men, on the other hand, are lesser beingsparticularly those, and there are many, who are infertile. Because of this disparity there are a number of rules and norms that have been set in place to protect the women of Sylum and their possible offspring, and to an outsider they seem quite draconian (and rather Atwood-esque).

And so, Gaia finds herself navigating these complicated waters without any idea as to how to appropriately conduct herself (and indeed, even whether she should). She sides with the libbies, the women who have removed themselves from the villages norm of a nuclear family; she performs an abortion, an act that has serious consequences to her acceptance in the village (and to the woman in question); she finds herself unnerved by the power imbalance between the two sexes and by the precariousness of the villages peaceful state. And strangely, Gaia, who is disfigured from an incident in her youth, finds herself the subject of the attentions of not one but three males.

Summarised in a paragraph, it does all sound a little ludicrous, but theres a good deal of interesting material here. OBriens exploration of the subverted power divide between men and women is fascinating, and Gaias yielding to her apparent desirability is the same: she finds herself falling for everyone around her because they all seem attracted to her. Certainly an interesting discussion of the science of attraction, power relations and even notions of monogamy could arise from this, particularly given the presence of the libbies. Theres also the question of whether the woman are'truly in a position of elevated power, for despite their scarcity and ability to choose their mates, really theyre considered not much more than wombs.

Even beyond Sylum, this is an issue: Gaia is always being rescued, for example, and seems to long for someone who can physically protect her rather than necessarily care for her'(I felt, for example, a certain loathing towards love interest Leon for his cruel, manipulative, alpha-male ways, but wonder whether its somehow expected of women in slowly re-emerging societies to look towards aggressive types for safety and support, and whether thats why we keep seeing these relationship dynamics in dystopian fiction).

Another aspect of OBriens work that I find interesting is her apparent assertion that all'societies are dystopian in some form: Gaia has now escaped from three very different societies, all of which suffer from crippling problems that make them unfit for her to live in. And yet, Gaias search for some sort of idyllic place intrigues me: does she believe that humanity is better than it is? Or is this some kind of vain hope?

Although Prized'presents some fascinating concepts'I couldnt help but feel that it all feels massively distant from the world we were introduced to in Birthmarked. Without Gaia and Leon, and a few other tidbits theres little to bridge the two novels, and theres a lack of cohesion as a result. I also felt that there was rather too much going on to allow the novel to have the depth that it otherwise might have. (This is certainly true of the characters, who although generally nuanced, can occasionally act in a bewilderingly about-faced manner.) For example, a sporting event in which the men play, er, soccer to win a girl takes up a good few chapters and feels weirdly unnecessary. There are also the additional mysteries surrounding the male infertility and the gender imbalance in the area. Although these are interesting, they feel almost as though theyre there simply for the sake of having a mystery, and with the addition of notes written in code, well, one cant help but feel that less is more.

Still, even though this novel falls short of its predecessor, OBriens thoughtful thematic approach is to be applauded, making Prized'certainly worthy of your time.

Rating: star Book Review: Prized by Caragh OBrienstar Book Review: Prized by Caragh OBrienstar Book Review: Prized by Caragh OBrienblankstar Book Review: Prized by Caragh OBrienblankstar Book Review: Prized by Caragh OBrien (good)

With thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia for the review copy

Support Read in a Single Sitting by purchasing Prized'from

Amazon | Book Depository UK | Book Depository USA | Booktopia

Also by Caragh OBrien:

birthmarked carah m obrien Book Review: Prized by Caragh OBrien

white 15 Book Review: Prized by Caragh OBrienSend to Kindle


  1. Im very intrigued about the next book in the series after this one I didnt love it quite as much as I loved Birthmarked and Im curious to see what happens next :)

  2. Stephanie /

    Thanks for visiting, Erica! Me too. I love that OBrien doesnt balk at dealing with very difficult, nuanced issues, and I have high hopes for the final in the trilogy.

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