Striking out into the wasteland with nothing but her baby sister, a handful of supplies, and a rumor to guide her, sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone survives only to be captured by the people of Sylum, a dystopian society where women rule the men who drastically outnumber them, and a kiss is a crime. In order to see her sister again, Gaia must submit to their strict social code, but how can she deny her sense of justice, her curiosity, and everything in her heart that makes her whole?
I ADOREDBirthmarked, as you can tell from my review of it way back in March. My children's lit professor recommended it to me and I loved it as much as she did. I have been waiting on pins and needles for this second book ever since then and as a result, I believe my standards were simply set too high. This book, while quite the enjoyable read, didn't quite live up to my expectations.
Prized begins with Gaia alone in the wilderness, running away from the Enclave with her baby sister. Her sister is clearly suffering and Gaia herself is weak. The pair has long since run out of most supplies and is barely getting by when they are kidnapped/rescued by a mysterious man on horseback. He takes them to Sylum, a whole new world that is different that anything that Gaia has every imagined. The women run everything, despite a population of mostly men, and relationships are strictly controlled.
O'Brien's world-building really shines in this second book as she creates a whole new dystopian society. A part of me felt like this was a bit unnecessary since we already had an established society in book one, but I guess I understood that she had to create something new since Gaia was entering unknown territory and leaving behind the Enclave (and these new people had no real knowledge of the Enclave).
While the world-building was superb, the characters--specifically, Gaia--suffered a bit in this book. Gaia goes from the incredibly smart, strong girl who saved a dead woman's baby and escaped the Enclave prison to a weak, timid, and easily manipulated young woman. I couldn't believe the ease with which she seemed to fall into the woman's role in Sylum and leave behind her strong beliefs. I understand that she faces some really difficult things when she first gets there, but she seems (to me) to concede far too easily to the demands of the Matrarc. When she first submits, I hope that it's a show and in private we'll still see the strong, courageous Gaia of Birthmarked, but it was not so. Towards the end when things finally get crazy, Gaia seems to rediscover her passionate, courageous nature and finally stand up for something. She finally makes the tough decisions that she knows in her gut are right. She redeems herself quite a bit in the final chapters.
Overall, I really did end up enjoying this novel, simply not as much as the first book. Since this is set to be a trilogy, my hope is that book three will continue with Gaia as the strong woman that we know she is and possibly (hopefully) return our characters to the original setting--the Enclave. As Sylum has a lot of problems, I see this as highly likely and look forward to the confrontation that would seem to loom on the horizon. My hope is that this book simply suffers a little from "middle book syndrome" and Ms. O'Brien will once again completely "wow" readers in book three. Despite some of my problems with this book, I am definitely still looking forward to a fabulous conclusion to this trilogy!