Prized by Caragh M. O’Brien

The set-up: Gaia has run away from the Enclave (the story of Book 1 in the series, Birthmarkedfor that review, click here) and now finds herself in another community, Sylum, which is just as twisted as the place she escaped. Twisted in different ways, of course, and plagued by mysterious reproductive problems. (Translation for “reproductive problems”: all kinds of juicy issues that are scintillating yet tastefully handled.)

Main character’s goals: At first, Gaia’s only goal is to care for her baby sister, but as she adjusts to the customs of Sylum, her goal warps into something that even she cannot recognize, and it takes a good (excuse me) verbal bitch-slap from an old favorite to get her back on track. I hope that isn’t too spoilery; I’m being purposefully abstract.

My reaction: Just as impressed with Prized as I was with Birthmarked. I even had to email the author right away to tell her how much I enjoyed it. The prose is beautiful, Gaia’s character arc (and dip and arc) is rewarding, and the pace is quick. It’s the kind of book I’d be proud to say I wrote. Am also relieved that it doesn’t bear similarities to what I have in mind for my own Book 2 (I had some “issues” with Birthmarked; you can read that review – link above –  if you’re curious).

Of interest to writers: Once again, we have an ending that begs for the next book, yet everything is resolved. Please, please please please! everybody follow the rule of wrapping up your story line even when writing a series. O’Brien’s done an excellent job of that with both books. I’m satisfied in a way that leaves me eager for the next installment. It’s a delicate balance, and one we should all strive for.

Second point of interest: Gaia’s antagonist, the Matrarc, was a fascinating character. She totally pissed me off, but even the bad things she did, I could understand, and I could even sympathize with her reasoning. That’s the mark of a good antagonist.

Bottom line: Very satisfying.

To visit Caragh O’Brien’s website, click here.

For my interview of Caragh, click here.

Reminds me of: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.


Spirit Bound by Richelle Mead

The set-up: After Rose failed to kill her ex-lover, Dimitri, who turned Strigoi (evil vampire) in a previous book, Dimitri sends her creepy-stalker death threat messages. Meanwhile, Rose graduates from the Vampire Academy and goes to the Moroi (nice friendly vampire) Court. From there, everything falls apart. Not the plot, really, although the thread of it winds around, but Rose’s life and handle on the world.

 

Main character’s goals: Rose wants to change Dimitri back from his evil vampire state (think Buffy wanting to save Angel), but failing that, she is determined to kill him (think Buffy wanting to stake Angel).

My reaction: BIG SPOILER HERE, BUT IT ISN’T REALLY A SPOILER BECAUSE THE BOOK DOESN’T EVEN HAVE AN ENDING….Please please please can we just have a beginning, middle, and end in a YA fantasy anymore? Please? I thought this was the last book. Imagine my surprise when instead of a happy ending we are left with Rose about to go to trial for murdering an important Moroi vampire. Imagine the swear words that poured from my mouth in a very un-mommy-like stream. Mmmkay, spoiler over.

Of interest to writers: You CAN write a sequel-begetting ending without cliffhangers. I have seen it done before and done well. Try Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien, for one of my favorite examples, or The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, which I have reviewed here and here, respectively.

Bottom Line: I love Rose Hathaway. She’s tough and gutsy and not afraid to call the Moroi queen a “sanctimonious bitch.” Bella Swan would pee her pants even thinking about doing that.

Second Bottom Line: I have had it with YA fantasies not ending. I am now all about the contemporary fiction. Well, after I read the last in the Vampire Academy series.

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien

The set-up: Many years in the future, sixteen-year-old Gaia is a midwife to mothers in the sectors outside the Enclave, which is a city of privileged people. The first three babies delivered each month must be given to the Enclave, families of which adopt the babies.

Main character’s goals: Gaia’s parents are arrested by authorities in the Enclave. When they aren’t returned home, Gaia decides to rescue them.

My reaction: Do you really want to know? Probably not. This is a very personal reaction. Within the first few pages, I was quite upset. Sick feeling in my stomach, the whole works. Here’s what happened: O’Brien’s book begins with a birth. “Bummer,” I thought. “My manuscript begins with a birth. Not a big deal, though.” I kept reading. Then, the birth mother’s name is Agnes. “WTF?” I said. “My birth mother’s name is Agnes.” Seriously, what are the chances? And then, the baby gets taken away. SAME THING IN MY NEW MANUSCRIPT. Which is also a post-apocalyptic dystopian story. At this point I was beyond speech. The whole mood, along with those details, reminded me so strongly of my manuscript that I had to put the book down.

But only for an hour or so. Because the writing is excellent, and the story is too. On the bright side, the similarities between O’Brien’s and my stories end after the points I saw in the beginning, and hers is science fiction and mine’s fantasy. But for awhile there I was upset, and, I’ll admit it, pissed off. And I kinda needed to throw up.

Of interest to writers: Mood and tone! The beginning of this has so much mood you could siphon some off and distribute it to five other books, and it would still have this great mood. I mean, wow. If I hadn’t been so upset over my own issues with the beginning, I might have enjoyed it even more.

There’s a way-obvious sequel-begetting ending, BUT this is a complete novel. Writers everywhere, take note: you can end a book in a way that allows for sequels and keeps readers interested, without dangling your hero off a cliff.

Bottom Line: Fabulous book. You’ll enjoy it even more if you aren’t writing about a woman named Agnes giving birth and needing to say goodbye to her baby right away. (Or you could cut your prologue…which you should do anyway.) (Yes I’m talking to myself. I’ll stop now.)

If you want to find out more about Birthmarked, you can visit Caragh O’Brien’s page here.