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.