Book Review: Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien

After climate change, on the north shore of Unlake Superior, a dystopian world is divided between those who live inside the wall, and those, like sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone, who live outside. It’s Gaia’s job to “advance” a quota of infants from poverty into the walled Enclave, until the night one agonized mother objects, and Gaia’s parents are arrested.

Badly scarred since childhood, Gaia is a strong, resourceful loner who begins to question her society. As Gaia’s efforts to save her parents take her within the wall, she herself is arrested and imprisoned.
Fraught with difficult moral choices and rich with intricate layers of codes, BIRTHMARKED explores a colorful, cruel, eerily familiar world where one girl can make all the difference, and a real hero makes her own moral code. (From

Birthmarked is a book which pre-reading was on my radar but not a ‘must have’. I thought it sounded interesting but wasn’t overly excited about, perhaps because it sounded similar in many ways to a lot of other books I’d read in recent months. I ended up buying it when using an amazon voucher, with a few pounds left over and it being one of the cheapest books on my wishlist, meaning I wouldn’t over spend. However reading it completely surprised me and I actually think this book is a real gem, one which deserves a little more hype and shouting about because it is really very good.

Caragh O’Brien captures in Birthmarked some of my favourite qualities of dystopian fiction: poetically beautiful prose, a strong brave lead character and most importantly a believable world. It isn’t a flashy romance or an action packed epic, though there is a little bit of that, but reminds me more in style of Carrie Ryan’s The Forest Of Hands And Teeth in many way, minus the zombies obviously. The setting is desolate, the society almost cult like and the situation utterly convincing and shocking.

Gaia is a fantastically created character. She’s clever, brave and strong and her story captured me from the beginning. Within the first few pages we see her question her society and I knew I was going to love her. In many ways an unlikely heroine, her humbleness and quiet strength appeals greatly. Although the story is largely centered on Gaia’s struggle there is just the right amount of romance, and while it is definitely not the focus of the story, it is tragically intense…just the way I like them.

Everything about this book was a win for me. The pacing is perfect throughout, swooping easily between thought provoking and quiet poignancy to breath stopping action and gut wrenching romance. For the duration of this story I was immersed in Gaia’s world to the point everything around me faded into the background, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from it. If like me you’ve been dithering over this book then my advice is go for it. If you’ve been dismissing it as another fluffier, romance driven dystopia, it’s not. This one has real meat on it’s bones. With the promise of an exciting sequel, Caragh O’Brien is an author I’ll be watching out for in the future.

Published May 2011 by Simon & Schuster UK. 

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien

  1. Like you I have been on the fence about getting this for a while. I have had it on my audio book wish list for a while and am now thinking I should get it. I like that you feel it has more meat to it and it sounds very character driven which I love. Thanks or the great recommendation.


  2. I just clicked on your review, eager to read your thoughts because I loved Birthmarked SO much. It's actually the first dystopian and the first finished copy that was sent to me for review when I was just starting to blog.

    I agree with you. This is really a gem. It very well written and I felt drawn to the characters. I loved the world even though it was harsh. I'm eagerly waiting for Prized, the sequel. I hope you will read it too!

    Have a great day!


  3. I'm so so jealous that you have Birthmarked, I;ve wanted it since I first heard about it but haven't had chance to get it yet! I may buy in manchester next week! 🙂
    Thanks for your awesome review, I'm glad you liked it cos now I'm pretty certain I will too! 😀 x


  4. Yay! I'm so glad this one won you over. I have a copy waiting for me and I'm actually DYING to read it. I think it sounds amazing and I love reading great reviews of it.


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