Review: Birthmarked

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is obviously a first book in a series, although one is not mentioned. It takes place several hundred years after a major upswing in energy needs precede a casacade effect that left the country barren and changed everything. They sit on the shore of Unlake Superior, a vast stretch of dry lake bed. A walled Enclave has been built, and inside they have electricity from geo-thermal energy, TV, nice clothes and nice things to eat. These are the people the Enclave was set up for. Outside the walls are the poor people, who provide some help and services to the Enclave, including the first three babies born each month from each sector to be adopted by Enclave families and raised as their own. They live in poverty, with passes for the Tvalter that they get for special consideration, some mycoprotein to help sustain them, whatever they can grow themselves in the hot dry climate, and rainwater that they collect, or travel to one large spigot that takes time to fill the many bottles need to sustain a family. Gaia’s father is a tailor, and her mother is a midwife. Outside of all this is the wasteland and what’s called The Dead Forest, although no one knows where it is exactly, or what is out there. Every now and then people escape to the wasteland. The book opens with Gaia attending her first solo birth as her mom is away at another one. It is successful, and she carries the boy to the Enclave wall, where the soldiers call down one of the Masisters to take the infant, noting the date and time of delivery, as well as the parents. It is a fairly small community. When Gaia gets back home, Old Meg, her mother’s assistant, pulls her aside before she can get there, and tells her her mother and father have ben taken by the Enclave soldiers, and that one is waiting inside for her to. They want them for questioning. Old Meg decides to leave for the Wasteland, and urges Gaia to go, but she decides to confront the soldier and find out what is going on, and wait for her parent, or try and get them released. The soldier inside her house keeps asking her about lists, calendars, or other papers that her mother might have given her – anything in code. She has nothing, but a small secret package that Old Meg told her to tie to her thigh that came from from her mother that she slipped to Old Meg before she was taken to give to Gaia if something happened. Gaia has no idea of what it is, but nor is she interested in helping the soldier. She mistrusts his motives. So begins the story of the willful Gaia, who’s face is scarred on one side, making her ineligible to be a child of the enclave from the beginning, and her quest to find out the truth of what happened to her parents, why, and what seems to be going on with the babies – and what they are searching for. Finding friends, reluctant helpers, and enemies along the way, she must confront the truth of the Enclave, and how they have been living all these years. A good start to a series, the characters are strong,a and the setting unusual. My only nit-pick is that there wasn’t enough world building – very little glimpses into family life inside or outside the walls. What goes on on an average day? How exactly is the society structured, or about the people living outside the walls – her people.

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