Sep 12, 2012

Birthmarked, by Caragh M. O'Brien

Disclaimer: All reviews are the result of my personal opinion from a Christian stand-point. These reviews are provided for those who share my beliefs and morals, to help guide what fiction a reader may wish to pick up. For those who do not share these beliefs, please refrain from hateful comments. It is due to rude commenting that I must now include this note prior to all reviews. For more information, visit my purpose behind this blog. Thank you for your understanding.

Intended Age-Group: 12+
Issues of Violence: action violence, passive mentions of gunshot or imprisonment.
Intimacy Level: mild attraction
Swearing: b*****d
Recommendation: 3 out of 5 stars

"You can't take my baby. She's mine."
"You'll have others. You'll get to keep some. I promise."
"Please. Not this one. Not my only. What have I done?"
"You've provided a great service to the Enclave."

In the future, in a world baked dry by the harsh sun, there are those who live inside the wall and those, like sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone, who live outside. Gaia has always believed it is her duty, with her mother, to hand over a small quota of babies to the Enclave. But when Gaia's mother and father are arrested by the very people they so dutifully serve, Gaia is forced to question everything she has been taught to believe. Gaia's choice is now simple: enter the world of the Enclave to rescue her parents, or die trying. 
Initial Reaction: *****
The idea of supporting a higher and healthier life by giving up newborn babies to be raised in an alternate society was fascinating. Gaia's skill and knowledge as a midwife (passed down by her mother) is very believable and educational. I especially love Gaia's concern and care for the babies--both in the womb and after they've been sent inside the wall.

This dystopian America follows the similar trend of a character discovering that the overall power may not be in her best interest.

Characters: *****
Gaia's character wove up and down for me. At the beginning of the book, when warned of imminent danger by a family friend, she clung to extreme ignorance, even with her parents missing and blatant question marks staring her in the face, but I understand that every character goes through a growth process and we can't see Gaia grow without first seeing her weaknesses. 

When life takes a nasty (but predictable) twist, Gaia's strength shows through. She acts out against injustice. She's good at maintaining an active role in passive circumstances, which is refreshing.

The character of Captain Grey was very developed and not as predictable as I'd expected. His internal conflict between Gaia's plight and his own duties was well-delivered. He made diplomatic choices that were affected by his twinging conscience. I enjoyed his growth and, though some of his choices near the end of the book were a leap toward daring and dangerously uncharacteristic, they still remained believable.

Gaia's relationship with her father was especially touching. He wasn't just the typical loving, warm-smile, twinkle-eyes father. Through Gaia's sixteen-year-old-eyes, we learned a lot about his spunk, fire, and awareness. The character of Gaia's mother didn't come out quite as much until later in the book and, though she's supposedly formed much of Gaia's character, she was a little cliche.

Plot: *****
About half way through the novel, the story hit a wall for me. I went from reading every night to snatching short paragraphs over the course of a couple weeks. My interest faded as the story slowed down even further after a stretch of medium-paced plot. This may have been caused by the limited insight into Gaia's feelings. There were moments when I knew exactly what she was feeling as she thought about her parents or wondered about the life of a baby, but when the action starts rolling, it's hard to know what's going through her head. I was often left waiting for a moment of guidance--an "Aha! That's where we're at emotionally," but it didn't come.

Spiritual Content: *****
On the spiritual front, no mention of God or any other deity was present, keeping the book quite neutral. Though I enjoy Christian speculative fiction novels, I like being able to recommend a secular one that's clean. It's good to see the different types of writing.

The book had mild, decent violence and no sexual issues in it. There is a specifically graphic scene of an old-fashioned "C-Section" of sorts, but I found it more interesting than repellent.  The single swear word I saw in the book (b*st*rd) actually felt very appropriate in the scene it was used.

Overall Recommendation:
Over the course of the 361 pages, my interest declined. The book ended with a pleasant surprise (who doesn't like surprises?), which managed to salvage an inkling of my interest. I may pick up the second book. All in all, definitely a clean read for the intended age-group, but lacking depth for more serious well-versed readers.

Nadine Brandes is an adventurer, fusing authentic faith with bold imagination. She writes stories about brave living, finding purpose, and other worlds soaked in imagination. Her debut dystopian novel, A Time to Die, releases 2014 from Marcher Lord Press, the premier publisher of Christian speculative fiction. When Nadine's not taste-testing a new chai or editing fantasy novels, she is out pursuing adventures. She currently lives in Idaho with her husband. You can find out more about Nadine and her books at


  1. Have you read any of her other novels? I adore "Birthmarked" and I'm currently reading its sequel, "Prized". Although it's quite a page-turner and I'm still in love with the story... Gaia is beginning to disappoint me more and more. Without any spoilers- she seems to be developing some duplicity in her work ethic. I admired Gaia (and O'Brien) for her strong commitment to the importance of babies before and after birth... a strength that is lacking in "Prized". I'm seriously considering stopping my journey with Gaia. Just wondered if you have any thoughts? As a pro-life advocate, I'm just not sure Gaia/ O'Brien knows where she stands on the issue herself... confusing.

    1. I haven't read any of her other novels yet and I don't know if I will. Gaia's character went a little downhill for me and I agree that Gaia's commitment to the importance of babies changes in what seems to be an uncharacteristic way. I haven't decided if I'll read on in the Birthmarked trilogy yet. We'll see. :)