Birthmarked: a brilliant new dystopian series

I cannot wait for the sequel! I thought this would be a heavy read, but I was so wrong. It is everything a gripping dystopian should be, but has wonderful characters who grow through adversity and whose experiences afford powerful insights into what is most important in life.

A dark future world is divided between those who live inside the wall, and those - like sixteen year old Gaia Stone - who live outside. Gaia was trained as a midwife by her mother, and it's now her job to "advance" a quota of infants from poverty into the walled Enclave. Gaia has always been an obedient citizen, but when events reveal new information about the Enclave Gaia is determined to find out the truth and protect those she loves.

Gaia had a wonderful upbringing; her parents' depth and wisdom nourished her character so that she was ready to face difficulties with courage and selflessness. I loved the flash-backs to her childhood which show a beautiful relationship with both parents and the profound moral wisdom they passed on to her. On one occasion someone has stolen their animals, and her father surprises her by not being angry but forgiving the thieves, who "must have been very hungry". On another Gaia's mother is regretting having given her first two children to the Enclave as required by law; Gaia would excuse her for not having had a choice but her father corrects her: "You always have a choice, Gaia, you can always say no."

After ploughing through the self-serving false heroism of The Hunger Games series I felt like shouting this advice to the four winds. If only we heard it more often.

With a bad physical scar from a childhood accident, Gaia struggles to not only accept her appearance, but to acknowledge that the pity she loathes in other's eyes may in fact be sympathy; she sees she must learn to trust herself to others and not keep a barrier around herself.

There's a beautiful respect for life, maternity, newborn babies and children, and for so many other qualities of like the dignity of work, of relationships, and the rich beauty of a multitude of characters choosing what is right.

The relationship between Leon and Gaia is realistic but perfect: their love grows for all the right reasons, they learn so much about each other and their flawed but earnest characters are the antithesis of Edward/Bella sentimentalism and Katniss/Peeta falseness. These two truly demonstrate sacrifice.

Younger readers should be aware of a few slightly confronting birth scenes (one right at the start), though I considered the realism a fitting setting for the weighty themes, giving life-like depth to the characters. There are also references to a serious occurrence in Leon's past that requires maturity and objectivity and may be misunderstood by younger readers. The context shows that Leon's actions were not culpable but there were still serious consequences including the suicide of a mentally ill young teen. Yet I thought even this event was treated with delicacy and dignity, and stimulated further growth in the characters.

The story itself is original, tightly written and moves at a fast pace, and truth be told it's impossible to put down. Once finished, the long wait for the sequel begins. What a surprise to find a contemporary dystopian that's rich and deep and inspires such hope in adversity.

Clare Cannon lives in Sydney where she is the manager of Portico Books and editor of the soon to be launched


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