Prized - Caragh M. O'Brien
Though Prized was totally different than Birthmarked, I felt it worked, and it didn't make this second book in the trilogy any less poignant, beautiful, or tragic, three things I loved so much about the first.

Overall, my favorite aspect of Birthmarked and O'brien's writing was her characters and characterization and I was so happy to find it was my favorite of the second too, and that characterization wasn't compromised by the plot/setting up the third book, as usually happens in the middle installment. Although, what I found original and fascination is that, instead of having the main character improve and grow positively, Gaia's character actually becomes more flawed and less strong in Prized (I mean, at least for a while). It just shows how powerful and dominant the Matrarc is, since she's what really takes credit for the weakening of Gaia's spirit, which helps define her character without spelling it out, and finally which proves how character-driven these novels are.

Sure, there was a moment where I rolled my eyes. I think you all know the moment: when three guys, THREE declare love to Gaia. But in a city where men outnumber women 9:1 and this is commonplace, I think it's used less as a cliche and more as a look into Sylum and how things really work there. Not to mention, the first book was about Gaia's being rejected by society because of her scar, and the second turns that completely around to have her thrown into a situation where guys are fighting for her attention. No wonder she was so confused!

This brings me to Leon. I loved him, ADORED him in Birthmarked. I was SO GLAD that my feelings still haven't changed. The whole "love square" thing didn't lessen my love for him at all. He accepts Gaia for all her flaws, and most of all, he notices her flaws instead of ignoring them/refusing to acknowledge them. HE is what saves Gaia and helps her regain her former strength and character. The significance of this is just . . . EVERYTHING is character-driven. Once I stop and think about it I realize how complex these books are, not because of plot twists or the codes or anything, but because of how each character relates to one another and how they truly, not just under the surface, affect each other. That moment in the second half of Prized, that moment where Gaia stands up and claims her spirit (I won't tell how--spoilers, spoilers!), is so beautiful because we know how she's been weakened, and we know why she's strengthened then, and by who. UGH this is so important.

Anyways, I couldn't put this book down. It was frustrating, desolately gorgeous, and heartbreaking. I heard the third book came out yesterday. I NEED to get it immediately. O'Brien's really crafted a winner here, I can't wait to see what she does next!!