Aphie's Reviews > Birthmarked

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien
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's review
Jun 25, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: fantasy, young-adult

** spoiler alert ** I wanted to like this book a lot but glaring plot holes, poorly defined threats and a lack of research made me so cranky I ended up pacing the house once I finished it.
My main problems could probably be described as political, but I STRONGLY felt that there were a couple of things that very firmly placed this novel as having been written by a US author in the present day. It both jarred and made me feel really cross; here was a novel that features midwifery, birth, motherhood, as a potentially positive force and acts, but it approaches it from a remove, where it stinks (as soldiers at one point remark) and is strangely removed and mechanical.
Gaia, our protagonist, is a midwife. Three births are described in the text (not counting the caesarean Gaia performs on a dead convict). In ALL of them the woman gives birth in a non-hospital setting FLAT ON HER BACK. She does not leave ths position throughout her labour. Talk to some modern day midwives and they'll tell you how unlikely that is.
Nowhere does a mother breastfeed her child, but baby formula is available not just in the privileged Enclave but out in the sticks surrounding it - a place where water has to be hauled by hand from a communal spigot, as Gaia makes a big fuss about when discussing her early life with Leon. Presumably it's not always uncontaminated, as the facilities in general are fairly poor. Further, it rains rarely, so water is a highly valued commodity, especially outside the Enclave...but the only mention of women there feeding their kids is based around powder which requires vast amounts of water to produce and then to mix in? Does not compute, Ms.O'Brien! Unless you think breastfeeding is perhaps inappropriate for a YA novel (about childbirthing, featuring graphic descriptions of a caesarean on a cadaver), weird and/or abnormal and have never heard of wetnurses and milk banks.
Lastly, not one of the babies in the text roars, screams, squeals or does more than cry a bit at one point. I understand the need to keep the story moving but I like a bit of verisimilitude in my fantasy texts. It helps with the whole suspension of disbelief thing.
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