Born Wicked is a wonderful blend of science fiction and fantasy that weaves together themes of love, duty, religion, magic, and feminism. It took me a little while to get acclimated to the changes in history. I had a clear idea of the historical events and climate in the real world, so it blew my mind a little that the alternate history was so complete and hugely world changing. The Victorian era is even more oppressive and misogynistic than it was in real life, which is no small feat. Not only can women not pursue any sort of education beyond the home-making arts at any age, but if they do anything subversive or offend the wrong person, they can be imprisoned in a mental institution or sent to a prison labor camp indefinitely. It isn't uncommon to be condemned without so much as the smallest opportunity to prove one's innocence. Women are expected to act vapid and shallow and have no other ambition than to serve their husband, who in turn may treat them as an object. They can't hold jobs or positions of power and alternative lifestyles are also not tolerated. This is a frightening society that is based enough on real events that it's complete believable.
On top of the well written setting and dystopia, I really connected with the characters. Cate and her sisters had their own interests and their own viewpoints about life. Cate is a strong character that puts the safety of her sisters above her own wants and needs. The pressure on her to choose a path that will inevitably end in both her separation from her family and her own unhappiness is astronomical, but she continues to soldier on. It's also nice to see a YA heroine think of someone else for a change instead of putting their own selfish needs in front of everyone and everything else. Her sisters had a few surprises up their sleeves, but I didn't like them as much as Cate because they didn't really appreciate the sacrifices she made for them and mostly treat her badly.
I was very impressed with Jessica Spotswood's debut novel Born Wicked. Despite my own misgivings about its genre, the book greatly surprised me and proved to be attention grabbing and interesting. It bypassed all the typical YA tropes in favor of rich story telling and realistic characters. I am very sad I read this so early because I will have to wait even longer to find out what happens next.
My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins
** Born Wicked is released on February 7, 2012. Check it out here. **