I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Branded by Abi Ketner, Missy Kalicicki
Series: Sinners #1
Published: 2014 by Abi Ketner & Missy Kalicicki
Genres: Romance, Science Fiction, Young Adult
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Branded is a young adult dystopian novel set in a world run by the Commander, a man who abolished the judicial system in favor of punishing anyone accused of wrongdoing by sending them to the Hole, a forced labor camp. Each sinner is given a colored brand based on which of the seven deadly sins they’ve been accused of committing.
Lexi Hamilton is one such Sinner, and she’s been accused of lust.
I started this book on a night where I wanted something lighthearted, angsty, and a little bit cliché. Branded fits the bill perfectly. It’s dark and edgy, and the world it is set in is so nightmarish that it makes high school look like a piece of cake. Perhaps that’s part of the appeal of YA dystopias. They create something so monstrous that no matter what you’re going through, the world looks a little brighter.
So, pet peeve number one. I’m very picky about the methods of torture in my crappy YA novels being at least somewhat feasible. A brand is made with a hot iron. A tattoo is colored. The picture on the book looks like some sort of lacy Celtic tattoo, and I’m pretty sure that if the Commander cared so much about efficient punishment and ruining people’s lives, the tattoo/brand/thing would not be pretty. And which is it, anyway, a brand or a tattoo? Make up your mind.
When Lexi arrives in the Hole, her experience is a bit different than expected. Normally the guards turn on any sinners with a blue brand pretty quickly and consider them fair game. That would have been Lexi’s fate, but someone is clearly interested in keeping her alive, because she’s had a personal guard assigned to protect her. And of course he’s the perfect image of Mr. Sexiness, and the two of them end up falling in love, even though it’s forbidden for guards and prisoners to do so. Meanwhile, back in the real world, the prisoners of the Hole have had enough, and a rebellion is brewing.
Now, one thing I’m glad about in Branded is that bad things can and do happen to the protagonist, unlike in certain other books *cough* The Winner’s Curse *cough*. Even though she’s being protected more than everyone else, there’s a reason for it in the plot, and that “protection” really doesn’t do much to help Lexi deal with her day-to-day life. She has to learn to fend for herself, and she has to learn that the world she’s in is cruel and that if she doesn’t watch her back she’s gonna get stabbed/raped/blown up/torn apart by angry starving mobs/etc.
I’m also glad that Lexi’s relationship with Cole is a relationship and not a love triangle. That’s rare in YA dystopia, and since I can’t stand love triangles, I was glad to see it work out that way. Pretty sure that Lexi’s feelings for him were the product of Stockholm Syndrome, but at least he proves that he’s a decent guy who’s worthy of her affection. He slowly comes to realize that he’s not just protecting her because he’s been ordered to, but that he genuinely cares about her and will take any risk that’s necessary for Lexi’s sake.
Branded is inherently a bit cliché and ridiculous, but I gobbled it up despite the fact that the type of society described in the novel isn’t sustainable and didn’t seem to serve any purpose. The love was cheesy, the book was dripping with angst and emotion, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series. I’d definitely recommend it.