Branded by Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki

Branded Abi&Missy front ebooklgFifty years ago the Commander came into power and murdered all who opposed him. In his warped mind, the seven deadly sins were the downfall of society. He created the Hole where sinners are branded according to their sins and might survive a few years. At best.
Now LUST wraps around my neck like blue fingers strangling me. I’ve been accused of a crime I didn’t commit and now the Hole is my new home.

Darkness. Death. Violence. Pain.

Now every day is a fight for survival. But I won’t die. I won’t let them win.

The Hole can’t keep me. The Hole can’t break me.
I am more than my brand. I’m a fighter.
My name is Lexi Hamilton, and this is my story.

The blurb sounded great and considering it has a four star rating on both Amazon and Goodreads I decided to give it a shot. And at first I believed it was as good as all those reviewers told me it was going to be. The story takes place in a dystopian future where criminals are branded “sinners”, marked with a tattoo (different colors for different sins) and sent to live in a prison/slum like place called the Hole. In the Hole sinners are watched by the guards who regularly abuse and kill them, all with the approval of the Commander who has been running the country as a dictatorship for fifty years. There is no judicial system, no trials, and no ‘innocent until proven guilty’. There is “High Society” where the regular people live and there is the Hole where people accused of the seven deadly sins end up after they are accused.

The book starts out with Lexi, a woman from High Society attempting suicide. She fails and is taken into custody by the guards. She is accused of the sin of lust and is branded with a blue band around her neck and sent to the Hole. Once there she is assigned to a Guard named Cole, whose job it is to escort her to work and keep her in line. He has an adjoining room to hers (convenient) and he is the person who explains how the Hole works and what is expected of her as its newest resident.

I have to stop here, because seriously, the story gets a bit convoluted and at this point and it will be easier to break down where things start to go wrong for me.

1.) The big plot twists in the book are obvious from the get-go and it is written in first person which makes for an awkward and very limited narrative. As readers we only know what Lexi knows, and to be honest it isn’t much.

2.) Though the Hole is described as Hell and a basically lawless place where Sinners are abused and executed willy-nilly, Lexi is assigned her own Guard who seems like a nice guy and tells her again and again he has orders to protect her. Huh? She doesn’t question why she has special treatment and that her life is better than all those around her. This got more annoying as the story wore on.

3.) It’s pretty obvious from the beginning that Cole and Lexi are destined to fall in love. The problem is that the authors do much more telling than showing in their relationship. I never felt any kind of connection between them other than the characters telling each other how they feel.

4.) Of course love between a Sinner and a Guard is FORBIDDEN. Early in the book Lexi and Cole witness an execution of a couple for this reason. However there are Sinners who are prostitutes and the Guards are allowed to have sex with them. Say what now? So sex for money and favors between the two is okay, but true love is outlawed. And if you fall in love you are executed. What if a Guard fell in love with a prostitute?! I found myself confused over the whole thing.

5.) Lexi is assigned to work at the only hospital in the Hole, although she has no medical training whatsoever. It’s okay though, because we don’t ever really find out what she does there anyway, aside from stepping over puddles of puke and folding linens. There are several times I balked at the lack of medical knowledge displayed in this book.

6.) Oh the misogyny! This book wouldn’t be complete without the added fun of hating women and women hating on each other. Lexi is branded for the sin of lust even though we know she is innocent. (Of course!) But she has no problem judging other women wearing the same brand and the words slut and whore are thrown around like confetti. Early on in the story Lexi dislikes a nurse named Amber because she flirts with Cole and is later witnesses her in a dark closet with another Guard. She is instantly labeled in Lexi’s mind, without any thought about her motivations or possible victimization. Amber is pretty much a cardboard cutout we are supposed to hate.
And let’s not forget that Lexi is innocent of the crime she is accused of! Even though our heroine never proclaims it out loud she thinks it enough that we know it must be true. We get confirmation regarding this later on in the book when Lexi is attacked by several Guards and then is attended to by the doctor who runs the hospital:

“I performed a test to make sure you weren’t raped. Cole wasn’t certain if he’d gotten to you in time. Thank God it was negative. You were never raped-but not only will that test reveal a recent sexual encounter, it can report any sexual intercourse that’s happened. It scans the tissues and checks if anything has been stretched, torn, or irritated. It then shows us if you are intact.” He leans over and reaches for my hands. I take a deep breath knowing what’s about to come out of his mouth. “My dear you are a virgin and that’s a medical fact.”

You see, she IS innocent! And the fetishizing of virginity in romance remains intact. (Okay, not funny. I know.) What we have here, dear reader is an acute case of the Mary Sue. Let’s do a tally, shall we? Lexi has turquoise eyes, is told again and again how beautiful she is by the people around her, she is innocent of the crime of lust and is in fact a virgin, and she is rescued again and again by her hero Cole. Not to mention she has an amazing artistic ability, and ends up being good at everything she attempts, which honestly isn’t much. She’s so self-absorbed that we learn very little about the Hole, the dystopian future that is the setting for this book, or anything else that would have made this story interesting. Not to mention that the doctor has this “scanner” in a hospital that can only afford one bag of morphine!

7.) The writing is in this book was okay in the beginning. The fast pace and world building kept my attention for the first few chapters. After that I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes at the horrible dialogue and cardboard characterizations. It did not help that Lexi was either throwing up or crying every other page. I can’t help but think that the authors went out of their way to try and gross us out with their constant description of the smells and sights that Lexi encounters. Here’s a quick breakdown of the  bodily fluid mentions:

10 vomit
8 puke
3 throw up
51 tears
21 cry
6 urine
75 blood

Even the small attempts at humor involve bodily functions and fall flat. Instead of reading a dark thrilling book as promised, I felt like I was reading a gross out and over the top story that pre-teens would share around a campfire. I could continue the list above, but there is little point. The book never gets better, only worse. The premise started out promising but eventually this book sunk into little more than an unrealistic and ridiculous attempt to be the new Hunger Games.

My score? D-


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