Branded by Abi Ketner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I had high hopes for this one but somehow it fell a bit short for me. Using the Seven Deadly Sins as the framework for this totalitarian society is a great setup but its use here is titular, at best. Lexi, our heroine, is branded with a blue tattoo about her neck for being accused of the sin, Lust. Honestly, I basically remembered the color association because the book cover shows it. The only other two color coded sins I recall are red for Wrath and purple for Pride. The rest remained simply that blurb within the first pages and entirely forgettable. The reason for this, is that there are no other characters Lexi truly interacts with who are branded, so it never becomes very real. Lexi’s major interactions with those branded, are mostly those trying to kill or rape her every time she dares leave her hovel or the hospital, in which she works. To be fair, this begins as soon as she’s set foot in The Hole. People were literally trying to pull her out of the vehicle she was being driven in because according to her guard/protector Cole, “you’re the most beautiful thing they’ve ever seen”. Ok then.
Moving on. Sadly, I never completely connected with Lexi and that’s unfortunate. There were too many unexplained happenstances (in that Mary Sue way) that bothered me and I found my suspension of disbelief was too taxed here for me to just give in. I had too many plot relevant questions that upon finishing the book, still hadn’t been answered and while I know not everything is answered in the first book of a series, they do usually serve to set the stage in a more cogent & coherent way. This book just tossed things out and kept moving. Admittedly, it made for a page turner but the questions & logic niggles just kept stacking up.
It was also very clear from the first that Cole was going to become “the love interest”. I can deal with telegraphing but I do still need the character to have some kind of depth and personality. For the life of me, I’ve no idea who Cole is other than “the love interest”. I can see, in a way, why Lexi, his charge, would fall for him. He saves her life, he’s in a position of protector and authority, he’s more knowledgeable about this hell hole she’s been banished to and he’s the only other human contact she has when this sets off. Why he falls for her so quickly and completely is a conundrum. The whole romance angle fell completely flat for me and I felt none of the angst that I know I was supposed to. Here’s the thing about insta-love: There are instances where it can work for me but only after I’ve been given time and reason enough to care a lot for the characters (or even one of them). If I’ve not got that, then they can proclaim from the first page to the last and it’ll still feel empty for me. Lexi and Cole had all of the proclamations and none of the feels.
On the upside, the descriptions of The Hole & the harrowing things going on were vivid and well done. I think the violence was well done (not a simple thing to pull off) and it was grim and grisly without feeling gratuitous. The action scenes in the second half of the book & especially near the end seemed well done even if I thought it was a little too easy for the mains. I do wish more had been done with the reveal of the Commander (because I’d figured out who it likely was fairly early on) and his fate while well tied off, felt a bit rushed given all that build up. This book is definitely a case of, I came for the characters but stayed for the environs. For me, these instances were the story’s strengths and really held my interest and made me want to know more. Hopefully, there will be more explanation in subsequent books about WWV and how society turned into what is laid out here.
I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone looking for deeply rendered characters but I would recommend this to anyone looking for a fast paced (only in the second half, really), harder edged weekend read. I was given a free copy of this book by the publisher, to read in exchange for my honest review.
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