New Adult Dystopian with a forbidden romance. Spoiler-free review.
“I love you… I don’t want you to ever question it. I’d give up my life for yours. That’s how much I love you. Don’t you dare ever doubt that.”
Fast paced, action-packed and emotionally charged, Branded is a phenomenal Dystopian debut with a forbidden romance that will capture your heart!
The writing was strong, I fell in love with the characters and was totally wrapped up in the world. There was a forbidden romance (and I mean REALLY forbidden), a swoon-worthy hero, a strong heroine and a super evil bad guy. Now, I don’t normally read Dystopians but this one had me HOOKED!!!
In a society where Sinners of the seven deadly sins are branded and incarcerated, everyone’s lives are always at risk. It didn’t matter than Lexi was innocent and it made no difference what she said. She was accused, condemned and thrown into The Hole – a hellish, filthy, self-contained prison with no rules and no way out.
“I don’t want to die, but at the same time, I wish I were dead.”
She was assigned a guard – Cole. But there was more to him than met the eye. Something about him was different than all the other guards. Something in him was good. And, as she slowly acclimatizes to her new life in the Hole, they grew closer and closer.
But in the Hole, relations between Guards and Sinners is punishable by torture and death. It is final, it is brutal and it is the world they live in. But… they’re still falling for each other. Hard.
“I never planned on falling for you. You were just an assignment. But it just sort of happened and now… There’s not a single thing I would change about you. When you smile, my entire world stops. All I see is you. I need you.”
I don’t even know where to start with how much I loved this! It was a total change of pace for me because I never usually read Dystopian books. I mean, I read the Hunger Games, but that was it. I guess I just generally prefer books that focus more strongly on romance. But sometimes you want more than just a romance, you know? You want a bit of an adventure… something thrilling and different that’ll sweep you away into another world and Branded delivered that.
It was a non-stop roller coaster ride. My emotions were all over the place. Fear. Disgust. Betrayal. Love. Swoon (yes, swoon is an emotion). Despair. Hope. It had my heart in knots and I loved every minute of it!
Now I know the story is classified as mature YA but let me tell you, it is gory, gruesome and gritty!! Certainly not for the faint of heart! I swear, there is this one flashback scene that I’m going to need therapy after reading!! But, that being said, that grittiness was so effective in pulling you right into the world. The world itself was gritty and you felt it.
I swooned pretty hard over Cole. In fact, let me take a minute here to shout this: I LOVE COLE!!!! The forbidden angle gave the romance such a thrill to it. You could see him fighting his feelings for her. Being so badass and protective of her. But there was so much more at stake than just their feelings. There were just so many layers dictating all of their actions as they lived under the constant fear of punishment by death simply for the crime of falling in love. Mess up and die. Fall in love and die.
“He takes my face into his hand, and reassures me. “So outside of these walls, we can’t stand each other.”
But you see their bond grow and it’s scary because you’re both rooting for their relationship and just terrified because you see first hand the consequences of a relationship between a Guard and Sinner. There was so much swoon and so much fear!
“The last thing I want is for you to be afraid of me. But I want you to trust me. I need you to trust me.” He sighs and I hear the pain and confusion in his voice.
“I don’t know why and it scares the hell out of me.” He swallows hard…
Part of me screams for him to run for his own safety, but I don’t want him to move. My heart begs… Please stay with me. Forever.”
Lexi was a strong, wonderful heroine you couldn’t help but sympathize with. She was a fighter at her heart but everything in her life just kept kicking her down. I loved seeing her strength grow over the course of the book.
“You won’t break me if that’s what you’re worries about.”
He walks over, places one arm around my back, and lifts me…
“After this, I’m not sure anyone could,” he whispers.“
Now, relationship-wise this book is YA in that there is no sex in it. But let me tell you, this is one of those stories where the connection between the hero/heroine is so strong that the descriptions of their actions doesn’t need to be graphic for you to FEEL it. Like there’s this scene, after a fight and he’s just washing blood off her hand (not even something romantic per say) but ohhhhh myyyy God did it make my heart clench! Seriously. I FELT it.
“Shhh…” He grips me closer to his body and then softly whispers in my ear, “I’m about to kiss you, and once I start I won’t be able to stop. Just thought I should warn you.”
And this whole relationship is developing in the midst of a world with daily gun fights in the streets, explosions, rapes, murders, injustice and a world under the dictatorship of an evil Commander.
The book is not all dark and grit though. There were definitely happy moments that shone through the darkness showing that even in this pit of absolute despair, there were still people with good in their hearts! But holy hell!! There were also a few scenes that just rendered me speechless with how nightmarish they were! I loved that there was a bit of everything in this book though. The plot was full of twists and turns and was fast paced enough that you were always reading about something new and yet took it’s time enough that you were able to develop a close connection to the characters.
And I just want to point out that Branded has THE awesomest dog EVER in it. His name is Zeus, he belongs to Cole (though he’s pretty sure he belongs to Lexi) and I seriously adore him and could not review this book without sending him a shout out.
Don’t forget though that this IS a Dystopian. There’s fighting, battles, rebellions, and a whole story outside of the romance but for those of you who are hard-core romance fans, Cole and Lexi’s relationship will keep you turning the pages to find out what happens to them.
The ending is thankfully NOT a cliffhanger!! They were together and safe, for now at least. Their story is far from over but my heart can rest easy for now while I eagerly await book #2.
Fans of the Hunger Games absolutely MUST read this but know that, in my opinion, Branded knocks The Hunger Games out of the water!
Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki are an author power team to watch out for!
I can’t wait for more from the Sinners series and to find out what happens next with Lexi and Cole!
“Just leave me,” I whisper in his ear.
If you’re still on the fence, you can Read Chapter #1 to get a feeling for it.