Fifty 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.
“You can overcome anything…short of death.”
–C. Hamilton, Branded
When I posted a cover reveal earlier this month for Branded, I knew I wanted to read this young adult dystopian novel that is set in a fictitious world where our current judicial system has been turned on its head. No longer are citizens considered innocent until proven guilty. Instead, the accused are immediately arrested, found guilty, and sent to spend the rest of their life in the “Hole”. No evidence is needed, no trial is conducted; all it takes is an accusation of wrongdoing to condemn a person and sentence him or her to a lifetime of imprisonment and persecution. Furthermore, our concept of what constitutes a criminal offense has been redefined to include the seven deadly sins: greed, gluttony, wrath, pride, envy, sloth and lust. The accused are actually branded around their necks with a colored band that signifies their sin.
The authors have created a dreadful society where no one is completely safe, including the teenage Lexi Hamilton who is arrested for lust. The basis for this plot is certainly thought-provoking and was a deciding factor in my choice to read this book.
From the opening lines of the book, I was immediately pulled into Lexi’s terrifying situation and horrified by injustices inflicted upon the citizens by a sadistic dictator known as “The Commander.” Although he rules with an iron fist and eliminates anyone who opposes his authority, ironically, he remains elusive to the citizens who consider him their savior, the one who restored order and peace in the aftermath of World War V. Very few have ever seen him, and he lives in seclusion, supposedly to protect himself from being tainted by the sinful, corrupt nature of everyone else. Maybe he must keep his distance from others to hide his own sins? I was flabbergasted that he has been able to brainwash so many with his perverse propaganda. How can these citizens be so oblivious to the fact that the leader is sinning with his methods to eradicate sin from the country? Perhaps it’s just easier to look the other way, as long as you aren’t the one being accused and arrested.
The story is narrated in first person from Lexi’s point of view and describes her experience trying to survive in the Hole, which is a prison without cells or bars. It’s an enclosed structure isolated from the rest of society where violence, rape, torture, and theft run amuck unless the guards choose to intervene. No one can defy the guards and walk away unscathed. Many of the guards are depicted as evil and depraved, behaving as they please, often taking pleasure in stripping away each prisoner’s dignity and humanity. Make no mistake, life in the hole is brutal, and not even Lexi can escape the pervasive violence surrounding her, even though she is assigned a personal guard, Cole, to protect her.
There are advantages to having the story narrated solely from Lexi’s perspective. I was able to connect with her on an emotional level and empathize with her fear, shame, and trauma. However, she has also erected mental blocks that keep readers in suspense about the events that led to her arrest and her reasons for remaining quiet about her innocence:
“My neck radiates with burning heat from the brand that permanently labels me a whore. I drop my eyes to the dusty ground, feeling ashamed even though I know it’s not true. But they think it is.”
Her mysterious backstory isn’t revealed until much later in the book although her nightmares hint at the truth behind the loss of her innocence.
On the other hand, because I was limited to Lexi’s POV and could only see this oppressive environment through her eyes, the underpinnings of this society were vague, and I felt the world-building could have been stronger and more vivid to help me imagine the Hole and the rest of this fictitious society in greater detail. In addition, this single POV hindered my full understanding of the motivations driving these characters. For example, Cole is an enigma. It doesn’t take long for Lexi to realize he’s different from the other guards. He’s compassionate and caring towards others, even though he has to hide his feelings so that he can do his job. Since Cole becomes Lexi’s love interest, I want to know his backstory. Why did he become a guard if he disagrees with the injustice inflicted upon prisoners?
The plot is full of action and violence that are graphic. There are also some tear-jerker scenes that touched my heart.The climax is suspenseful, with unexpected complications and surprises, and the forbidden romance between Lexi and Cole adds another element of tension that provides greater depth to the storyline. Although the overall mood of the novel is dark and somber, Alyssa’s character offers a bit of brightness by lifting Lexi’s spirit, and the loyal and lovable Great Dane, Zeus, provides some much needed moments of comic relief to cut through this bleakness of the situation.
To sum up, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to older teens and adults because of its violence and brutality. If you enjoy dystopian fiction, check out the start of this new series.
I received an ARC of this book from the author to provide an honest review.
About Abi and Missy
Abi and Missy met in the summer of 1999 at college orientation and have been best friends ever since. After college, they added jobs, husbands and kids to their lives, but they still found time for their friendship. Instead of hanging out on weekends, they went to dinner once a month and reviewed books. What started out as an enjoyable hobby has now become an incredible adventure.
Is a registered nurse with a passion for novels, the beaches of St. John, and her Philadelphia Phillies. A talented singer, Abi loves to go running and spend lots of time with her family. She currently resides in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with her husband, triplet daughters and two very spoiled dogs.
Received her bachelor’s degree from Millersville University in 2003. She married, had two boys and currently lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Aside from reading and writing, her interests include running and mixed martial arts. She also remains an avid Cleveland sports fan.