I received this book from the authors in exchange for an honest review
Branded is an action-packed read that's virtually impossible to put down once started. The characters are amazing, so well-written that I fell in love with them (even the ones I hated). This novel concentrates on the people and how they cope with their hopeless lives. It's the characters that make this novel good,
The plot itself is a tad confusing and never explained in a way that satisfied me. I couldn't determine if this Commander ruled a state, a territory, or a country. The way the story is presented, it seems the Commander is obsessed with The Hole, lives overlooking it, his own personal perversion. But then I didn't understand if he also ruled more. He changed the entire judicial system, so he must have complete control in some way. Perhaps it was just me, but at times I was lost. I loved the premise, the branding of those accused of sins; it's so creepy and downright scary. But I really wanted more info on the world itself and how it ended up this way, as well as how large the Commander's territory is. Is he the only government? Anyway, my questions are endless.
Lexi and Cole are fantastic characters. I fell in love with both of them immediately. Since the novel is told from Lexi's point of view, we know what's in her mind, her thoughts and feelings. I enjoyed the way her story was drawn out. We know from the beginning that she's innocent of her crime, but not her entire backstory. When it's all revealed, it's a doozie. What we don't learn much about is Cole's backstory. He's a guard at The Hole. While most guards are horrible, uncaring people, Cole is a great guy. Why? How did he end up a guard when he so obviously doesn't fit in with them. I have my ideas based on the story, but I'd have loved to hear it from his mouth.
Branded is full of angst, tragedy, horrible acts, and displays some of the worst of humankind. I cried through quite a bit of this novel, and at times it was exhausting. This is not a book to take out in public but to read in the privacy of your room, unless you like answering endless questions about your constant sobbing. As I stated earlier, the characters make this novel worth reading. Whenever I put the book down for a break, they filled my mind. Truth be told, I think Zeus was my favorite character. After the endless human atrocities, this dog was fiercely loyal and loving.
I recommend Branded to ages 18+ due to the violence, gore, physical and psychological torture, and overall angst. The romance between Lexi and Cole was amazing and moving, all the more so since it was forbidden. While the plot seemed to lack enough information at times, I still really enjoyed it.