To punish the guilty, he created the Hole, a place where sinners are branded according to their sins. Sinners are forced to live a less than human existence in deplorable conditions, under the watchful eye of guards who are ready to kill anyone who steps out of line.
Now, LUST wraps around my neck like thick, blue fingers, threatening to choke the life out of me. I’ve been accused of a crime I didn’t commit, and the Hole is my new home.
Brutal and savage violence.
Every day is a fight for survival.
But I won’t let them win. I will not die in the Hole.
I am more than my brand. I’m a fighter. My name is Lexi Hamilton, and this is my story.
Branded is like a black hole, it sucks you in, slowly drawing you into its darkness until you’re unable to escape. As sinister as that sounds, it’s really fitting for this book. From the first page I was drawn in, unable to the put the book down. I needed to know the truth, what happened to Lexi to create so much inhibiting fear and trauma. I couldn’t stop and if it wasn’t for grad school, I probably wouldn’t have. Branded is that gritty, horrifying dose of corruption, power, and devastation that have been missing from the literary world for a while. It’s unbelievably wicked, cruel, and full of shadowed maliciousness that will haunt and touch your heart. Lexi is beautifully damaged and yet so tragically powerful. Her life story made me so angry and sickened, but her spirit, her will to fight, and to find some sort of happiness in a world of such epic destruction and injustice is uplifting and fused with hope against near certain death. I don’t consider this YA because of the themes and graphic violence but it’s not quite NA either.
- The story is compelling. The details, the sheer plotting of the Hole, the magnitude of the corruption and the nauseating way that people are treated like garbage and branded like cattle is described in such precise and colorful language that you can’t help but become wrapped up in the disgusting and disquieting world of the Hole.
- Fear is a strong part of Branded and resonates throughout. There is an aura of expectation, a sense of foreboding that something terrible and deadly can and will happen any second. The slimy way the guard’s eyes rake the bodies of the women, that there’s no lock on their power, the careless way they beat, torture, and take lives without conscience is heart-stopping and frightening beyond words. The treatment of women as objects to be used and abused with no consequences, I’ve never been more scared for a character than I was for Lexi. It’s the sort of bated-breath, edge of your seat, biting your nails, and unsettled stomach genuine fear. If you have anxiety, I’m warning you right now, some scenes in this book are hard to read through and even harder to process. These are the type of scenes that stick with you. Branded does deal with rape, sexual assault, and abuse.
- Lexi’s letter. My heart broke for her. Her abuse is a black cloud over the story that is always present but until you get to the truth, it’s all guess-work and while there is some eluding to the incidents, nothing can prepare you for the real details. That letter. It was poignant, emotional and so insanely devastating. Lexi poured her soul into that letter, opened her trauma up to the light and hoped that Cole wouldn’t be disgusted with her or view her as broken or soiled. That took some serious guts and Lexi’s transition from the battered, terrified girl who starts the story to the courageous, determined, caring girl who ends the story is a lesson is character growth. Her transformation is therapeutic and inspiring, you’ll feel so proud of how far she comes. Lexi is a character that you can’t help but become invested in.
- Alyssa. This girl. As a secondary character, she is compelling. Her story is beyond interesting, it’s magnetic and heartbreaking. I would love her story as a novella. This really showcases the lack of medical attention or supplies in the hospital. When there are too many people and not enough that care. Her life is bittersweet and her spirit is pure, innocent incarnate and the light that comes from her is just so touching. Her story is a small one but reaches beyond the sphere of the book.
- The secondary characters are well-developed and each has a story that is unique and adds another layer to the humanity that is so lacking in the Hole. This book is a beautiful portrait of the struggle of man to overcome, to fight destiny, and to triumph in the face of evil.
- Cole is a middle ground character. As the love interest, he’s hot, he’s compassionate but the chemistry between Lexi and Cole was stifled, partly because he’s a soldier, it’s forbidden and to give in would mean death and torture, but also because the story is told from Lexi’s perspective, her doubts are oppressive and she can’t see Cole’s attraction clearly.
- Zeus the dog. Most of the comedy in Branded revolves around Zeus and his slobbering laziness. Zeus is adorable, fiercely protective, and brings out the happiness in the main characters when it seems as if the darkness is about to take over.
- The first 75% of the book is addictive, it’s full of sadness, grime, and absolute chaos. It’s action packed and incredibly descriptive. The blood and gore, the bullets, the sickness, the terror is all there in all its truthful hideousness. After this point in the book, things start to go downhill. While it’s still infused will all of those elements of immorality and gloom, the story starts to slump. The emotion in the first section of the book is not as profound or searching and it becomes more telling than showing.
- Cole. Near the dreaded 75% mark, Cole and Lexi’s relationship becomes bland. It’s composed of bold statements and declarations of love that seem like just words without the sentiment or truth to back them up. It’s as if suddenly, their love is this grand, all-consuming thing and it just didn’t add up. Cole’s dialogue really became possessive and too love-infused, if that makes sense. It took away some of the authenticity.
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.