Ok, so I just finished this Y.A. book based on its amazing back cover copy:
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.
I can’t help it. I love dystopians and this one had my interest piqued. Sadly to say, despite the gazillion 5 star reviews on Amazon, this story fell flat to me on many levels.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There were things I liked about the book, but overall, I felt it lacking. I’ll try to explain.
The book opens with a killer scene. Literally. Well, it could have been if the guards didn’t break down the door to our main character, Lexi’s, apartment and make her haul butt down the fire escape. This scene had me riveted to my seat. I ran with her, my lungs hurt, my throat went dry, but when she’s captured and taken to “The Hole”, my reading journey thunked like a rock in a tin pail. Why?
Because from this point on, the story is filled with so many inconsistencies and plot holes, it lost its buoyancy with me and sank. I’ll try to explain.
There are two places that are focused on in this book: High Society and The Hole.
Lexi lives in High Society, but we don’t know where this is. Is it a former New York with all its high-rise buildings? Who are her parents and how are they rich or influential enough to live there? We find out snippets later, but not enough to satisfy the gazillion questions swirling in my head.
The Hole is located miles away from High Society. It is a prison for people who are guilty of one of the seven deadly sins. Apparently, there are those who are so pure, they would never be found guilty of committing a deadly sin. Lexi isn’t one of them. She is given the blue brand around her neck for lust, but we never find out exactly what she did. It really irritated me to no end to get to the end of the book and never find out exactly what she was accused of and why. It’s implied. There are even fingers pointed at someone close to Lexi, but the truth is never revealed. Irritating. So irritating.
When Lexi finally reaches The Hole after hours of being on the road, there are others ‘checking in’ but where did they come from? Are there lots of prison trucks rolling in? And how big is this prison if it houses all the captured sinners? Is it a former huge city like Chicago turned prison camp? Who exactly is this Commander that runs the joint? We don’t know. What we do know is he has lots of guards that will do anything he wants. I do have to say there were a few intense scenes that take place within The Hole. One of the worst was an execution scene that was quite graphic, but it was over with the snap of a finger and there were no lingering effects on Lexi. It was like “Oh, that was bad,” and then she was off doing something else. I found this unrealistic and jarring.
To make things worse for me, Lexi is given a love interest right off the bat when she arrives at The Hole. His name is Cole and he’s a guard. Now guards are forbidden to love sinners, so you can see where this predictable plot is going. Cole is a nice enough guy but his character is never really developed enough for me. He seems so two-dimensional and we never learn anything about his past. In the beginning, he’s this hard-ass, this ‘bad boy’ we find in young adult novels (it is a draw, I have to admit), but then he turns into this love-sick puppy over Lexi and I’m not buying the story. I mean, why does Lexi have this personal guard in the first place? None of the other prisoners have a personal guard to protect them, why her, and why is everyone so accepting of this? I asked this question even more as I got toward the end of the book. Cole just seemed too convenient of a character. A catalyst to get Lexi from point A to point B. I thought Cole’s Great Dane, Zeus, was more fleshed out as a character than Cole. Ruff. I know.
3/4 of the way through the book we meet Keegan, Lexi’s brother. Talk about another ‘convenient’ character. Keegan disappeared from High Society when Lexi was young, but she never knew where he went. Lo and behold, he ends up in The Hole, but not in the way we expect. And boy, let me tell you, he and Cole don’t get along, which was another big turn-off for me. Ok, so I get Keegan is Lexi’s brother and under normal circumstances, I could understand the “big brother’ complex, but for crying out loud, he hasn’t seen his sister in years, and he’s going to start coming off as big, bad Leroy Brown the second he realizes Cole and Lexi are an item? The relationship between Keegan and Cole is ridiculously childish, like two grown up bullies fighting over their corner of a sandbox. It was the same repetitive poke – poke back, “I’m going to hurt you” – “Not if I hurt you first” kind of bantering and there was no reason for it. At least not one that is explained. Keegan tells Lexi several times that Cole is not to be trusted but we never find out why because Keegan vanishes from Lexi’s life again before he can spill the beans. Ah, yes, another piece of the puzzle that is never found.
And I haven’t even gotten to Lexi’s character. For a heroine, I found her character lacking. She starts off as this strong, brave character, running from the guards. She puts up a hell of a fight, and then she turns into this whiny little brat. I mean all-the-time whiny. When she wasn’t whiny, she was puking. When she wasn’t puking she was crying. Geez, girl, you’re supposed to be the heroine! Where’s your backbone? I mean, characters are supposed to grow as they progress through a book. Lexi, I feel, went backwards. Even when she tried to show strength, she failed.
As for her relationship with Cole, she claims she’s innocent and didn’t deserve getting branded, but she never tells Cole (or the reader) the truth about what happened. There are disturbing revelations about her dad that I found a bit creepy, but nothing was really ever explained. On top of that, Lexi’s relationship with Cole has a little heat to it in the beginning, but then it fizzles and pops. When they should have been a real team, a true love dynamo, the relationship fell flat. The fire burned out. I became totally uninterested in knowing what became of them as a couple, which is sad because YA books usually have this Happily Ever After or at least, a Happily for Now arc, but this one bombed for me. And good grief, some of the lines that rolled out of Cole’s mouth were so cheesy and gooey, I just rolled my eyes. I think there were even a few times I said, “Oh my gosh, come on. You’ve got to be kidding me!” It was if I was reading a middle grade book about two 12 year olds finding love for the first time. Her relationship with her brother was irritating and lacked maturity. There was a level of growth in Lexi during the scenes with Alyssa. I wished that had continued throughout the book. Again, Alyssa coming into Lexi’s life was a bit ‘convenient’. Other than helping Lexi grow as a person, I didn’t see a reason why Alyssa was in the story, especially since I felt Lexi reverted back to her childish ways after Alyssa and Lexi split ways. Over all, I found Lexi to be a hot mess and completely annoying.
The ending felt rushed to me and I felt some things were thrown in for unrealistic shock value. I didn’t care for it.
There were also some inconsistent time element issues I had. One day, Lexi would be in pain. The next day she was fine. One minute she had bruises, the next minute they were gone. Lexi traveled by hours in the dark from High Society to The Hole, and as they traveled the air grew warmer, yet when she stepped from the transport vehicle, it was still dark and the air was cool. (how she could tell the air grew warmer while sitting inside a prison transport truck was confusing to me). Over all, I felt like the authors dribbled crumbs along a path and enticed me enough to follow. Sad thing is, I really thought I’d find a bag of goodies at the end, but all I got was a glass of milk and a crumbled sugar cookie. Sad to say, I will probably not read the next book in the series.
I give this book 3 stars out of 5.
I was given an ARC of Branded in exchange for an honest review.