Saturday, August 10, 2013

Review: Branded by Abi Ketner & Missy Kalicicki

Title: Branded
Author: Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki

Genre: YA Dystopian Fiction
Publishing Information: 252 pages; June 28th, 2013

Series: Sinners #1

Where I got it: NetGalley

Synopsis from Goodreads:

"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.

Main characters: 3/5

After the beginning, which I had trouble with, Lexi ended up being a likeable character for me.
I almost wish she had committed her sin because I think it would have added some complexity to Lexi's character. AHHHH I just wanted to knock Lexi's head into something at multiple points in the story. Part of it was because I became so emotionally invested in her life that anytime she did something I had huge reactions, and part of it was because toward the end I started not understanding some of her decisions. They were explained, but maybe not to the extent that I needed or they just didn't seem to make sense with what I already knew about Lexi. Overall, Lexi was a tough character and I was pleasantly surprised by some of the depth of characterization. There were some points that I was rolling my eyes over because they fit into such an overused stereotype, but somehow all of those stereotypes managed to fade away once I was sucked into the story. One more knock against Lexi was that toward the end I started not understanding some of her motivations and it seemed like she was saying one thing and doing another.

Secondary characters: 4.5/5

Cole!!!! I'm not usually a "swoon"-y, "book boyfriend"-y kind of reader, but I became exactly that. The chemistry was ridiculous and there were definitely some swoon moments in there. It made me pause and think, "Who am I?! I don't swoon!", but there's no denying it. Zeus was such a character that he made the reader lighter and provided a some much-needed humor. I definitely giggled at his antics a lot. But, here's what really made the secondary characters such a success: Alyssa. She was really the turning point in the story for me and the part that made me get sucked in to the 'can't-put-down' mode. She got my emotions involved and that's all I needed to push the book into a success. There were a couple of minor characters who weren't quite as impressive: Keegan, for one. I was pretty unimpressed with his character and development.

Writing style: 2/5

I had a couple issues with the opening of the novel. I wanted to be swept up in the action but instead I was left with a lot of unanswered questions and an information dump. I prefer the information to be subtly integrated into the storyline rather than dumped on my and shown rather than told. The pacing of the exposition was also off to me: one minute she's about to hang herself, the next she's being chased by the guards, then she's transported to the Hole, then... you get the picture. I felt like I was on a roller-coaster. In general, I liked the simple writing style but I would have preferred more detail so I could really picture things in my mind (when have you ever heard me say that, right?). I'll give you an example (albeit it, kind of a gross one): there's a line that reads "Instead, I lean over and throw up". We all know what this is like- it sucks. The difference is that I feel disconnected from the action. If there had been some descriptor about how it feels to throw up that I could connect with and say, "Oh my gosh, I have totally had that feeling/physical reaction/whatever and it's awful", then I would be more involved in the action. Sorry, I know this part is getting long, apparently I have a lot to say about the writing style of Branded! Here's another point: it improved as the story went on. Finally, I loved the few moments of humor, such as when Zeus the dog popped his head out of the trash can with tape in between his eyes. It was a pleasant lightening of the mood.

Plot: 4/5
The premise of the book was so intriguing, it reminded me a bit of The Scarlett Letter the way they branded people. What I didn't expect was the amount of brutality and hopelessness of the situation outlined in the beginning of the novel. The worldbuilding was phenomenal- I really felt like the authors had a good idea of the world they were creating. Some points could have turned stereotypical but I felt like the authors handled all the plot points so well that it solved that issue. There was a bit of insta-love, and the forbidden romance thing had me rolling my eyes at first, but all things considered I really enjoyed the plot and the worldbuilding.

Ending: 3/5

I was a little disappointed with the writing style of the final action scenes. It felt separated from me and I couldn't imagine it in my head. I'm also not sure what to think about the plot twist: in some respects, it makes a lot of sense, but it felt a little too easy and too connected. I liked the fact that it didn't end on a cliffhanger and that it wasn't the perfect fairtytale ending, so props to the authors on that point.

Best scene: Where Cole and Lexi stay in Alyssa's room

Positives: COLE!, and Zeus!, the worldbuilding, getting me sucked into the plot and emotionally involved

Negatives: Some of Lexi's character inconsistencies and stereotypes, the writing (not enough details, telling rather than showing, too fast of pacing at the beginning), the ending?

Cover: I like the background and the girl, but I don't like the writing on the cover. Any of it really.

Verdict: A unique addition to the dystopian genre that had some definite weaknesses but strong enough worldbuilding and emotionally investing characters to make up for it.

Rating: 6.6/10 (4 stars)

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know! Also, is it just me or are more books being jointly written by two authors these days?

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