Book Review: Branded by Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki—and a Giveaway

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Title: Branded
Series: Sinners #1
Authors: Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki
Release Date: 06/28/13


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Sinners #1
Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki
Abi and Missy Books, June 2013
ISBN 978-0-9895274-1-5
Trade Paperback

From the authors—

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.


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Well, this is a fine kettle of fish. I can’t recall the last time I really liked the plot of a book but heartily disliked the main characters but that’s what has happened with Branded.

The idea of a dystopian state based on the premise of the seven deadly sins is refreshingly different from what I usually see in this subgenre and the authors pull no punches (no pun intended) when it comes to the brutality of such a totalitarian society. The setting of the Hole is vividly portrayed and completely daunting in its dismal existence, much like a city edition of the hole found in prisons. If I have any concern, it’s that the authors have given us very little to flesh out the various sins and colors. For instance, none of the sinners in the Hole except for Lexi are on scene long enough to create a real feel for the particular sin so that I could never remember what the different sins/colors are. Much more could—and should—have been done with this concept.

When it comes to the characters, though, I connected with some of the secondary characters, primarily Alyssa and Bruno, but honestly can’t say I care much about the two primary players, Lexi and Cole. Neither one has any strength of character to speak of, especially with regards to maintaining the distance that’s critical to their survival, and their nearly instant attraction is not at all credible. On her part, I suppose it could be due to a sort of Stockholm Syndrome but there’s no explaining Cole’s slide into raging hormones. In addition, Lexi is the quintessential damsel in distress; if she’s not throwing up or crying endlessly, she’s being carried by a big, strong male. That’s really unfortunate because there are some things about her that appealed to me, such as her innate kindness. As for Cole, my primary thought is that he’s rather two-dimensional with little attention paid to who he is or why he behaves the way he does.

I do think Zeus is one of the best characters, perhaps THE best although I’m sure that’s not intentional. I defy any reader to not fall in love with the big guy and with good reason. On the other hand, a major character who enters the story towards the end is close to detestable and roused no sympathetic feeling in me whatsoever.

Worldbuilding is in short supply although is better than some I’ve seen. My main objection is the lack of explanation for why Lexi is under strict protection the whole time (even if not always successful) while all other Sinners are at the mercy of dreadful conditions and horrific treatment by the Commander’s minions. A reason is given later but it makes little sense because the person who supposedly arranges it is not really in a position to have such control.  Also, how the original Commander managed to get to a position of such total power isn’t clear although we at least know there was a World War V.

So, I liked the plot but the other elements of the story didn’t work so well for me. Does that mean I can’t recommend this book? No, not at all. I do think there are some serious shortcomings but there’s a good deal that’s appealing. As I have said, the plotting is fairly well-constructed, other than the ending feeling too rushed, and the worldbuilding just needs a bit of work and expansion. The pacing of the story kept me engaged, wanting to know what would happen next, especially in the last third of the book, and the authors don’t sugarcoat the violence that would surely exist in such a future. The fact that I didn’t connect with Lexi and Cole may very well be a personal thing and other readers would have a different reaction so, as the saying goes, YMMV. Certainly, many other reviewers have been enthralled and it’s possible I’m being unnecessarily critical.

Ms. Ketner and Ms. Kalicicki avoid the cliffhanger ending that many readers (not me) dislike and Branded works pretty well as a complete story while also positioning Lexi, Cole and the rest of the survivors for the sequel. I’m intrigued enough to see what will happen next.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2014.

About the Authors

Abi Ketner and Missy KalicickiAbi 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.

Author Links:

Website  //  Goodreads-Abi  //  Goodreads-Missy  // 

Twitter  //  Facebook  //  Tumblr  //  Pinterest


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