Title: Branded (#1)
Author: Abi Ketner, Missy Kalicicki
Published: June 27, 2013
Amazon Summary: 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.
I was so intrigued by 'Branded' and the premise, and curious how the authors would execute telling a story set in the worst of prisons. All I could see was Lexi locked up in a cell and the occasional conversation with a guard - and somehow they will fall in love.
Well, firstly, the Hole isn't like any other prison; besides the requirement to work, Sinners pretty much roam free to abuse and slaughter each other. Everyone wants a piece of Lexi, guards and inmates alike - not only is she very pretty (as we are reminded) but "Lust" is branded around her neck which makes her an obvious target.
As I was starting to realize, there had to be a really good reason for Lexi even lasting a few pages in the Hole.
There was a convenient one, at least. Not only is she locked up in a cell but she is assigned a personal guard who lives, full-time, in an adjoining room (which is pretty much a studio apartment). The door separating their rooms was never once locked and the guard she gets happens to be one of the only ones that would never think of doing anything horrible to her. So it was somewhere around here (which is in the first couple of chapters) that I started to scrutinize.
I really, really, really wished Cole (guard and love interest) had been more of a believable character.
"They [the guards] are chosen from a young age and trained in combat. They keep the order of society by using violent methods of intimidation. No one befriends a guard. Relationships with them are forbidden inside the Hole."
"I should know the hardest and most proficient guards work in here."
"Guards aren't supposed to be human. They're supposed to suck the life out of sinners and enforce the laws of the commander."
Except for him being snappy, he was never intimidating or outright cold, which is the least I would've expected from a guard, especially since every other guard (with the convenient exception of his best friend) were disgusting, unsympathetic assholes.
Cole and Lexi were instantly way too casual around each other. I was surprised how much they talked the first day they get to the cell, and that Lexi even gets up in the middle of the night to tell him she can't sleep (again, the door between the cell and Cole's room might as well have been a wide open gap in the wall) and asks if she can keep her light on, in which he replies, "Whatever."
Second day in the Hole:
"He offers his hand and pulls me upright with a smug look [after she trips]. I groan as embarrassment crawls up my face in the form of a deep, crimson flush."
Same day when under attack:
"Just leave me," I whisper into his ear..
"Never," he says in a short gasp.
Same day when safe, Lexi thanks Cole for saving her life:
"Uh, yeah." His cheeks turn a shade of pale pink.
Definitely not what I would've expected from a terrified eighteen-year-old girl who's just been thrown in a hellhole where every other person threatens to rape her, and one of the most skilled guards in there. How they behaved towards each other was incredibly unnatural and absolutely nothing had led up to it.
My main issue was that the love happened too fast without any reasonable build-up. They cared for each other before you had the chance to care for either one of them or even really get to know them. I liked the characters but they didn't live up to how they were portrayed.
Other than that, there were several semi-slow, uneventful moments for me. The story dragged a bit in the first half of the book when nothing too significant happened; there was no excitement that had me eagerly turn the pages. There is some action later on but it ended up not being as conflicted as it could've been. If you really enjoy the relationship between Cole and Lexi you probably won't have the same experience as me.
I'm curious how Ketner and Kalicicki will continue this series so if the sequel sounds promising, I might read it.