Title branded (Sinners #1) by Abi Ketner & Missy Kalicicki
YA Dystopian Romance
Twenty years ago the
Commander came into power and murdered all who opposed him. In his
warped mind, the seven deadliest sins were the downfall of our
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
Darkness. Death. Violence.
Now, every day is a fight
for survival. But I won’t die. I won’t let them win.
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
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.
I’m buried six feet
under, and no one hears my screams.
The rope chafes as I loop
it around my neck. I pull down on it, making sure the knot is secure.
It seems sturdy enough.
My legs shake. My heart
beats heavy in my throat. Sweat pours down my back.
Death and I glare at each
other through my tears.
I take one last look at
the crystal chandelier, the foyer outlined with mirrors, and the
flawless decorations. No photographs adorn the walls. No happy
I’m ready to go. On the
count of three.
I inhale, preparing myself
for the finality of it all. Dropping my hands, a glimmer catches my
eye. It’s my ring, the last precious gift my father gave me. I
twist it around to read the inscription. Picturing his face forces me
to reconsider my choice. He’d be heartbroken if he could see me
A door slams in the
hallway, almost causing me to lose my balance. My thoughts already
muddled, I stand, waiting with the rope around my neck. Voices I
don’t recognize creep through the walls.
Curiosity overshadows my
current thoughts. It’s late at night, and this is a secure building
in High Society. No one disturbs the peace here—ever. I tug on the
noose and pull it back over my head.
Peering through the
eyehole in our doorway, I see a large group of armed guards banging
on my neighbors’ door. A heated conversation ensues, and my
neighbors point toward my family’s home.
It hits me. I’ve been
accused and they’re here to arrest me.
My father would want me to
run, and in that split second, I decide to listen to his voice within
me. Flinging myself forward in fear, I scramble up the marble
staircase and into my brother’s old bedroom. The door is partially
covered, but it exists. Pushing his dresser aside, my fingers claw at
the opening. Breathing hard, I lodge myself against it. Nothing. I
step back and kick it with all my strength. The wood splinters open,
and my foot gets caught. I wrench it backward, scraping my calf, but
adrenaline pushes me forward. The voices at the front door shout my
On hands and knees, I
squeeze through the jagged opening. My brother left through this
passage, and now it’s my escape too. Cobwebs entangle my face,
hands, and hair. At the end, I feel for the knob, twisting it
clockwise. It swings open, creaking from disuse. I sprint into the
hallway and smash through the large fire escape doors at the end. A
burst of cool air strikes me in the face as I jump down the ladder.
Reaching the fifth floor,
I knock on a friend’s window. The lights flicker on, and I see the
curtains move, but no one answers. I bang on the window harder.
“Let me in! Please!” I
say, but the lights darken. They know I’ve been accused and refuse
to help me. Fear and adrenaline rush through my veins as I keep
running, knocking on more windows along the way. No one has mercy.
They all know what happens to sinners.
Another flight of stairs
passes in a blur when I hear the guards’ heavy footfalls from
above. I can’t hide, but I don’t want to go without trying.
Help me, Daddy. I need
your strength now.
My previous desolation
evolves into a will to survive. I have to keep running, but I tremble
and gasp for air. I steel my nerves and force my body to keep moving.
In a matter of minutes, my legs cramp and my chest burns. I plunge to
the ground, scraping my knee and elbow. A moan escapes from my chest.
Gotta keep going.
“Stop!” Their voices
bounce off the buildings. “Lexi Hamilton, surrender yourself,”
they command. They’re gaining on me.
I resist the urge to
glance back, running into what I assume is an alley. I’m far from
our high-rise in High Society as I plunge into a poorer section of
the city where the streets all look the same and the darkness
prevents me from recognizing anything. I’m lost.
My first instinct is to
leap into a dumpster, but I retain enough sense to stay still. I
crouch and peek around it, watching them dash by. The abhorrent smell
soon leaves me vomiting until nothing remains in my stomach.
Desperation overtakes me, as I know my retching was anything but
silent. My last few seconds tick away before they find me. Everyone
knows about their special means of tracking sinners.
I push myself to my feet
and look left, right, and left again. Their batons click against
their black, leather belts, and their boots stomp the cement on both
sides of me. I shrink into myself. Their heavy steps mock my fear,
growing closer and closer until I know I’m trapped.
Never did I imagine they’d
come for me. Never did I imagine all those nights I heard them
dragging someone else away that I’d join them.
“You’re a sinner,”
they say. “Time to leave our society.”
I stand defiant. I refuse
to bend or break before them even as I shiver with fear.
“There’s no reason to
make this difficult. The more you cooperate, the smoother this will
be for everyone,” a guard says.
I cringe into the
blackness along the wall. I’m innocent, but they won’t believe me
The next instant, my face
slams into the pavement as one guard plants a knee in my back and
another handcuffs me. A warm liquid trails into my mouth. Blood.
Their fingers grip my arms like steel traps as they peel me off the
cement. The tops of my shoes scrape along the ground as I’m dragged
behind them until they discard me into the back of a black vehicle.
The doors slam in unison with one guard stationed on each side of me,
my shoulders digging into their arms. The handcuffs dig into my
wrists, so I clasp them together hard behind me and press my back
into the seat, unwilling to admit how much it hurts. My dignity is
all I have left.
Swallowing hard, I stare
ahead to avoid their eyes.
Did they need so many
guards to capture me?
I’m not carrying any
weapons, nor do I own any. I don’t even know self-defense. High
Society frowns on activities like that.
The driver jerks the
vehicle around and I try to keep my bearings, but it’s dark and the
scenery changes too fast. Hours pass and the air grows warmer, more
humid, the farther we drive. The landscape mutates from city to
rolling hills. They don’t bother blindfolding me because they
escort all the sinners to the same place—the Hole. Twenty-foot
cement walls encase the chaos within. There’s no way out and no way
in unless they transport you. They say the Hole is a prison with no
rules. We learned about it last year in twelfth grade.
To the outside, I’m
filth now. I’ll never be allowed to return to the life I knew. No
one ever does.
“All sinners go through
a transformation,” one of the guards says to me. His smirk
infuriates me. “I’m sure you’ve heard all kinds of stories.”
I don’t respond. I don’t want to think about the things I’ve
“You won’t last too
long, though. Young girls like you get eaten alive.” He pulls a
strand of my hair up to his face.
Get your hands off me,
you pig. I want to lash out, but resist. The
punishment for disobeying authority is severe, and I’m not
positioned to defy him.
They’re the Guards of
the Commander. They’re 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.
Few have seen the
commander. His identity stays under lock and key. His own paranoia
and desire to stay pure drove him to live this way. He controls our
depraved society and believes sinners make the human race
unforgivable. His power is a crushing fist, rendering all beneath him
helpless. So much so, even family members turn on each other when an
accusation surfaces. Just an accusation. No trial, no evidence,
nothing but an accusation.
I lose myself in thoughts
of my father.
“Never show fear, Lexi,”
my father said to me before he was taken. “They’ll use it against
you.” His compassionate eyes filled with warning as he commanded me
to be strong. That was many years ago, but I remember it clearly. My
father. My rock. The one person in my life who provided unconditional
The vehicle stops, and I’m
jerked back to reality. “Get out,” the guard orders while pulling
me to my feet. The doors slide open and the two guards lift me up and
out into the night. A windowless cement building looms in front of
us, looking barren in the darkness.
The coolness of the air
sends a shiver up my spine. This is really happening. I’ve been
labeled a sinner. My lip starts to quiver, but I bite it before
anyone sees. They shove me in line and I realize I’m not alone.
Women and men stand with faces frozen white in fear. A guard grabs my
finger, pricks it, and dabs my blood on a tiny microchip.
I follow the man in front
of me into the next room where we’re lined up facing the wall.
Glancing right, I see one of the men crying.
“Spread your legs,”
one of the guards says.
They remove my outer
layers and their hands roam up and down my body.
What do they think I
could possibly be hiding? I press my head
into the wall, trying to block out what they’re doing to me.
“MOVE!” a guard
commands. So I shuffle across the room, trying to cover up.
Five of us sit in the
holding room. One by one, they pull people into the next room,
forcing the rest of us to wonder what torture we’ll endure. An
agonizing amount of time passes. I lean my head back and try to
imagine a place far away. The door opens.
A guard escorts me out of
the room, and I don’t have time to look back. As soon as the door
closes, they pick me up and place me on a table. It’s cold and my
skin sticks to it slightly, like wet fingers on an ice cube. Then,
they exit in procession, and I lie on the table with a doctor
standing over me. His hands are busy as he speaks.
“Don’t move. This will
only take a few minutes. It’s time for you to be branded.”
A wet cloth that smells
like rubbing alcohol is used to clean my skin. Then he places a metal
collar around my neck.
Click. Click. Click.
The collar locks into
place, and I struggle to breathe. The doctor loosens it some as I
focus on the painted black words above me.
The Seven Deadly Sins:
Lust ¾ Blue
Gluttony ¾ Orange
Greed ¾ Yellow
Sloth ¾ Light Blue
Wrath ¾ Red
Envy ¾ Green
Pride ¾ Purple
“Memorize it. Might keep
you alive longer if you know who to stay away from.” He opens my
mouth, placing a bit inside. “Bite this.”
Within seconds, the collar
heats from hot to scorching. The smell of flesh sizzling makes my
head spin. I bite down so hard a tooth cracks.
from deep within my chest. Just when I’m about to pass out, the
temperature drops, and the doctor loosens the collar.
He removes it and sits me
up. Excruciating pain rips through me and I’m on the verge of a
mental and physical breakdown. Focus. Don’t
Stainless steel counters
and boring white walls press in on me. A guard laughs at me from an
observation room above and yells, “Blue. It’s a great color for a
pretty young thing like yourself.” His eyes dance with suggestion.
The others meander around like it’s business as usual.
I finally find my voice
and turn to the doctor.
“Are you going to give
me clothes?” A burning pain spreads like fire from my neck to my
jaw, making me wince.
He points to a set of
folded grey scrubs on a chair.
I cover myself as much as I can and scurry sideways. Grabbing my new
clothes, I pull the shirt over my head and try to avoid the raw meat
around my throat. I quickly knot the cord of my pants around my waist
and slide my feet into the hospital-issue slippers as the doctor
observes. He hands me a bag labeled with my name.
“Nothing is allowed
through the door but what we’ve given you,” he says.
I hide my right hand
behind me, hoping no one notices. A guard scans my body and opens his
“Give it to me,” he
says. “Don’t make me rip off your finger.” He crouches down and
I turn to stone. I don’t know what to do, so I beg.
“My father gave this to
me. Please, let me keep it.” I smash my eyes shut and think of the
moment my father handed the golden ring to me.
“It was my mother’s
ring,” he’d said. “She’s the strongest woman I ever knew.”
With tears in his eyes, he reached for my hand. “Lexi, you’re
exactly like her. She’d want you to wear this. No matter how this
world changes, you can survive.” I turned the gold band over in my
palm and read the engraving.
You can overcome
anything… short of death.
“You’re going to take
the one thing that matters the most to me?” I say, glaring into the
guard’s emotionless eyes. “Isn’t it enough taking my life,
dignity, and respect?”
A hard blow falls upon my
back. As I fall, my hands shoot out to stop me from smashing into the
wall in front of me. The guard bends down and grabs my chin with his
“Look at me,” he
commands. I look up and he smiles with arrogance.
“What the hell?” He
staggers a step backward. “What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong
with your eyes?”
“Nothing,” I respond,
“What color are they?”
“Turquoise.” I glower
says, regaining his composure. “Now those’ll get you in trouble.”
Reality slaps me across
the face. I have my father’s eyes. They can’t take them from me.
I twist the ring off my finger and drop it in his hand.
“Take the damn ring,”
I say. I walk to the door. He swipes a card and the massive door
slides open to the outside.
“You have to wear your hair back at all times, so everyone knows what you are.” He hands me a tie, so I pull my frizzy hair away from my face and secure it into a ponytail. My neck burns and itches as my hand traces the scabs that have already begun to form. Squinting ahead into the darkness, I almost run into a guard standing on the sidewalk.
“Watch where you’re going,” he says, shoving me backward. His stiff figure stands tall and I cringe at the sharpness of his voice.
“Cole, this is your new assignment, Lexi Hamilton. See to it she feels welcome in her new home.” The guard departs with a salute.
“Let’s move,” Cole says.
I take two steps and collapse, my knees giving out. The unforgiving pavement reopens the scrapes from earlier and I struggle to stand. A powerful arm snatches me up, and I see his face for the first time.
Thoughts - Review
Bookish Escape - Review
Favorite Escape - Review
With A Kindle - Promo
Fantastical World of Wonders - Review
of Life and Literature - Review
Miss Drama Queen - Review
Aboard the Book Blog - Review
coated book blog - Review
Craving Books - Promo
Blurb - Review
Words – Review
mommy's in the bathroom.,.reading - Review
of Books Blog - Review
All Things Booksâ€™ Blog - Review
Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, & Sissy, Too! - Review
All Night Book Addict - Promo
Me - Promo
Feel the Need, the Need to Read - Review
Book Corner - Review
Sensational Book Fanatics - Promo
with Lindsey - Review
Book Chatter - Review
of a Book Addict - Promo
of a Bookaholic - Review
Seduction - Review
Addicts Not-So Anoymous - Review
Moms Reading - Review
Book Lovers - Promo
Southern Home - Promo
BookChick - Promo
Smexy Book Reviews - Review
in a World lf Fiction - Review
Geekery Book Review - Review
Books and Me - Promo
Book Blog Emporium - Promo
elizabeth's crazy book obsession - Review
a World - Review
Book Reviews - Review
Book Nook - Review
Into A Book - Review
Class Books – Review
by Tammy & Kim - Review
Bookalicious - Review
Reader Chronicles – Review
Rookie Romance Blog - Review
So Rather Be Reading - Review
Heart Books - Review
Trails - Review
Spoilers and Happily Ever After - Review
Reader - Review
Hive - Review
Crazy - Promo
Deep in Cliffhangers - Review
Until Dawn - Review
Eating & Dreaming - Promo
Book Muse - Review
Book Hookup - Review
Up & Read - Review
Fanatic - Review
the Shadows I Review - Review
Book Blog - Review
Pants Book Blog - Promo
of a Diva Booknerd – Review
Opinion - Review
Book Blog - Promo
Up With A Good Book - Promo
a Book Life - Review
Bookworm Reviews - Review
In YA Books - Review
Bitches Blog - Review
Book Addiction and More - Promo
Readers – Review
and Muse - Review
Reads & Reviews – Review
To Book Reviews - Review
Obsession Chronicles - Review
the Spot – Review
Book Reviews - Review
Time - Review
the Night Reviews - Review
Thoughts - Review
Reads Too Much - Review
Girls - Review
Bookshelf Reviews - Review
My Review, Lexi Hamilton is a young woman all alone in a horrible new world trying to survive. She has been raised to be strong and that is what she keeps relying on in order to live. The author has given us a truly engrossing story that makes the reader want keep reading until the end of the book. I give this book a 5/5 and I highly recommend it. I was given this book to read by CBL Tours for the purpose of a review and all opinions are my own.