Branded is the first book in a series on angels, and since Ethereal was about Nephilim, I felt this was a good second book to review.
Branded is nothing like Ethereal. Ethereal has its roots firmly in The Big Three religions--Muslims, Christians and Jews will recognize a good deal of the ideology behind Ethereal, but none of us will really embrace Branded as its depictions of angels and the afterlife do not link in with any of the Big three. Branded follows a more karmic ideology. Angels were once people, and now stand in judgement of people. Judgement weighs your good deeds with your bad deeds. In the end, you are either exalted or condemned. In the Torah and Bible (I'm also assuming in the Koran, but I've never read it, so...) it is clear that angels and humans are different species, and that angels do not judge, but YHWH is the only judge. I only bring this up because there are some things that this godless system leaves out that The Big Three all have in common, such as sanctification, forgiveness of sins, and a righteous judge who does not think like a man. I feel that if an author is writing a mythos that goes directly against thousands of years of religious text that spans across at least three religions, the author is obligated to explain their mythos. I mean, Tolkien did it for crying out loud, you'd think anyone else would have no difficulty. One of my favorite authors, Lois McMaster-Bujold always explains her mythos to the reader, the gods involved, the beliefs of the people. It makes for a well-rounded book that is enjoyable and deep.
That being said, I really enjoyed Branded. It was a page-turner, and it was a very unique book, something that you just don't find everywhere. It was a bit predictable, and it had the obligatory heroine who absolutely cannot live without the guy she falls in love with, and they can't have sex for whatever reason (and this continues in the second book to the frustration of all because it's never explained why they're not having sex. Again, an explanation of the mythos we're following here would really help, because I don't really see premarital sex pinging high on the radar where Karma is involved.), but it also has a lot of other stuff that is very good.
Jessica has dreams whenever she sleeps that she is standing in place of someone about to be judged. No one has ever believed Jessica, despite the fact that there is an X branded on her neck, and she has wings etched into her back. Apparently this started when she was five, so I'm kind of curious as to why her parents never believed her. I know you can get body modifications younger than 18, but I've never heard of a tattoo parlor shady enough to do branding on a five-year-old.
Finally, Jessica meets Alex who is wonderful and beautiful and perfect and everything she'd hoped he'd be, and she tells him about the dreams. He doesn't say if he believes her or not, but he tries to be understanding. Alex is also fabulously wealthy because of course he is. He also has a lot of restraint where his sex organs are concerned and never has sex with Jessica no matter how much they love each other because they're trying to be "good." Good how? Good...in a Karmic way? Good because the religious texts of the Big Three expect you to abstain (if you're a woman)? It doesn't make sense.
There's another guy who wants Jessica, and he has dark hair and dark eyes and looks a whole heck of a lot like the angels who judge Jessica every time she sleeps, only she never puts two-and-two together, and I just have to stop here and remind everyone how much I really dislike the fact that the "good" boyfriend in YA fiction is always the one who is closer to exhibiting all of the proper traits that Hitler expected from his Jungen, whereas the "bad" boyfriend is always dark. What does this say about our society? In the wake of the horrible tweets about Rue and Cinna in The Hunger Games being portrayed by African-American actors even though Rue is supposed to be dark-skinned and all Cinna is ever described as is having hazel eyes (Lenny Kravitz) and close-cropped brown hair (Lenny Kravitz), this is really worrying to me. If anything, in this day and age, YA fiction should be more inclusive to GLBT, and all races, and I feel that they have an obligation to portray these things in a positive light. I'm not saying I think this author is a bad person or that she did a bad job, I'm just saying that like a lot of other people, she is equating good Aryan looks with goodness and dark, un-WASPish looks with violence and negativity. She has a chance as an author to make a difference with these prejudices and preconceived notions, and I do applaud that in the second book, a dark-skinned man falls for a light-skinned woman, but she's been in an abusive relationship that she just skips out of without any last effects, so that's another rant.
Anyway, the other guy is clearly a "condemned" angel (they all get dark eyes, whereas the exalted angels get blue eyes...I mean, it's getting ridiculous here.)
Left: What you think Jesus looked like. Right: What Jesus more than likely actually looked like. Also, Hello Oded Fehr. Where have you been all my blog?
So, you know how it will end, with Alex and Jessica together and Evil!Angel Cole vanquished back to "hell", but the best part of this book is really that it's not what you think it is. You will never guess where it's going...I mean it when I say it was a page-turner.
The second book, Forsaken, was not nearly as good, but it was still riveting. Overall, I give this book a B+.