Cover Image: The Branded

The Branded

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Member Reviews

Thank you so much for the approval of this book!!!

Story: 4 ⭐
Spice: 0 🌶 (Just open-door kissing)
Narration: 4 ⭐

The narrator did a stand-up job. I really enjoyed listening to her voice and especially liked that you can listen at higher speeds and it's still very understandable.

I'm so sad, I would of gave this book 5 ⭐ no problem, but the first like 25% was slow going. After you got past that hump it was sooo amazing!

The FMC was a little unhinged, there could be a possible love triangle and so much drama!

Would highly recommend if you like Sister (twins) working together, political intrigue, social classes based on if you are pure or been branded, something has to be better out in the world, lies, deceit, twists/turns and so much more!!

This ends with a cliff hanger!

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The Branded by Jo Riccioni is a book I am so glad I requested through NetGalley. I did receive an advanced audio book in exchange for my honest review and I am more than happy to share my thoughts.

Nara and Osha are orphans who were raised by their grandmother until she was attacked and the girls were brought under the wing of the citadel to be protected from the outside world as Pure. A girl who is Pure and unmarked by the Brand, which is a mark that distinguishes the two real classes of people, is usually married into a household where her pure bloodline will hopefully be beneficial to the citadel and to the higher classes.

One thing I wanted to discuss was the summary of the book with regards to the concept of this book being an "epic, high-concept, speculative novel, with explosive ideas around gender and class. I will be completely honest, there was nothing truly explosive in this book that hasn't been felt or experienced by people in today's modern society. Though we do not separate individuals by marked or unmarked, there are plenty of categories people are placed in to call them "other". I think it is a good book that explores the values of women in this particular society as well as asking us to question women's roles in our own society. I think this book also does a good job of exploring class systems and how people in higher power misused and abuse that power for gain and manipulation.

The final thing I want to note is this is not really what I would call a romance. I was completely uninterested in any of the love interest entanglements and felt that each of the characters needed more maturity and growth before they were ready for any sort of real relationship,

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“The Branded” is the first novel in Jo Riccioni’s new fantasy duology, “The Branded Season.” Riccioni explores how societies create narratives to justify oppression, with a focus on the intersection of gender and class.

The story centers around a plague and its impact on the world, which young adult fantasy fans will likely enjoy. Twins Nara and Osha, unmarked by the plague, live in the citadel of Isfalk, where their lives are set out: marriage and childbirth for the citadel’s glory. However, a revelation separates the sisters, unraveling their lives as Nara confronts a mysterious stranger and a hidden past.

The book excels in descriptive writing and world-building, but I found the main protagonist unlikable and overly arrogant. The author’s attempt to create a feminist fantasy felt forced. The enemies-to-lovers subplot was drawn out and unconvincing, with unclear reasons for the love interest’s attraction to such a bratty character.

The story would have been stronger if the protagonist was portrayed as a genuinely strong female character without relying on abrasive traits. Despite this, the novel’s writing and overall theme of injustice and oppression were compelling. Overall, it was a good read, marred only by the protagonist.

3.9 stars with the potential to be so much more!

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I really enjoyed this story. It had a rich fantasy world and plot with a small amount of romance. Definitely not a fantasy romance though. The branded are considered less than the pures. And we follow twin sisters and how they navigate their world. I absolutely will be picking up the second book and also checking out whatever else the author writes.

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The book is set in a world swept up by the pandemic that left many people with marks on their skin, referring to them as the Branded – people with a weak body and vulnerability to other diseases and infections. And then there are Pure – a few people left with natural immunity to any disease, living in a Citadel. In this new world, Pure women are treated like commodities and as a breeding stock because their sole duty is to bear as many children as they can to keep a healthy population going. Nara and her twin sister Osha are Pure orphaned girls who want to make a difference. Nara itches to escape her “privileged” world and return to the wilds where they’ve grown up, and all Osha wants to do is help treat other people as the healer. When the unexpected happens, Nara is forced to flee for her life, discovering along the way that their lives are not as they seemed to be and that she has dormant powers inside of her. She is forced to accept the help of a mysterious Brand, known as the Wrangler, who knows much more about her and her sister than they do.

I listened to this book as an audio and honestly didn’t feel a connection to it at all… Maybe it’s because of the narrator, but I found myself drifting off while listening to it more often than I should have. I feel like this book didn’t grab my attention enough and thus didn’t actually work out for me, yet I never felt the urge to DNF it either.

The premise of the whole world was really cool, but I think it wasn’t executed in the best way possible. The chapters are really long, and we are thrown into this world without any context as to what and why is happening. The romance felt flat too, even though it kind of had enemies to lovers trope, which I usually love. There were a lot of unnecessary betrayals that turned me off. And the love triangle was just not it. I actually cared about Osha’s love interest way more than Nara’s.

Despite all of that, the book wasn't bad at all - it was full of adventures with certain fantasy elements, magical powers, and prophecies. It had strong ideas of gender and class division and had a lot of conflict. This book also dealt with sexual assault topics, which, in my opinion, was handled pretty well. It built a strong base for the next book, so I’m sure it will shine more brightly in the future. I also loved the direction in which the plot was going. I am definitely intrigued with how it will all end, so I will give the next book a chance.

Thank you, Netgalley and Bolinda Audio, for giving me the opportunity to listen to this book in exchange for an honest review.

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An epic, high-concept speculative novel with explosive
ideas around gender and class, served up with romance,
conflict and quick-fire narrative pace.”

“For the generation of women who refuse to be defined by their bodies, this is The Handmaid's Tale meets Mad Max, set in a Game of Thrones world.”

This book was so so good, and the fact that it’s not a huge series meaning I don’t have to wait forever to see how it ends makes me so happy! Though the wait for the second in the duology (Feb 2025) will be painful.

There were so many times reading this I was outraged at the way the women were treated, the way the branded were used and abused I wanted to scream. There were moments that brought tears to my eyes and the ending, my jaw dropped.

The pacing was great, the story never felt slow and held my interest throughout. The concept is very much reminiscent of the handmaids tale at first but veers off towards more fantasy as the book goes on.

The characters are complex and interesting, just when I thought I had them pegged new insight into their motivations and who they are comes along. I can’t wait to see where the story goes.

The audio narration was excellent and really brought the stories and characters to life.

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"The Branded" is an exciting fantasy story that kept me fully engaged from start to finish.

Nara and Osha, orphaned twins with unbranded skin, find themselves entangled in a web of secrets and prophecies. The stark contrast between Nara's impulsiveness and Osha's diplomacy adds depth to their relationship, making their bond even more compelling. As they navigate the world's complexities, they uncover latent powers and embark on a dangerous journey beyond the citadel. With the mysterious Wrangler's assistance, they uncover the secrets of their past and the destiny that awaits them.

Riccioni skillfully blends elements of sisterhood, political intrigue, and magical discovery, crafting a gripping narrative that explores themes of gender, class, and privilege. The world-building is immersive, drawing readers into the divided land of Isfalk, where the conflict between the Branded and the Pure sets the stage for an exhilarating journey. With each twist and turn, tension mounts, keeping readers on the edge of their seats.

"The Branded" is a must-read for fantasy enthusiasts seeking a story that is both thought-provoking and thrilling.

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Actual Rating 2.5

Isfalk is made up of two classes: the Branded who are often sick and weak, and the Pure who are strong and immune to disease. Nara and Osha are twins who are being raised in the Citadel to be used as breeders for the next Pure generation. But Nara isn’t able to find peace with their fate the way that Osha has, and repeatedly finds way to break the rules. When she goes just a bit too far, a secret is revealed that forces her life’s course to change. As she struggles to find answers and stay in contact with her sister, Nara won’t know who to trust or what answers her past may hold for her future.

I liked the idea of the world and setting and some of the concepts that were included. The area where the story begins had some interesting politics that were incorporated well. I would have liked to see the setting incorporated a bit more, though, as it often felt like the story was somewhat disconnected from it.

This was a decent read, but it felt too familiar in too many places to really keep my interest. From the direction the plot was going to go to the inevitable relationships and betrayals, it was all predictable and likely will be for most folks who read a lot of fantasy. The characters were fine, but similarly weren’t anything special and weren’t well enough developed to really draw me into them. As this is a book one, I hope that will be less of an issue in the following book.

Overall, this was a decent fantasy, but I don’t think it’s enough for me to keep reading the series and wasn’t that memorable. If you’re interested in fantasy with female protagonists, enemies to lovers (kind of), and chosen ones, then you may like this one. The narrator did do an excellent job, so I recommend trying the audio version if you’re planning to read it. My thanks to NetGalley and Bolinda Audio for allowing me to read this work, which will be published June 11, 2024. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are my own.

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I really enjoyed this book! Very different and still have so many questions I want answered! I need more! This was a great change in the books I normally read.

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Note: listened on audio, so please forgive any spelling errors found in this review.

The Branded carries so many typical fantasy elements that it was a kind of comforting read for me.

The world is laid out well with two different classes of humans: the pure and the branded. The pure are stronger and resilient while the branded are weaker and prone to disease. In what is the greatest settlement left on the continent, pure women are raised for marriage to continue strong bloodlines while pure men run the military operations. The branded live as servants and farmers in a village protected by the settlement’s military. In exchange for protection from brutal clans in the wild, the branded serve the pure with their money, their crops, and their livelihoods.

Two pure sisters - Nara and Osha - who, despite being near complete opposites of one another, are incredibly close due to tragic loss in childhood. In the process of trying to help their branded maid, they begin a sequence of revelations that threaten to overturn everything they know about their settlement.

The plot was wonderful to follow, and the slow burn romance smoldered delightfully under the surface. The chapters were long, but for me that’s not a negative.

I feel like we could have benefitted from points of view other than Nara’s, but all the characters hold back so many secrets that I understand the solitary pov. It probably would have dragged a little for me if I were reading a physical copy of the book, but the narration kept it moving for me.

The narrator, Leah Filley, was absolutely phenomenal. This book convinced me that I need to look up others she has narrated. The emotion and uncertainty were portrayed just as well as the anger that fueled Nara through the entire novel.

I will absolutely be following up with the sequel, also in audio format if it’s released that way, because I am desperate to know more.

Friendly reminder to read content warnings before diving into this one! There are some potentially triggering elements involved.

Thank you to NetGalley, the publisher, and the audiobook producer for the advance copy of this book. All opinions in this review are my own.

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I am... on the fence about this book.

On the one hand, I LOVED the aspect of mixing together stories like The Handmaid's Tale with other dystopian stories like The Hunger Games (yes, I know there's no nationwide culling of children put into an arena to kill each other but YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN). The main characters were interesting, and I was excited to see where it went. However, as the story went on there were a LOT of things that started to annoy me, so I will list both the pros and cons.

PROS:
- Like I said, interesting concept. While we've had SO many stories containing "chosen ones" and dystopian societies, this one just felt a little different to me (or maybe I just haven't read it's duplicate yet).
- The plot kept me interested and I definitely want to pick up the second book to see what happens after everything I witnessed in book one.
- Osha: we all know I'm a sucker for an actually NICE character, and she was a delight to read about.

CONS:
- If I never have to read another book where the main love interests keep calling each other by stupid nicknames, I'll have died and gone to heaven because that will never happen. Consistently calling each other "Wrangler" and "Little Scourge" were the bane of my existence and made me want to put down the book on a number of occasions.
- The ending for Osha... you'll know when you get to it, but I'm so mad. I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN GOING INTO IT BUT BECAUSE IT CAME FROM A DIFFERENT ANGLE, I'M JUST MAD NOW.
- Nara, Wrangler, and her other man (I literally already forget his name oops) were all insufferable to read about 90% of the time. I didn't care for any of the romance between any of them, I only cared about Osha's romance!!

Overall, a pretty basic story but I'd say still worth your time, at least for listening to the audiobook while doing other things.

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First let me just say that this was not a bad book. It wasn’t too much of a slog to finish, and the writing was accessible, if a little uninspired. The premise of the whole world is very cool too, but it just felt poorly executed. It’s easier to complain than praise and I fear I lean into the negative too much. I might read book 2 but theres also a good chance that in one week I will have forgotten this ever existed.

The audiobook itself I found to have quite deadpan delivery. Particularly at the beginning. It isn’t helped by the exposition that accompanies the beginning of every fantasy book but the narration came across as bored and thus boring. There is an argument to be made that Nara is bored of her life and therefore a dull tone is fine, but it wasn’t bored in the writing… it was nothing in the writing. She wasn’t desperate to get out but nor was she content to be where she was. It sounded a little like whining. ‘Oh I hate my life with plenty of food :( I would much rather starve in the forest’ as a cool girl. The side of ‘id rather starve in the forest than be a glorified broodmare’ was not explored enough.
From deadpan exposition a lot of the dialogue was then weirdly angry in tone? For some reason everything came across petty and with a snarl that got real old real fast, and contributed to my next issue.

Within the story itself, I found Nara to be an incredibly unlikeable character. I don’t think she is supposed to be. The author plants the seeds of ‘she’s had such a hard life, she will do anything to protect her sister!’ but we dont see that in a meaningful way. She’s desperate to escape the school because she’s bored, not because she wants better for her sister. And then this girl embodies ‘out of sight, out of mind’ about pretty much everyone she ‘cares’ about. I have nothing endearing her to me because there didn't seem to be a single truly meaningful moment here.

The prejudices she has against the other tribes in this world made me so violently uncomfortable to read. She is from a place that literally just treats these women as baby machines, then when another tribe does it they’re somehow barbarians and uncivilised and evil??? Without giving the same vitriol to her own people? She only hates those ones because they were going to do it to her. I genuinely could not stomach parts of it and I think that really contributed to me never being able to root for her.

Similarly, when she finally realises that her upbringing was so incredibly biased and wrong, she does nothing with that revelation. There is no re-examining of everything she ever thought she knew in a different light, but she has to be proven wrong about everything individually. She meets a good guy from a different race and it’s not that huh maybe I was indoctrinated into hating them it’s ‘oh wow theres a nice one? Definitely an anomaly because all of XYZ group are evil and uncivilised brutes and have you heard how they treat their women?’

When there are cryptic hints dropped by other people Nara seems able to recognise that theres a deeper meaning, but then does nothing to explore that. She just goes ‘ah what a weird way to say that… anyway’.

All of the characters are underdeveloped, the love interest’s personality is ‘strong strange man’ and there actually isn’t a complete story arc here.
The whole book goes school -> forest -> kidnapped - > rescued -> kind kidnapped again. That is not a story arc. That is not a plot. There is no main conflict that got resolved. I understand that this is part of a series but in order for it warrant separate books there has to be a complete story with each one. It can be part of one overall arc but I need a satisfying resolution for it feel like a book worth reading. This is why priory of the orange tree, while 800 pages, is one book. There is one story arc. To break it up into smaller chunks would leave 2+ books without a complete plot themselves.

A little rambly but I have had many thoughts since finishing it and to be honest the more I think about it the worse it holds up in my memory.

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DNF @ 60%

So I dnfed because I found the fmc to so selfish. People are literally dying and she’s just exclusively thinking about her problems (which aren’t as bad people dying because of diseases and getting sick). I think maybe if I were able to push through she might have gotten better but I couldn’t make it that far unfortunately.

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Sometimes a book comes a long that makes you want to re-rate so many of the books you have previously read. Her skill at world building while actively moving a plot is a wonderfully done. I was never bogged down at any point in this book, which is something that happens for me with some other super popular authors. I loved the rich characters, the pace, the folklore/prophecy within the world, the beautifully lyrical writing and the surprising ending that left me wanting more. This has shot to my top 5 reads this year.

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I was not familiar with the author before picking up this audiobook and was pleasantly surprised! Riccioni's world building is phenomenal. The dialogue between characters is top-notch. And the romance, ohh the romance! This fantasy novel was a breath of fresh air in a TBR full of fantasy. I will definitely be picking up the next book in the series! Thank you NetGalley for the ARC!

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The audio is well-produced, but I did not enjoy the prose. It wasn’t done terribly at all, I just have a difficult time with first person perspectives. I have to be interested very quickly and that was not the case here.

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Book 1 of The Branded Season series
Audiobook narrated by Leah Filley

I got really into this storyline, and I credit that to how well the banter was executed. The dialog between characters is where this book shined. I thought it was a really entertaining read and am already recommending it. The audiobook complimented the book well. I thought the narration was strong and well done.

Thank you to NetGalley, Jo Riccioni, and Bolina Audio for this audiobook ARC.

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Thank you netgalley for the ARC copy
This book is def slow to get into. It's a slow burn romance, enemy to lovers troupe. While there are magical elements in the book they are in the background. I fele like this book sets the stage for book 2 :)
I enjoyed the book and am looking foward to book 2

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Nara and Osha are twins with an unknown heritage. They are living in the pure citadel, learning to be Moor ladies. Whereas Osha is following the guidelines, Nara is a bit of a rebel, learning fighting and hunting with Brim - who becomes a warder guard.
Nara finds herself on the outside and meets Wrangler. Danger and hostility are all around.
Fast paced, compelling and gripping.
Well narrated. I loved it.

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OMG was this book amazing! The world-building, the characters, the plot, THE ROMANCE! I had a blast listening to it, the narrator was great! It also explored very interesting themes, bordering on dystopian, if I'm being honest. The writing style was gorgeous and I loved listening to it. And the characters were just so good ugh. I have one thing to complain about and that is the pacing which I found quite slow and I struggle a little to get into it until maybe the 30% mark. 4.5 stars

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