Book – Branded
Author – Clare London
Star rating – ★★★★☆
No. of Pages – 451
Movie Potential – ★★★★★
Ease of reading – very easy to read and follow
Would I read it again – Yes.
** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK, BY THE AUTHOR, IN RETURN FOR AN HONEST REVIEW **
Reviewed for Divine Magazine
I really loved this book, but I have to admit that it’s not what I expected. There was way more M/F (explicit) scenes in it than I’d anticipated and this is why I knocked off one of the stars. I read an M/M for the M/M not to have M/F interrupting that so consistently.
But, despite that, this book didn’t break my heart. It took a tiny hammer and chisel, then with each chapter chipped away a piece at a time, until the final chapter had it shattering in grief.
Here’s the run down of how the world works. You need to know this, because I’ll be using terms in my review that you won’t understand otherwise:
Women rule the world. Four women – called Mistresses – first began colonization, in a harsh land, and rule four different cities. There is a Queen and her Queen-Elects, her daughters. The Queen is the only one who keeps their children at home (always daughters). Next, there are the Mistresses – who are like Queens in their own homes and who run an entire ‘city’ each. Below them are the Ladies of their Household (the term for their home or estate) who have Mistress privileges, but who don’t really get involved in the running of the city or the Household.
The men of the world are subservient and always defer to women, when one is around. They are born with a weakness that requires medication that the Mistresses have designed. It’s called ‘Devotions’, that the men take to protect them from the ‘disease’ they were born with. The medication makes them stay younger longer, live longer, maintains their sexual appetite and keeps them compliant. This is important for a reason.
Now, how the Household is run: three levels of soldiers serve the house and the Mistress and Ladies (in and out of bed) as part of their soldierly duties. The Mistress runs the house, in charge of the city and the Household. The servants are low born people, called Remainders.
The Remainders (servants) are those who were not born of a Mistress or Lady, but bred by two Remainders. These are the really low ranking people of the world, the poor and destitute, the ones who do the low jobs in the city and never get any special treatment.
Next, we have the soldiers:
Bronzemen : these are the lowest level of soldier. They’re called ‘children’ in the novel (which slightly disturbs me) but we’re never really told how old they are. I hope, and presume, they’re at least 16, if not 18. They’re taken from the Central School (where all children are placed after birth to be taught and raised) and to a ‘Choosing’, similar to an auction. The boys are presented to the Mistresses for inspection and they bid for the boys they prefer, who will then enter their Household. They learn from the Gold Warrior and Silver Guards, how to train, how to be a real soldier and within the first two weeks, are introduced to the Mistresses bed. They are to remain untouched by all but the Mistress and the Ladies, who teach them the ways of the bed.
Silver Captain: these are the second level of guard. These are well trained soldiers, with a lot of responsibility and training. This is when they are most popular with the Ladies and the Mistress, because they are grown men and well versed in their ‘duties’. But, as well as being ‘available’ to their Mistress and the Ladies of the Household, they are also allowed to ‘couple’ (have sex) with the other soldiers. This isn’t frowned upon or even hesitated over; it’s perfectly natural for them.
Gold Warrior: this is the top level of soldier. They are the best and most well trained soldier in the guard; they have authority over all the other soldiers, train the Bronzemen when they first arrive and help the Mistress run her Household. No longer as popular as the other two levels of soldiers, they spend less time in and out of beds and more time training, in charge and strategising.
Last, we have the Exiles. As the world implies, these are people who have proven useless to the city or committed a crime. They’ve been exiled to the harshest part of their planet, where they’re expected not to live long. Without the medication of their Devotions, they’re expected to die within a few years, because of the sickness men are born with. However, the Exiles run skirmishes in the city, stealing food and other items and trying to get into the heart of the city. These are the most important of the characters, as they are the ones who will make the biggest difference to the main characters.
When it comes to the Devotions, the higher the rank, the stronger the Devotions. Exiles take no Devotions, since they can’t get their hands on them. Remainders take a certain amount, morning and night, which is the least volume of Devotions taken by anyone in the ‘world’. When a child becomes a Bronzeman, his level of Devotions is changed, to encourage strong virulence and strength of character, while promoting an advanced growth of mind and body. Next, the Silver Guards have their Devotions upped again, in what I assume is an attempt to gain control over their minds as well as their bodies. The Gold Warriors are on the highest dose; the most loyal and emotionless of all the soldiers.
Now, here’s something that I don’t understand. The high born people are born from a coupling of the Mistress and one of her soldiers. Once they’re born, they’re sent to the Central School, where they are taught and grow up, until they’re of age to enter the Choosing, to be selected to live in other Households (the homes of other Mistresses). Here, everything is well taken care of, to ensure there’s no interbreeding.
However, this is what I don’t understand. The women ‘created’ the world, once upon a time, and created the system of their world; how it worked and who became what. We’re told that all the children are born from the Mistress and her soldiers, but there’s no mention of where the Remainders came from. Who had the first child, who became a Remainder? Was it a disabled child, born to a Mistress, or something similar.
I loved this story. I’m not a fan of first person POV, but I didn’t even notice this one. I honestly couldn’t imagine this story being told any other way. It works perfectly.
The world building and detail is astounding and brilliant. There is so much attention given to the history, the way the world works and functions, and the roles of all the characters, even if they’re not mentioned. There is an unfortunate circumstance of all the women in the novel being obsessed with sex, while the men are treated as sex machines, but it makes sense in the world the author has created. Even if it does get a little old, after a while.
However, I have one niggle. This reads more like a M/F fantasy novel than an M/M. The majority of the sexual contact happens off page and is only mentioned for the first half of the book. After that, there’s extensive M/F explicit sexual scenes and much, much fewer M/M scenes. The main character Maen, for example, has more sex with his ‘Mistresses’ throughout the book than he’s had with any of the men he tangles with. I’ve taken a star off, for this. In an M/M romance novel, even a fantasy once, there should never be more M/F sex than M/M.
The ending was a little unsatisfying. I would have loved an Epilogue, of any length, just to offer a more complete ending. It was a little sudden and left so much unknown. Unless there’s another book, this is disappointing. I’d normally knock another star off for this, but I’m too enamoured by the overall story to do that.
I absolutely love Maen and his dogged single-mindedness. He’s a strong character, but mentally weak. He’s been on the Devotions so long that it’s as though he’s been brainwashed. The way he interacts with Grien, who I also adore, is wonderful. The hesitation, the uncertainty and the chemistry they have is brilliant. Part of me totally ships them, but the other part totally ships Maen and Dax.
Dax is a free spirit, wild and wonderful. When he confesses to not taking his Devotions religiously, it makes perfect sense of his erratic behaviour and his doubts about how the world works. I love the way that he starts to open Maen’s eyes to the truth. As a Remainder child, he’s the exception to every rule about the people that Maen has been taught, which, I think is what puts him such a unique position, to teach Maen what the world should be like, rather than how it is.
Kiel was a brilliant character. So spirited and funny. He had some of the best lines and his rambling was a really nice humorous break from the seriousness of the rest of the story. His hesitant chemistry with Zander, the new-Maen, loyal soldier, was incredible and so well written.
The book was a little long. Okay, a lot long. The book is 400+ pages and it felt it. It took me two days to read it, non stop, and there were times when I wondered what else would happen, to drag the story out. I don’t mean that in a bad way, because A LOT happened in the book that made sense and was important. It just felt looooong.
The story – well, Maen and Dax’s relationship – made me cry more than once. Literally. I was lip-quivering and snivelling a lot, whenever those two were together.
The characterisation and detail were fantastic. The plot was well thought out and executed, in a way that revealed just enough information, just when it was needed. The chemistry between the ‘couples’ was stunning and there were quite a few twists and turns that I never saw coming. The writing was of a very high caliber and something that I really warmed to, very quickly. This is, very possibly, the first 1st person POV story that I’ve ever really fallen into. I’m notoriously picked about 1st person, but this one felt so natural.
Overall, a fantastic – if, exhausting – read. I’d read it again. I’d read anything by this author again, no questions asked. And I’d read more of this world and these characters in a heartbeat.
“We keep the city running. We are its veins. But we’re neither its brain nor its senses.” His sigh was soft now. “We’re nothing.””
“I wanted to be somewhere else; I wanted to be away from here.
I wanted to be dead too.”
“What will you be, Maen?
I will be lost, I thought to myself, close to collapse, my mouth trapping desperate wails of horror and pain inside me. I will be bereft.”