Monday 10 June 2024



Title: The Branded
The Branded Season
Jo Riccioni
Angry Robot
Release Date:
11th June 2024

BLURB from Goodreads
Isfalk is divided into two classes: the Branded, who are vulnerable to disease, and the Pure, who are bigger, stronger and immune. Orphaned twins Nara and Osha are sequestered in the citadel, where their unbranded skin entitles them to a life of privilege, as precious breeding stock.

Nara itches to escape her confines and return to the wilds of the Fornwood where she and her sister grew up, but when she is forced to run, she discovers there's much more at stake than her own life. The Branded are on the rise, and the girls are caught up in their prophecies.

Forced to accept the help of a mysterious southern Brand known only as the Wrangler, Nara discovers the latent power lying dormant in uncanny abilities she's had since childhood. But in a world where women are traded as commodities, who can she trust in the lands beyond the Fornwood? What does the Wrangler know about her forgotten childhood? Two sisters without a past hold the weight of the future in their hands.

The Branded is an epic, high-concept speculative novel with explosive ideas around gender and class, served up with romance, conflict and quick-fire narrative pace.

It was the book cover that first drew my attention to the book, I think it looks very mysterious and hints at a darkness.

The book centres on a place called Isfalk, a place of relative safety, which is made up of the branded & unbranded. In this case the unbranded are viewed as pure, they descend from four main families. These unbranded individuals are to be taken care of at all costs, especially the women referred to as the “Mor” as they represent the future, as they are the ones that will breed and make sure their civilisation continues. The branded however are seen as “less than”, they have the “brand” on their skin, in varying degrees. They are also more susceptible to illnesses, especially the brume. The branded are the servants that do all the work considered beneath the Unbranded. The branded live outside the inner Citadel in Isfalk in rundown homes and try to eke out an existence barely getting by, scavenging for food and resources.

The two main female characters are Nara & Osha, two sisters brought up by their grandmother, Amma until the day men came to their home living out in the wilds and burnt their home down and murdered their grandmother. She had always taught them that if anything happened to her, they should head to Isfalk, to a man named Larrs Oskarsson who would take care of them. When they arrived at Isfalk they were examined and proven to be unbranded, pure and so as they were considered Mor they were admitted to the Citadel and schooled in the way of the Isfalk and adopted their ways and culture. Though Nara & Osha are twins and it is said their faces mirror each other, they are really quite different.

Osha has a fuller figure, is taller, and is easy going and pliable, Nara is smaller, lean, has her own mind and opinion on everything and doesn’t really care to keep quiet about it. Their Amma (grandmother) nicknamed Nara Narkat, which in their solitary dialect means something small, wild & fierce, she taught Nara to hunt and survive.

Amma taught Osha how to help women deliver babies, stop inner bleeding, treat yellow blush & even how to bring back a “blue born”(branded babies). Amma taught Osha about Fornwood herb, lore and healing arts.

Both young women rebel in their own ways, Nara escapes the confines of the Citadel and practices fighting, goes hunting and collect herbs and plants for Osha to make her remedies from. Osha takes risks making her remedies and researches the old apotheka books by Fenderhilde. Osha reads about what Fenderhilde knew about the Brume. He talks about shielding the branded infants by having them drink the blood of the pure to give them immunity! Osha wants to find a cure for the brume one day to give to everyone. These pursuits are forbidden at Isfalk, the Mor are expected to be paired with an unbranded male and have a child every year for the rest of their child bearing years, the idea of which Nara abhors.

The sister’s best friend in Isfalk is Brim Oskarsson, the nephew of Lars. Brim has grown up with the girls, secretly teaching Nara how to fight and covering for her when she sneaks away from Isfalk on her hunting trips. However, as they are all older, with Brim now being a Warder Captain it is his job to guard the Mor and Isfalk he tries to get Nara to promise not to sneak off anymore, saying he cannot cover for her, despite him having romantic feelings for her. Brim is being groomed to take on the duty of his family as an Oskarsson, one of the four founding ones, things are changing for him whether he likes it or not.

When things take a really bad turn, the girls find themselves captured to be sold to the head of the Orlathon’s they are now on the outside, away from the protection of Isfalk and relying on a strange branded male known as the Wrangler for help and a Reis Chief. To further complicate matters the Reis Chief Haus is fascinated by Osha and Nara can’t help having feelings for the Wrangler. Both sisters have to use their individual gifts and strengths to survive what is ahead.

So much happens in this book, there so many twists and turns. Things the sisters think they know about that are spun on their head. The secrets around the necklaces the sisters have always treasured and then the pattern on the coin that Nara is given.

I enjoyed the different proverb like lines within the book, such as 'Good pairings rely on good reputations' and the school creed that the Unbranded have to recite three times a day of "Through pairing & progeny to purpose.” Theres some amazing characters in the book from the main ones of Osha, Nara, Wrangler, Brim and Haus.

I could go on and on about this book and its characters but really shouldn’t as I do not want to give away too many spoilers. I’m really bursting to say more but won’t. I will just list a few of the other really interesting characters such as the sinister Mother Iness, Father Ulaf, Frida, and Frenka.

I adored all the different romantic scenarios of Nara & Brim? Osha & Brim? Wrangler/Nixim & Nara? Osha & Haus? Then there’s the “big cryptic prophecy” that the Wranglers people, the Reis believe in. There’s the mystery of the real reason of who killed Amma and why. There’s also the question of how Lars Oskarrson is caught up in it all, and the secrecy surrounding Nara & Osha's gifts & the identity of their parents.

My immediate thoughts upon finishing the book were Wow! Loved it! Can't wait to read more.

Summing up I really enjoyed discovering the different cultures and traditions Isfalki - Pure/Brand, Orlathon and Reis. I also loved all the Romance......the different pairings that were more like triangles! And all the switching round! I seriously cannot wait to read The Rising!!


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