The Branded (The Branded Season #1), by Jo Riccioni

9 Jul 2024

The Book

The Branded
Series: The Branded Season
Pages: 408
Age Group: Adult
Published on 11 Jun 2024
Publisher: Angry Robot Books


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.  

My Review

The Branded is the first novel in the dystopian fantasy series The Branded Season, written by Jo Riccioni, and published by Angry Robot Books. A unique story which shines especially due to the world building and the exceptionally well-written female characters, greatly paced with fresh takes on classical tropes.

Pure people are born with natural immunity to the disease that is devastating the world, leaving those affected smaller and more vulnerable to other infections (also produces a brand in the skin, hence the name branded given to those); pure women are worshipped due to their ability to breed new pure babies. Nara and her twin sister, Osha, are both pure; taken from the tundra to live in one of the few remaining bastions of civilization. While they are treated well, secrets and lies are hidden and will explode in their faces to shake off their lives; the opportunity that Nora needed to escape from the Citadel appears in the way she didn't expect.

Our story is told through the eyes of Nora, who will act as our female main character; some people might not connect with her, but I absolutely loved her determination to protect her sister. She's strong and witty; she actually sees that despite how Pure are revered, it's just only another way of oppression towards women, reducing them to their breeding capability. Freedom is more important for her than a spoiled life; but protecting Osha makes her to measure each act, taking into account what would happen to Osha.
We have a slowburn romance in The Branded, with a MMC that is mysterious and which antagonizes at some points with Nora; it suits well to give another grip point to the story. 

The world-building is another of the highlights in my opinion; taking a bit of inspiration from the own our pandemic, we have a dystopia whose classes are established in base of immunity to the disease. Not only that, but we also have a society that oppresses pure women, envolving it on a sugar-coating layer of a spoiled life; but in reality, it only cares because they want them to have offsprings and perpetuate that system. 
Outside of the society and how it is established, Riccioni plays greatly with the tundra setting as the framework for our adventure; there are questions about the world, but I hope they get answers in the next books in the series.

A greatly paced dystopian story, The Branded is a solid start for a series that promises much; a solid fantasy debut which can be enjoyed by people that are not usual readers of the genre. Can't wait to see how The Branded Season continues!

The Author/s

Jo Riccioni

Jo Riccioni

Jo Riccioni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest fantasy duology, The Branded Season, is published by Pantera Press in Australia / New Zealand, and by Angry Robot in the rest of the English-speaking world. The Branded was shortlisted for the SPN Book of the Year in 2023.