Foreword Reviews

Branded

Clarion Rating: 4 out of 5

Even the scions of truth and justice have dark secrets in Branded, an imaginative urban fantasy novel.

Joseph T. Humphrey’s Branded is a fast fantasy novel that plumbs the natures of reality, truth, and family.

Henry is a high schooler who wants to earn a college scholarship by virtue of his baseball skills. His best friend Charley is an orphan and an overachieving gymnast; Henry strives to defend her against bullies. When one of their classmates disappears, school authorities suggest that she had a mental breakdown. Henry and Charley are concerned and try to get to the bottom of the issue. Every adult in the school works to convince them that they are overreacting, however.

After a dangerous encounter with monsters, Henry’s dad, Thom, rescues the two teenagers and explains what really happened: the Nekura, deceivers from a shadowy realm, broke through into their reality and are trying to get at Henry. Thom and Henry’s mom, Dawn, are also not of this world. Thus, Henry and Charley find themselves on the run from the Nekura, on a quest to find mystical items to help them stay one step ahead.

Action pervades the book, even amid the revelations of the secrets in Henry’s family. The perspective shifts between characters, too, with Henry’s voice mimicking his father’s. But he and Charley are also both authentically teenagers; they fall prey to insecurities and self-centered moments.

The various monsters in the shadows are described in inventive ways, piquing the imagination. The Nekura use nightmares and illusions to tempt Henry and Charley’s worst selves outward, but Henry and Charley persevere, striving for the light that Henry’s mother is a physical manifestation of. Charley learns, despite her traumatic past, to trust others and embrace vulnerability and bravery; Henry learns, despite his comfortable life as an only child, to share his family with Charley during their adventures.

The book’s fantastical moments add whimsy, as when Thom manifests a giant mastodon made of light in combat, or when Dawn takes on the visage of a giant bird, and Charley learns to fight with a whip made out of blue light. Riddles and metaphors enliven the quest, too.

Even the scions of truth and justice have dark secrets in Joseph T. Humphrey’s Branded, an imaginative urban fantasy novel that pits light against dark, and in which found families are a triumph.

Reviewed by Jeana Jorgensen

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book and paid a small fee to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. Foreword Reviews and Clarion Reviews make no guarantee that the publisher will receive a positive review. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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