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308 pages, Paperback
First published February 4, 2020
Actual rating: 2.5 stars
Below is presented as a dark YA fantasy inspired by Inuit mythology. Honestly, I had no clue about the Inuit mythology before I picked this book up, but I can say that the premise is true: Below is really dark and cold - frigid - and the Inuit culture plays a significant role in the story.
Below starts with the main character Apaay hunting for food to feed her family at the hardest time of winter. But her hunting is interrupted by the news that the Face Stealer - a North Demon - stole her sister's face. After that Apaay is set on finding the demon, killing him and taking her sister's face back whatever it takes. Easy-peasy, right? But of course, the journey will turn out more than Apaay could've expected, considering she was expecting a lot of trouble.
To say that Below's concept is very intriguing would be true. To say that the execution is up to expectations would be half-true. What I wanted from Below is to be dark, mysterious and full of treacherous adventures. But in truth, it turned out more a repetitive book: there was a lot of walking, talking, inner monologues and so little needed movement - a direction the story could've taking turning into one of the most exciting original books I've read. Alas, it did not happen. I found myself lost amidst snow and cold, and, at some point, I was drifting away in my thoughts to more exciting things like do I need to do laundry or go shopping? Riiiight, these are not exciting thoughts, but at one moment, they were more exciting than the book.
I quite admired Apaay's courageous attempts to save her sister; her loyalty to her friends. I was intrigued by the Face Stealer and his motives. I loved the writing: really deep and suiting the concept, Alexandria Warwick has her own style that makes her stand out. But there's a huge BUT. At some point, all Appay's adventures started to feel repetitive, the villain just felt one-dimentional without a solid reason to act the way they acted, and the explanation of their actions was not convincing enough to make them a strong villainous character. The Face Stealer lost his appeal the moment he started to turn into a damaged hero with his own secret agendas. I mean, I love anti-heroes, but this one lacked the devious I-don't-care-attitude that usually helps me to connect with my anti-heroes and gives start to their development: I was like that but something gave me a push to change. And as this book was compared to The Cruel Prince by the author I would say that I was waiting for someone like Cardan who didn't give a fig at first but started to change as the story progressed. I don't like ex-deus machina reasons for my anti-heroes to be good from the beginning but acting badly. It doesn't work for me after thousands of similar young adult books.
All in all, Below would suit to those readers who want to immerse themselves in something new and unexplored. But do not expect revelations from the story and be prepared to get bored at some point. The writing will soften the blow of disappointment, and the ending might be the beginning of the story we all have been waiting from book 1. The sequel has its promises. We can only hope it will deliver.
*ARC was kindly provided by the author in exchange for an honest review*
Below is a dark fantasy sprawled on a sheet of snow and ice which successfully lays down the thrill of walking all alone in search of something but isn't very successful in giving depth to the characters. An immensely strong sisterly bond definitely leads to the risk of dwelling in the villain's territory and the wonderful writing gives another reason to continue reading this. However, the slow pacing and the lack of intense motives forces the reader to rethink their decision of picking up this fantasy set in an Arctic region and inspired by Inuit mythology.
November 23, 2019: I usually sell myself for dark fantasy books but when it says 'Inuit mythology', I'm completely sold! Super excited to read this as part of a blog tour by FFBC Tours. Thank you, Wolf Publishing for the review copy! This doesn't, in any way, affect my rating and/or review.
Don’t ever stop caring.” Voice pitched low, she whispered, “You love so fiercely. With your whole heart. That’s where your strength comes from. Not from your skill in hunting. Not from tracking. Here.” She pressed her palm against Apaay’s breastbone. “Always remember that.”
She did not fear other people’s pain.
I will carry your heart in my heart.
Does one crush a flower in winter?
"People like us?” he said, voice hard. “We’re not meant to be loved."
”They didn’t believe in you, did they?”
They hadn’t, and she had wanted them to. She’d wanted them to so badly. She had come for Eska, but she had come for herself too. The guilt swelled for needing that belief, that trust from those she loved most, to be a reason at all.
He was keeping something from her. She didn’t know what. She only knew the feeling of lies upon the tongue, and his was a most burdensome weight.
More importantly, she had found herself.
She was not Ila or Chena or Mama or Papa or Masuk or Eska or Silla.
She was Apaay.
She was enough.