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Smoke and Key

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A sound awakens her. There's darkness all around. And then she's falling...

She has no idea who or where she is. Or why she's dead. The only clue to her identity hangs around her neck: a single rusted key. This is how she and the others receive their names—from whatever belongings they had when they fell out of their graves. Under is a place of dirt and secrets, and Key is determined to discover the truth of her past in order to escape it.

She needs help, but who can she trust? Ribbon seems content in Under, uninterested in finding answers. Doll’s silence hints at deep sorrow, which could be why she doesn't utter a word. There's Smoke, the boy with a fierceness that rivals even the living. And Journal, who stays apart from everyone else. Key's instincts tell her there is something remarkable about each of them, even if she can't remember why.

Then the murders start. Bodies that are burned to a crisp. And after being burned, the dead stay dead. Key is running out of time to discover who she was—and what secret someone is willing to kill to keep hidden—before she loses her life for good…

304 pages, ebook

First published April 2, 2019

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About the author

Kelsey Sutton

5 books506 followers
Kelsey Sutton is a young adult and middle grade author. She lives in Minnesota, where she received a dual bachelor's degree in English and Creative Writing from Bemidji State University. She recently earned a master's degree from Hamline University. Her work has received an Independent Publisher Book Award, an IndieFab Award, and was selected as a Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Book of 2013. When not writing, Kelsey can be found watching too much Netflix or napping with her rescue dogs. You can visit her online at www.kelseysuttonbooks.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter or Instagram. Kelsey also writes adult books under the pen name K.J. Sutton.

Be friends with her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 191 reviews
Profile Image for Carrie.
3,039 reviews1,500 followers
February 24, 2019
Before I begin let’s just have a moment to appreciate the cover on this one, two thumbs up for the creator it’s probably one of my favorites so far this year. Smoke and Key by Kelsey Sutton is a young adult fantasy read that is one of those that has a bit of mystery and a bit of romance in the mix too.

The story begins with a girl falling into a mysterious dark cavern and not knowing where or even what she is. She meets a boy named Smoke who begins to explain that she is dead and has fallen out of her grave into the area inhabitants call the “Under”.

Those that fall into Under are then named by whatever item they carried under with themselves, so now we have “Key” for our lead character. Key is not like the others in under as she fights to hold onto her memories of the before and this lead her to look for more answers to what brought her there.

Smoke and Key is one of those books that I hesitated on while trying to decide what to rate this one. There are things I liked but then things I didn’t too so I’m going down the middle at three stars after much debate. The biggest positive is this is certainly creative and dare I say different. But the biggest downside was it was a bit confusing in parts the way it jumps from one thing to another and still had some slower moments in it too. Overall though I did like the ideas behind it and think others may too.

I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

For more reviews please visit https://carriesbookreviews.com/
Profile Image for Umairah (Sereadipity).
188 reviews108 followers
April 5, 2019
Plot: 4/5 Characters: 4/5 Writing: 4/5

Smoke and Key was a creepy yet intriguing novel that captivated me from the very first sentence.

The book was about a girl who was dead but fell down from her grave into a mysterious world called 'Under'. She didn't know why she was there, she didn't have any memories of her life before Under and she couldn't even remember her own name. The only possession she had on her was a key, so she called herself Key. All the other residents of Under were named after the possessions they had when they fell such as Journal, Smoke, Doll, Ribbon and Tintype. All the people were in semi-decomposed states and their skin had a greyish tint as if they had already started to rot before they fell, however, Key was oddly preserved. No one could remember anything, just like Key but then a series of brutal murders started and Key's memories started to return.

Key was a pretty good character and it's interesting how she reacted to the memories that she remembered and the shame she felt even though she was technically the same person she had been before. Her relationship with Smoke was intriguing as we got to see it unravel in the past and in the present even though the romance was probably a bit too forced. I liked how her friendship with Journal developed as well.

The thing I loved the most was how the tension and the sense of mystery were built up throughout the novel as we learnt more about the eerie world of Under and those who lived there. For some reason, I kept imagining all of the characters like ones from a Tim Burton movie!

However, even though the tension was gradually rising it still felt like not that much really happened in the book overall and there was probably a bit of filler that could have been taken out

The book was mainly about the extent of the damage that hate and jealousy can cause and how it can easily get out of control. The plot might sound a bit odd but the ideas were very original in the best possible way. There is definitely buckets of imagination behind it. I thought it was a really fun yet macabre read and I think more people should give it a go!

Thank you to Entangled Teen and Kelsey Sutton for providing me with a digital arc of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

This review and more can be found at Sereadipity.
Profile Image for Melanie (mells_view).
1,684 reviews311 followers
April 2, 2019
“I suppose some things don’t have a proper explanation. They just are.”

You guys. Smoke and Key is such an amazing read! It’s like this suspenseful historical YA paranormal with a magical morbid feel to it. A genre mouthful I realize. While reading I kept thinking if The Wizard of Oz & the movie Clue had a love child in the early 1900’s and gave birth in a magical graveyard, then this book would be that baby. There’s a smidge of romance, but Smoke and Key is a highly plot driven story. We are focused on the why’s and the how’s of a place called ‘Under’ and it’s people. When a girl falls from the dirt sky and questions everything about the place and it’s people, things start to happen. Bad things. Memories. Good things.

Even though this book was mostly about the ride, that’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of amazing characters that you will meet and try to figure out while both loving and questioning them. The world that Ms. Sutton builds is mysterious and somehow beautiful although it is morbid. I enjoyed trying to figure out whodunit. There are moments that even felt a tiny bit scary, but there were also times that I felt sad and happy as well. I will say that pacing at times did feel slow, but it was mainly because I just wanted more answers. This story does jump back and forth between the present and the past, and I think that does make it a bit hard to follow at first. Once you get the hang of it and understand what exactly is going on it’s easier to follow.

All in all I enjoyed the characters and journey to the end very much! This is my first read from the author, and will not be the last.

^fan teaser on IG!

Available now!
*ARC provided by NetGalley*
Profile Image for Brittany.
836 reviews111 followers
February 5, 2019
3 Stars!!

Smoke and Key begins with a girl falling out of her grave into a dark bottomless pit. As she struggles to come to terms with where she is, she starts to meet a group of others who share her fate and with no knowledge of what caused them to fall below into what they call "under".

She comes across a boy claiming to be no one, which makes her head spin. He then tells her that's she's dead. But she cant be dead. She sets off to uncover the secrets of the past with the hope of finding lasting peace for the afterlife.

The atmpsphere was dark and oh so creepy.

How does one function underground??

I really enjoyed this book!! I had a hard time putting it down the first time. I kept flipping pages, feeling as desperate as the heroine to get answers! I thought the story line was unique and different. The pacing was perfect. We get flashbacks and present time Povs, along with a group of interesting characters.

While I really enjoyed the read- there were some things that could have been done a little differently. I felt the writing was great and simple which made for an easy read. My biggest issue was the ending. It felt too rushed and I still had some questions that I needed answers for :( Besides that issue- I think its a great dark and interesting read and I would recommend it.

Thank you to netgalley for this arc. Disclaimer: I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Mlpmom (Book Reviewer).
2,976 reviews362 followers
March 19, 2019
4.5 Stars!
If there is one thing I love more in this genre than anything else, it is originality and Smoke and Key is packed full of it.

It is utterly unique and utterly engaging. From the very first creeptastic chapter I was hooked and couldn't wait to read more.

I absolutely loved the imaginative world of the Under. The characters, the setting, how it all came about slowly through memories and trials. Truly this story was so well done and so irresistible and hard to put down. A truly imaginative take and a breath of fresh air in the YA genre.

*ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Profile Image for Schizanthus Nerd.
1,120 reviews228 followers
March 26, 2019
“You’re dead, darlin’. This isn’t hell, but it’s the next best thing.”
She hears a voice imploring her to wake up. She falls and finds herself surrounded by dirt. In Under she meets a group of strangers whose bodies are in different stages of decomposition. While they can all remember general knowledge they do not remember anything personal from their lives. Each awoke with an item that was buried with them, an item that helps their owner decide their Under name.

The girl who wakes at the beginning of the book becomes Key. She meets Ribbon, Smoke, Journal, Handkerchief, Doll, and many others. Shortly after Key arrives in Under the first murder occurs and there’s no waking up from this death.
We are ghosts, but we are the ones being haunted.
Key’s flashbacks provide frequent snippets of information about her life before death, building towards revelations that may hold more danger than she could imagine. I found the flashbacks interesting but expect readers who aren’t a fan of multiple flashbacks could find their frequency and slow drip of information irritating.

Given the exponential growth of my TBR pile I was definitely attracted to a life after death that included books and no need for sleep. I loved guessing who the characters may have been before their deaths, the mysterious writings on the wall, the magic and Journal’s tower with all of his books.

I liked getting to know the main characters but found many of the minor characters interchangeable. I didn’t always know which minor character was being referenced as I didn’t know much more about them other than the item they were buried with. I was disappointed by the lack of resolution surrounding Doll; I did learn who she was in life but I have so many unanswered questions about her.

While I enjoyed some aspects of the love triangle I did find the kissing scenes when the characters were dead a tad squirmy, although I acknowledge I probably overthought it. Maybe if I hadn’t already read about the putrid death breath of other characters (who don’t need to breathe because they’re dead, but anyway) it wouldn’t have bothered me so much, but the idea of death breath kisses didn’t exactly make me want to go, “Awww!” I can only hope that Tintype found some toothbrushes and toothpaste for these kissing corpses to use that I wasn’t aware of.

I adored the concept of this book and loved the initial world building but would have liked to learn more about Under and its residents. Had this book covered all of the details I craved it would have been close to twice the length though. The magic was interesting but could have been fleshed out (sorry!) more. I also found the mystery fairly predictable. The final few chapters wrapped up the story too quickly for my liking. Despite my need for more, most of my questions were answered and a sneaky tear did escape quite unexpectedly.

Content warnings include physical abuse and abandonment. Characters also discuss a death by suicide that occurred before the events in this book.

Overall this was an enjoyable read (one I can see myself rereading) and I am interested in reading more of this author’s books. I don’t usually wander into historical fiction territory but this book made me wonder what I’m missing out on. Thank you so much to NetGalley and Entangled Teen, an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC, for the opportunity to read this book.
Profile Image for JenacideByBibliophile.
208 reviews128 followers
April 17, 2019
Death, lost love, walking corpses, corsets, propriety, falling from graves, curious momentous and magic.


The spooky Historical Romance that your Gothic little heart was searching for.


Smoke and Key was just as beautiful, dark, sorrowful and mysterious as I’d hoped it would be.
Kelsey Sutton is Queen when it comes to ingenious and creatively mind-bending YA plots. She brings fantasy to life and completely astounds me with her imaginative ideas for books. Countdown clocks to death in Gardenia, a book of poetry about a girl living a life of imagination in The Lonely Ones, and a world where emotions take human form in the Some Quiet Place series?!


But my newest Kelsey Sutton obsession centers on Smoke and Key. It’s an eerie Gothic mystery dripping in fog and Tim Burton tendencies. The story takes place in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and moves between Key’s memories of her life and her time in Under. It is a time when young ladies are thrust into corsets and skirts, where propriety is everything, and when being caught with a member of the opposite sex in public, without a chaperone, is downright scandalous! It is a YA Crimson Peak (without the weirdness) and Corpse Bride mashup, stuffed with romance, murder and magic.


Under is neither heaven nor hell, it is a place in between, or so its inhabitants think. The place is downright creepy, and I was enamored with every moment of it. There is only dirt, cold and corpses in this depressing place and each person who walks its floor possesses the names of the objects they came with: Key, Smoke, Ribbon, Journal, Pocket Watch, Doll. The characters and the world of Under is like a funhouse for the dead. It’s filled with charismatic characters whose flesh and organs are literally decomposing before the readers eyes, and they’re tipping over the Looney Tunes side of the sanity spectrum.

Though there is no clear indication of what age characters like Key, Smoke and Journal are, I would have to guess that they are in their late teens or very early twenties. I found Key to be an absolute dream and am so grateful the author didn’t turn her into an immature wailing female. Key is the picture of poise and manners, even in death, and she comes off as an incredibly strong-willed lady of the dead. Match her up with the brooding, curious and dashingly Gothic Smoke, and we’ve got ourselves the match-up for every bleak black heart out there!


But obviously, the real addiction here is the thrilling ride the reader takes as they begin to uncover what Under is, and how these people got there. As Key’s memories begin to surface, she gets snippets and clues of her life when she was alive. A big house with a girl who calls her sister, a boy in a library, and American with an infectious grin and a knack for fighting. Each memory brings Key closer to learning about herself and how she died, but it also brings her closer to the dark side of her life.

This book brought out so many emotions in me while I was reading. Sadness, longing, excitement, disgust, curiosity. I LOVE the world this author created and the characters that fill its pages. It was so different from every YA Fantasy story currently out right now, and it is bound to be a favorite if you love a Gothic tale with magic. I devoured every page and am still hopelessly looking for more…*sigh*.

I'm going to be looking at cemeteries with longing in my eyes now.

Profile Image for Danielle's.
Author 1 book139 followers
February 9, 2019
Smoke and Key is an interesting mysterious read and I know my review isn’t going to do it justice. It’s set in a dystopian world and has a tainted edge. It’s dark and has a twist.

Imagine waking up in a place close to death. Everyone has lost their memory and your body feels undead. The name given to you links to the object given to you in your new skin. Key is new to the dystopian world but she’s also different. She is the start of the cracks. Everyone has a story but nobody can remember how it started. A key needs to find a door but this mystery is more than meets the eye. With the arrival of Key a chain of murders occur. Love is just a game if you don’t understand the players.

This story starts like a horror movie and I will admit I was scared walking down the dark path. It offers mystery, suspense, magic and romance. This isn’t your typical romance. It isn’t your typical murder mystery. It’s strange and enchanting. It’s addictive and ugly.

It’s hard for me to rate this book because it was executed perfectly but it left a strange taste. It’s the start of a series and offers something different. It’s not my typical read, and it’s not for everyone, but I couldn’t put it down therefore I’m rating 4 stars. It’s unique and twisted.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Alaina.
5,936 reviews216 followers
May 17, 2019
I have received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Smoke and Key was better than I expected it to be. It was like all of Tim Burton's movies were combined into this book (or that was the feeling I was getting - deal with it). This also sort of spoke to my own super dark soul because I just loved everything about it.

Enter a world, where dead people are kind of alive. Kind of like zombies.. but not really. They are alive in the form of their body that they died in - sounds kind of cool right? YES! While being alive again, they basically have zero memories of what happened before they die. So what do the good people of this dead world do? Well they create a new identity for themselves - mostly with the token they died with.

This is where we meet Key - cute and unique name so I give my girl mad props. I probably would've named myself shoe if I was wearing one. Well this Key is super mysterious because.. who the heck dies with a damn key necklace. While being alive and shit, she starts to make friends - one of them is named Smoke (hence the title guys).

Now before I end up deep diving into spoiler territory, I'm just going to cute this review mad short and say it was amazing from start to finish. Whenever I see this beautiful book at B&N, I will for sure buy it. Also, low-key wishing for another book because this can't end as a freaking stand-a-lone.
Profile Image for Dani ❤️ Perspective of a Writer.
1,512 reviews5 followers
April 18, 2019
Check out more reviews @ Perspective of a Writer...

The Buzz

I first read a Kelsey Sutton book when I first started as a book blogger. It was an intriguing premise, well executed and enjoyable. I loved the fusion nature of the story between slice of life, mystery, action and light romance. When I read my next Sutton book I really fell hard for the characters and was totally sucked into that mystery too. When I learned she had another standalone out I knew I HAD to read it... and now I considered this author a total standalone queen!

The Premise

A girl wakes to darkness. She fights the small space only to fall... Really I don't have much to say hear except it totally works! It's so good! It's captivating from the very beginning. In lieu of waxing on about my love I thought to share an excerpt of the moment I knew this was going to be a fabulous mystery, because this was a girl who has a strong sense of self.

"I'm someone," I say without thinking. It doesn't make any sense, because of course I am, but suddenly I need to prove it's true.

An odd sound escapes him, something that is more bark than laugh. The edges of it are sharp and mocking. "Oh, really? Then what's your name?" Now his head tilts slightly in my direction, though not completely.

Curious, in spite of the alarming strangeness all around me, I fiddle with my skirts and resist the temptation to move even closer. It's..." I begin, then trail off. This shouldn't be a difficult questions. Yet I don't remember. It's a sensation similar to fumbling in the dark, reaching for an item that should've been there, and finding empty air. How can I not know my own name? Everything has a name. I can tell him what the oceans and continents of the world are called, so why can't I recall that one word that defines the entirety of my being?

See?! It captures you, doesn't it?

My Experience

Going in I had a lot of faith in Kelsey Sutton's writing and storytelling ability. I find her prose to be supremely readable but also quite emotive. Both of her previous books had a wonderful atmosphere that are perfect for paranormal mysteries and it works well with Smoke and Key as well. This time though the actual setting is quite shocking and added a real creep factor to the entire story. It really felt like Sutton upped her already A+ game!

I was captured right away by the mystery. Sutton is quite good at laying out the facts for us in a way that makes us sympathize with Key even though we don't really know what type of person she is at first. Anyone would be a bit befuddled in this situation and go along with what others more in the know are telling them until they have enough facts to form their own opinions. The amnesia element sure added to the crazy circumstances that Key finds herself in.

We do know learn Key is a good soul... and I was intrigued to find that the more we got to know her the more realistic Key resolved to be. She isn't a goody two shoes who always follows the rules, in fact she frames up to be quite the rule breaker. I loved how these moments came to us directly from what was happening to Key in the present moment. Sure, in the end they are back flashes but ones that make total sense where they happen in the story.

The farther into the mystery I got the more intrigued I became. Sure we get a sense of who is probably involved... but the why and the how and the when all become equally as important to us as the picture of what happened starts to form up in our minds. This isn't one of those reads where you GASP and think what a twist! No, because Sutton had been building events in our mind from page one. And each page leads us closer and closer to the cusp moment that lead them all to Under.

I totally adored this mystery. I fell for Smoke the same way Key fell for him when they first met. I was distraught with Key about her friendship. Each connection to the other dead living in Under made the story more poignant. And that end... it wasn't one of those love fixes everything yet at the same time it kinda was too. This is a total trope buster... you think you will hate them... but Sutton totally turns them on their head!

Cover & Title grade -> A-

I just love this title! Smoke and Key is already a really atmospheric read with Kelsey's lovely prose and emotive writing style. And the title directly reflects that. You get a certain idea when you first hear the title. Then you learn what those words directly represent. And by the end you understand what smoke and key symbolizes in the mystery. It's so multi-layered and that's exactly how the story is too!

The cover is a rose... I'm not sure why at all, it has no bearing on the story... BUT I love the deep, majestic blue. It's so otherworldly and fits the feel of Kelsey Sutton's words. It also gives you a sense of being historical while not hitting you over the head with it... which is exactly how the setting is in the book as well. Just spot on.

Why will you be intrigued by Smoke and Key?

-The Mystery!
There is a conventional murder mystery threatening everyone... but on top of that is the crazy situation in Under and why no one knows who they are. Plus there is the mystery as to why Key seems to be different!

-The Friendship!
At the heart of Smoke and Key is a poignant friendship that is stretched to the limit due to mental health and abuse. It's so hard when you lose the one person in your life that loves you... that grief can do damage to your mind that makes you believe crazy things are okay.

-The Romance!
This romance starts really backwards... I thought that was quite neat as we get the connections first and learn how those developed later. It made it seem like there were some love triangles going on but in reality its really quite a straightforward love affair. It creates quite a fascinating romance!

-All the Characters!
Okay, I will admit I love it when there a a bunch of minor characters that are so well rounded I totally fall for them. I could have read another 100 pages to have gotten a little more about each of them but it really wasn't necessary. Doll, Tintype, Ribbon, Handkerchief, Pocket Watch, Freckles... they totally represented! Even the really minor, minor characters added so much to Under.

The Writing

Kelsey Sutton's writing strength is in the power of her premises. She didn't disappoint with Smoke and Key. A girl is dead... but awakens not knowing who or where she is. And the answers are few and far between. WHAT?! So creepy! You get an instant sense that this will be dark, thrilling and mysterious. And it is!

The job of the author with this kind of premise is controlling how much the reader knows and releasing the facts, at an even pace, in a fascinating manner that keeps you on the edge of your seat but maintains a level of care for the protagonist. It really is quite masterful how well Sutton is able to do this with a mere 304 pages!

Smoke and Key is a fascinating atmospheric read that peels away layers and layers of mystery as a girl tries to unwind the events that lead to her losing her memory and waking up in a dark and dirty end. We explore two girls whose friendship is shaken by mental health and abuse until their relationship snaps! It's poignant, beautiful and complex all the way til the end.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Authenticity
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Writing Style
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Plot & Pacing
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ World Building

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review. It has not influenced my opinions.

You can find this review and many others on my book blog @ Perspective of a Writer. See my special perspective at the bottom of my reviews under the typewriter...

Please like this review if you enjoyed it! *bow* *bow* It helps me out a ton!!
Profile Image for ʙᴇʟᴀ.: ☾**:.☆*.:。..
199 reviews98 followers
May 5, 2019
Smoke & Key was probably the most Tim Burton-ish book I've ever had the pleasure to read. (I listened to Corpse's Bride OST while reading this and geez, it really set up the mood!). It starts with a dead girl waking up in her grave and falling into 'Under', a world where some Dead people live but not in ghost form but in body, exactly as they died, some even already decomposing (Basically, think of Burton's Corpse Bride). No one had memories of their former lives so they name themselves with possessions they had with them when they fell. Our heroine names herself Key because she has a necklace with a mysterious key. Key makes friends with some other residents: Journal, Doll, Tintype, Ribbon and the very alluring Smoke. Some short time after Key's arrival, some residents start to be murdered (yap the dead die for real) and those murders are somehow connected to Key.
I really enjoyed the first half of the book: it was mysterious and very atmospheric. The author wrote it beautifully and It kept me at the edge of my seat trying to figure out the mystery: who is the murderer? Why everyone lost their memories? Why is Key the "key" of the mystery?
The first half was a breath of fresh air. I adored it, I adored the macabre feel, the historic touch of the Victorian Era, the uniqueness of Under. The second half was significantly weaker and if I have any complaint is that I saw the twist coming very early. In my opinion, I would have liked to see a less predictable twist. Nevertheless, I still really enjoyed it very much. About the expected romance, It was a bit weird to see two dead people romancing each other but once we get an explanation of their connection, everything makes sense (oh and the insta-love could have been avoided).
I really liked most of the supporting characters, they added a lot to the eerie feel. (And Journal was a precious cinnamon roll, I loved his interactions with Key so much more than Smoke's.).
So yes, I do recommend this little gem to fans of Tim Burton, Crimson Peak, and Gothic romance!

TW: Death, Disturbing Witchcraft and a sex scene.
Profile Image for Kelsey Sutton.
Author 5 books506 followers
April 15, 2019
Update on September 12th, 2018:

The truly incredible Salome Totladze sent me the completed character portrait I commissioned from her. I can't stop staring at it. She got Smoke and Key so right.

Smoke and Key
Profile Image for Sarah (thegirltheycalljones).
403 reviews284 followers
August 13, 2019
Err... I don't know, mate. I picked it up completely oblivious it was mainly romance. For my defense it was one in the morning and I didn't have my glasses on.

The main idea is great, imo, and this book would have benefited from being less romance and more mystery. Now, don't get me wrong as there is quite a lot of mystery around but even the mysteries are romance-related, so...
Overall, I had the feeling of something that could have been. Something - if explored deeper, taking its time to create the world and the characters more thoroughly - that would have been kinda huge.
I mean, a girl waking up in a grave, and falling down that grave - literally, the coffin opening up from under! - in a desolate underworld, where others are there too. Wandering, a bit lost, not remembering who they were, trying to recreate a semblance of life. Calling themselves by the unique object they were burried with.
How creepily mysterious?? The possibilities! I'm dying with all the possibilities here!

This book was by no means bad, but it felt incomplete. Plus, the "bad guy" was so obvious that I wanted to scream.
But I have a fondness for this little book, even if it was, in the end, not to my liking, mainly because many things felt rushed and not explored enough.
So 2,5 stars, as I don't really know how to rate it.
Profile Image for Erin Arkin.
1,640 reviews358 followers
March 21, 2019
I was intrigued when I read the summary of Smoke and Key by Kelsey Sutton and that seems to be the trend with her books. I find that her stories have an interesting twist that grabs my attention and so far, I haven’t been disappointed.

The story begins with an unknown character falling and finding herself in a place where she has no recollection of who she is, why she is dead (yes…dead), and what the key around her neck means. Everyone who has fallen to Under has one identifier and as the main character has a key, that is what she is called by everyone. I loved how Sutton built this world and slowly revealed the story and characters. Its focus is on Key and how she is linked to all the characters in Under but there is also a bit of a mystery because once Key does show up, others in Under are showing up dead and no one can figure out who is doing the killing.

Key was an interesting character. She knew something weird was going on and as she kept having flashbacks of the characters in Under, she started to uncover what was really going on. I loved that even though it meant she was in danger, she wasn’t willing to stop digging into what was going on. She needed to figure things out to determine who she could trust, and, in the end, she was resigned to face whatever danger she needed to in order to figure out who was killing the others.

Smoke is someone Key meets when she finds herself in Under. He saves her from another character and she’s immediately drawn to him even though she doesn’t really know if she can trust him. Smoke has an air of mystery to him and it was hard, at first, to know what his story was but as Key’s flashbacks move the story forward and his background unfolds, it was hard not to like him.

The secondary characters are interesting as well and help to move the story along. As I alluded to, a number of them link to Key from her life when she was alive and although I won’t say anything specific here, it is important to note that through each of them, Key starts to tie everything together. I really appreciate that as the reader, I was learning everything right along with Key and it made it so that I didn’t want to put the book down.

If you are looking for a book that will introduce you to a unique story and interesting characters, consider checking this one out when you can. I have enjoyed the books I’ve read by Sutton so far and will definitely be looking forward to her next one.

Thank you to the publisher for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Sophia (Bookwyrming Thoughts).
652 reviews231 followers
March 25, 2021
Reread in final audiobook version in 2021 (review for eARC below)

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Kelsey Sutton sucked me right into Smoke and Key.
I thought Smoke and Key would be a fascinating murder mystery set underground with the dead. But as I got in the story, I discovered I was so so wrong. From early in the novel, Sutton sucks me into the world of Under. Key wakes up dead with no memories other than a key around her neck. Others who live in Under are the same as well, and like Key each of them has an item they came with they identify themselves with.

Mysterious and creepy.
Smoke and Key is everything I thought a world of dead people would be - mysterious and creepy. When Key awakens in Under, she has a feeling everyone around her is in the world for a reason - she just can't remember why. As she sets out to discover who she is, some of the residents are murdered brutally with no return. Key hopes that as she discovers the reason why everyone is there, she'll solve the cause as well before she is murdered.

Sutton creates an atmospheric world while building a mystery that kept me turning the pages. There were moments where I thought I would know how the story will play out in the end, but I would turn out to be entirely wrong. Sutton continues to do this until near the end when everything circles together.

A little romance underneath.
Sutton includes a good amount of romance in her latest novel developing throughout that I enjoyed. Despite the romance being a trope I normally have a dislike for, Sutton turns the tables and handles it nicely. There is also a good balance between the romance and everything else in the story, so it doesn't overshadow the plot despite ultimately being a love story.

Superb character development.
I adored all of the characters who made up the world of Under. Each of them has individual contributions to the society that is developed. What's neat about Smoke and Key is the story is in two timelines that come together in the end. One timeline is in the present in Under while the other as Key discovers her past that led them all to this world. Having the two timelines allows readers to see how the relationships have developed.

Smoke and Key is a beautifully written novel with magic and romance built with mysterious and creepy vibes.

This review was originally posted on Bookwyrming Thoughts
Profile Image for Lili  Marcus.
714 reviews404 followers
June 6, 2019
The story opens with a dead girl who fell down from her grave into a world called Under. She has no recollection of her past or why she fell down. She didn’t even know that she’s dead. The only thing that connects her with her past is a key in a chain around her neck, so eventually she was named Key. As everyone else in Under, she’s named after the only possession she has with her. In Under, she met Smoke, Doll, Journal, Ribbon, Tintype and others. All of them had bodies that looked like they already started decaying. Key, though, is different. Her body is intact. Then she started remembering things. And then the murders start; bodies that are burnt to a crisp. After being burned, the dead stay dead. Key is running out of time to discover who she was—and what secret someone is willing to kill to keep hidden—before she becomes the next victim…

The beginning of the novel really pulled me in, it started right where the interesting part of the story begins. It was so intriguing and atmospheric. First, because Key and the others are being too mysterious, mainly because they can’t remember a thing about their lives before they died. Like, who are they? I was immensely curious. And they kept me interested in them till the last page. I also think their character ARCs are well done and even though there are sad parts about the characters’ lives, I was content as to how everything ended for everyone. Especially Key. The reveal of her past and her relationship with Smoke. It was really interesting and intriguing.

And there’s Under. I find Under as one of the most interesting fictional world I’ve ever read. It’s so eerie and so secretive. Like something would pop out in its walls any moment.

As for the overall plot, it’s worth reading. I love the idea of dead people being murdered and a setting that’s a pure mystery. My only issue on this book is at some point, the pacing turns too slow. I put down my tablet (it’s where I read since I haven’t bought a new Kindle yet after I lost my old one) twice before I finished the whole novel. There are also parts, that for me, are just fillers and the novel can do without. Same with the Romance. It was fine it’s part of the story, but even if it’s not, it would be fine.

Overall, this is an amazing read. It’s actually a little refreshing. I know this won’t be the last book I’ll read from this author. Kelsey Sutton’s writing is almost lyrical and really atmospheric. I just love her devices and overall writing style.

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Raven_Blake (dreamy addictions).
751 reviews225 followers
April 7, 2019
Actual Rating: 3.5 stars!
Same Review Also Posted On My Blog: Dreamy Addictions

*eARC received from the publisher Via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

Smoke And Key is a stand-alone novel written by Kelsey Sutton. It was a very unique read set in historical time period. The concept of the book was very dark and intriguing. I loved the mystery aspect in this book, but as for the romance part I’ve mixed feelings about it. Other than that, this was an engaging read and I really enjoyed it. It was actually my first book by the author and it definitely won’t be my last.

The story begins with a girl falling from her grave to under where she meets other people who’re also fallen under just like her. As soon as she falls, she meets a broody guy named Smoke who tells her that she has died and she had to spend the rest of her afterlife in under. She doesn’t remember anything about herself not even her name. She calls herself Key because it’s the only thing that was found on her. Key isn’t ready to give up and tries to search for answers. Soon she makes new friends and gets acquainted with Under but suddenly she starts to regain memories which never happened to the other people in Under. When a series of murders takes place, she wants to know the true purpose of their existence in Under and her memories might be the only key to the answers.

Key is a pretty likable protagonist. She’s a brave and stubborn girl. I enjoyed her character but I wouldn’t say she was my favorite either. Smoke on the other hand is your typical broody guy with dark charms. His character was both mysterious and dark. From the start, I really wanted to know his backstory. The romance between Smoke and Key was pretty much insta-lovey which isn’t my favorite trope but In the second half, I grew to love them because we finally get the answers about their instant connection. I’m not going to say anything more because it’s a spoiler. And also there’s a light triangle in this book which I know many people aren’t fond of. As for the supporting characters, I liked Journal, doll, and maybe Ribbon too. There’re still some other characters but I didn’t paid much attention to them.

The plot was a perfect mix of mystery and a light romance. I found the story dragged in some places but overall the pacing was okay. I loved the mystery and the fantasy aspect in this book. As the story progressed, the secrets unfolded with each memory . The backstory was pretty interesting and I liked how everything was connected but sadly I predicted the villain from the start. The author’s writing style was easy to follow. The whole book was written in Key’s POV which was shifted between the past and the present. The shifting might confuse some readers but I didn’t had any issue with it. I think I enjoyed the backstory more than the present one. The setting was pretty good. I liked the dark and creepy atmosphere the author had set in the story. Before getting into this book, I really didn’t know it was a historical fantasy.

Overall, it was a good read with decent plot, unique concept, and interesting characters. Despite the issues, I enjoyed the story and the refreshing concept which was weirdly interesting and compelling. I would definitely check out this author’s other works.

Recommend it?

If you’re looking for a good YA historical fantasy read with mystery aspect then definitely give it a shot.
Profile Image for Michelle .
1,990 reviews222 followers
April 10, 2019
**You can see this full review and more at Book Briefs: https://bookbriefs.net**
Smoke and Key is a young adult paranormal by author Kelsey Sutton. First off, I have to just point out how crazy beautiful the cover is. I was immediately drawn in because of it, but then the mysterious summary really hooked me. I had to know what Smoke and Key was all about. And talk about starting the book off with a bang. The first chapter was completely creepy and spooky and set the stage for a haunting and mysterious story that I simply could not put down. Smoke and Key was fascinating and something wholly different than I was expecting. If you are a fan of gothic style mysteries, I think you will absolutely love this novel. In Smoke and Key we start out with Key finding her way into the Under. The Under is a world where some  individuals find themselves after death. It is named the under because it is literally the ground underneath their graves, and the only way to enter it is to fall into by bottoming out your grave. Totally creepy, right? No one in the under has any memories of their life on earth. Our story starts out with our main character waking up in her grave and falling into the Under. She can't remember her name, but she quickly learns that no one can. Each of her new inhabitants picks their own name from whatever belongings they had with them when they fell out of their graves. Key enters the under with a Key hanging around her neck. Key is determined to get her memories back. I really loved Key right from the start. She was an immediately engaging character for me, and actually so was Smoke. I loved the world of the Under that Kelsey Sutton created. I loved all of the curious characters, and I loved meeting them through Key's eyes and deciding together who we could trust and who we couldn't. Take this fascinating world and couple it with a really creepy mystery, and you have a paranormal read that felt totally fresh and unique to me, which is no easy feat. The mystery was excellent as well. Murders in the under! Who would kill so many people that are already dead? And why? Smoke and Key's twisty plot is sure to keep you turning pages in anticipation for the entire novel. I really applaud Kelsey Sutton on what she has created in Smoke and Key. It is a fascinating world with intriguing characters and a mystery plot that kept me guessing and engaged until the very end. This is a book that I would easily recommend to anyone looking for a creepy paranormal mystery. 

This review was originally posted on Book Briefs
Profile Image for Stay Fetters.
2,016 reviews116 followers
August 23, 2020
"You’re dead, darlin’. This isn’t hell, but it’s the next best thing."

It’s no secret that I’m intrigued by all things dark and morbid. (I know! Shocking!) The afterlife is something that I sit and ponder about from time to time. No one really knows what happens when we die but I like to think we get reunited with loved ones. Kelsey gives us another look at what may happen to certain people in the afterlife and it’s wild.

A girl wakes up disoriented and in the dark. She fell through a hole in the ground and now she’s confused. She doesn’t know her name, doesn’t know where she is, and sure as hell doesn’t know why she’s dead. But she’s determined to figure everything out.

The people in Under are all dead and have no recollection of what their names are or who they were before. How they get their names is by what they have on them when they fell through their grave. She has a key around her neck and she’s now known as Key.

She slowly starts to make friends and tries to figure everything out. Then murders start happening. Time is running thin for Key to piece everything together before it’s too late. Key may lose her life forever if she doesn’t act fast enough.

This was a very interesting book and quite unique. It had a slow pace at times but I kept on reading because the mystery had me hooked. Key trying to piece her life before Under was probably my favorite part of this book. You won’t believe what happens in her life before, I’m still shocked by it.

Smoke and Key was a great book. It was one of those books that made me think about the darker things in life and if I’m living my life to the fullest. It’s definitely one of those books that I’ll reread. This dark and creepy read is the perfect book for the Halloween season.
Profile Image for Dawne.
Author 2 books3 followers
May 31, 2021
First read: February 2019

I received a copy of Smoke and Key from NetGalley, Riki Cleveland, Entangled Publishing and the author Kelsey Sutton in exchange for an honest review.


A sound awakens her. There’s darkness all around.
And then she’s falling...

She has no idea who or where she is. Or why she’s dead. The only clue to her identity hangs around her neck: a single rusted key. This is how she and the others receive their names- from whatever belongings they had when they fell out of their graves. Under is a place of dirt and secrets, and Key is determined to discover the truth of her past in order to escape it.

She needs help, but who can she trust? Ribbon seems content in Under, uninterested in finding answers. Doll’s silence hints at deep sorrow, which could be why she doesn’t utter a word. There’s Smoke, the boy with a fierceness that rivals even the living. And Journal, who stays apart from everyone else. Key’s instincts tell her there is something remarkable about each of them, even if she can’t remember why.

Then the murders start; bodies that are burnt to a crisp. After being burned, the dead stay dead. Key is running out of time to discover who she was- and what secret someone is willing to kill to keep hidden- before she becomes the next victim.

Key fell down into Under without any recollection of her identity or memories of her life before her death. Throughout the whole book she has short memories that come back to her about her previous life.

“How can I not know my own name? Everything has a name. I can tell him what the oceans and continents of the world are called, so why can’t I recall that one word that defines the entirety of my being.”

I found the concept of Under to be quite extraordinary to be honest. All of Kelsey’s books have interesting worlds and let me just say that Under really grabbed my attention. One of my favourites.

“Now I believe it. I can feel the boy looking at me as he answers. “Well, we call it Under.” At this, I frown. “Why-“ “Look up.”
Instead of sky, there’s a ceiling, of sorts. More dirt and what appears to be tree roots. Scattered among these roots are splotches of shadow, though it’s too far away to tell their purpose or origin. “What are those?” “Those are the holes each of us fell through. Out graves are right over them.”

As Key starts to remember things about her previous life she must also find the one killing off the others. She must unlock secrets, both from this world and the living.

“Smoke smiles, a ghost of what s smile should be. “Nice to meet you, Key. Welcome to Under.”

This book was phenomenal. It grabbed my attention from page one. And towards the end had be on the edge of my seat guessing about who each character was and where they were tied in with the story. Amazing!

“Just remember. You can kill what’s already dead.”

5/5 Stars!

Review in May 2021:

Smoke and Key by Kelsey Sutton review

My book group read Smoke and Key by Kelsey Sutton for our Fantasy book for May. Here is my review!


A sound awakens her. There's darkness all around. And then she's falling...

She has no idea who or where she is. Or why she's dead. The only clue to her identity hangs around her neck: a single rusted key. This is how she and the others receive their names—from whatever belongings they had when they fell out of their graves. Under is a place of dirt and secrets, and Key is determined to discover the truth of her past in order to escape it.

She needs help, but who can she trust? Ribbon seems content in Under, uninterested in finding answers. Doll’s silence hints at deep sorrow, which could be why she doesn't utter a word. There's Smoke, the boy with a fierceness that rivals even the living. And Journal, who stays apart from everyone else. Key's instincts tell her there is something remarkable about each of them, even if she can't remember why.

Then the murders start. Bodies that are burned to a crisp. And after being burned, the dead stay dead. Key is running out of time to discover who she was—and what secret someone is willing to kill to keep hidden—before she loses her life for good…

“Nice to meet you, Key. Welcome to Under.”

Key is dead. Awakening in Under, freshly dropped from her grave and thrown into an underground world full of the dead.

“I don’t feel anything,” I say, reluctant to admit it; he seems so earnest.
Journal doesn’t look surprised or disappointed. “No,” he replies. “But it’s a heart just the same. Even if it does not pump blood. This heart experiences longing and hope and despair as much as a beating one. Therefore, wouldn’t you consider its permanent end an unjust event?”

There is a nurseries afoot once Key has fallen. It’s up to her to find out who it is. As the story goes on, Key starts to recall memories and events from her past life. Memories of herself, and of the other residents whom inhabit Under. Including the dashing American, Smoke, who seems to play a part in her past life. Together can she find the killer before it’s too late?

‘I am Key. This is Under. We are dead.’

5/5 Stars!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Kira Simion.
819 reviews126 followers
December 1, 2019
Was it unique? No. But was it enjoyable? Yes.
Did the romance have to have a triangle? No, definitely rooted for the two without that extra tidbit and it just made me sad when the other guy was left out because who wants to be on that side at the end of that?
Will I remember it? Vaguely. I enjoyed the murder mystery because it had more than just running around finding a killer. They were also trying to find themselves and, though not as deep as I thought (but is fantasy like this supposed to be?), I found that the story and characters took some of the stress away from my daily life and for that I am thankful as they had to deal with their own.

Not gonna lie, I'm a bit excited. Ever since Some Quiet Place, I found myself hooked on her writing. She brought emotions to life (literally and figuratively ha) that I never thought would see the light of day again.

Her ideas while unique aren't the only thing she uses to sell it. It's the way she writes them and honestly, I'm hooked. Please please please hurry and write more! (But also don't rush because I've read books that could have been something stunning if they just had a little more time to grow and change).

Don't destroy the plants digging through dirt to find a diamond.
Profile Image for Nicole M. Hewitt.
1,389 reviews284 followers
April 12, 2019
This review and many more can be found on my blog: Feed Your Fiction Addiction. Also on the blog is a list of Kelsey Sutton's Top Ten Addictions!

One woman’s choices in life follow her into the afterlife … and she can’t escape the consequences without unraveling the truth of her past.

What Fed My Addiction:

Creepy and atmospheric.
The book takes place Under, which is a creepy afterlife that’s literally under the graveyard. All of the characters show signs of their deaths–often quite gruesome–and the world is made of dirt and devoid of light (aside from light from torches). Sutton does a fantastic job of establishing a memorable setting.

Lots of mysteries.
Key wakes up in Under with no memory of her life or her death, but it soon becomes apparent that her life held numerous secrets and betrayals. When people in Under start dying (again), Key has reason to believe that it’s somehow because of her. Her memory starts to come back to her in pieces, and we discover the whole sordid history along with her as the book progresses.

Real life vs. Under.
One of my favorite things in this book was seeing Key interact with the characters in Under and then finding out how they related to each other in their “real” lives. Some of the feelings and relationships from Key’s original life bled into her afterlife, and it was really intriguing to see that unfold.

What Left Me Hungry for More:

Slightly slow start.
The beginning of the book is really all about setting up the atmosphere, and it took until about a third of the way through before we got a big revelation that truly hooked me into the story. It also did take me a while to become invested in the romance, but by the end I found myself rooting for them.

Some twists were predictable.
I figured out who the villain in the story was almost immediately, but the why and the how of it all kept me interested (and I definitely had some doubts along the way).

If you’re a fan of creepy ghost stories with a touch of magical flair and a dash of revenge, this is the book for you!

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher and FFBC Tours in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
Profile Image for Carrie (brightbeautifulthings).
811 reviews29 followers
March 6, 2019
Flash Book Review: A dark, atmospheric afterlife story with a dash of romance. Exactly my kind of weird.


I received a free e-ARC through NetGalley from the publishers at Entangled Publishing, LLC. Trigger warnings: death, body horror, eye horror, violence, blood.

When Key falls into Under, a world of dirt and forgotten objects, she has no memory of who she is or why she’s dead. All she has is the scar on her back and a key around her neck. All the residents of Under are named for the objects they brought with them: Ribbon, the kind girl who tries to make Under feel like home, Doll, the spooky child who never speaks, Smoke, the mysterious but protective boy with a scar across his neck, Journal, the reclusive bookworm, and enough others to fill the strange town. Key is desperate to remember who she was, but when bodies turn up burned almost beyond recognition, she realizes that even the dead can be killed and some secrets are meant to stay buried.

This book is exactly my kind of weird, with a side of gruesome. Sutton’s world of Under calls up images of Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (2005) without the slapstick humor or the singing. It’s dark, grim, and imaginative, and it’s a case of a fascinating premise given the execution it deserves (pun totally intended). Undead mysteries can keep my mind spinning for days, and the plot of Smoke & Key is interesting without ever being too over the top. Occasionally, the pace lags when Key is more wrapped up in her returning memories than what’s happening in Under, but there were also times those captured more of my attention too. Sutton’s old-world England is almost as interesting as Under. I guessed the overall villain but not some of the minor twists; I wasn’t expecting a dose of witchcraft with my undead, but it works well.

The main cast is spooky and well-drawn. It’s easy for a book with undead characters to drag readers down in the misery of being dead, but these feel very much alive. I admired Key’s bravery and her willingness to bend the conventions of her time, Ribbon’s sweetness and level head, Doll’s spookiness, and Journal’s obsession with books. There’s a heavy dose of romance to balance out the horror, but Smoke is a mysterious and somewhat dashing love interest. I enjoyed their interactions perhaps most of all, which is unusual for me.

There’s a love triangle element, but it’s nowhere near the worst I’ve read. In fact, it forces some pretty interesting character development on either side. There’s some angst while Key wallows in her guilt about not returning someone’s feelings that started to wear on me; I’ve rarely seen a male character that feels bad about this, but it seems to be the default for females. However, Sutton ultimately takes it to a healthy place, which is nice to see in fiction. If you’re looking for a mix of horror and romance or simply something that’s off the beaten path, I highly recommend it.

I review regularly at brightbeautifulthings.tumblr.com.
Profile Image for  Vanessa  B. ♡.
188 reviews119 followers
March 29, 2019
Smoke and Key is one of the books that I am not quite sure how to rate. I settled for 3 stars.

The book begins with a girl falling from her grave to what is called Under. There she meets other people that experienced the same thing and she discovers that no one remembers anything from their previous lives, not even their names. A boy informs her that she should pick a name and that the rest of them has chosen theirs from an object they found on them. He is Smoke she is Key. As the story unfolds Key starts to remember her past and who everyone was before they died. At the same time people are being murdered and Key is trying to discover why they are in this situation.

The story was dark and the atmosphere felt weird and almost like a Tim Barton movie. I was confused in the beginning because I could understand what was going on exactly, but It was a unique story with interesting characters. There were a constant switch between Key's new reality and past life and sometimes I couldn't understand immediately when the switch happened.. What it was supposed to be a plot twist wasn't really one, at least to me. I was certain who the murder was from the beginning, but it was interesting to see the reasons behind it. I also had an issue with the world building and the magic, because I wasn't even sure when the story takes place up until the middle of the book, and the mention of magic and a curse was very sudden.

I would characterised this nook as a story of star crossed lovers with a dark and eerie atmosphere. All in all I found Smoke and Key a unique story and a good and quick read.

I received an arc via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Kirsti.
2,456 reviews83 followers
April 10, 2019
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the chance to read this book!

This is one of those books you just wish you had time to read sooner. Unfortunately we will never read every book we want to, but I'm so glad I found the time to get into this one, because I adored it. It had like a Coraline vibe to it; our main character wakes in a grave, only to fall through the earth into a dingy kind of hell below. Named only by the objects they possess, Key must work out why she's the only one with memories and what her connection is with the people around her.

The darkness and the unknown were really good for this book; you never knew what motivated people or why things happened the way they did until the end. I had my suspicions, but they remained that until everything cleared. Not having an obvious end was really refreshing- and so was the romance! I don't want to give away any spoilers on that account, but it was a good match and I enjoyed their moments together ;)

A really good and different YA. Five stars.
Profile Image for Kristen.
436 reviews547 followers
July 29, 2019
Ahh I really loved this book! Has a Tim Burton feel to it! I was instantly captivated and had to know what would happen next. Very quick read and lots of fun!
Profile Image for Isabelle | Nine Tale Vixen.
2,031 reviews113 followers
April 6, 2019
I received a review copy through YA Bound Book Tours. This does not affect my rating or opinions. You can find my blog tour post here.

“You’re dead, darlin’. This isn’t hell, but it’s the next best thing.”

The premise and setting of this book are so unique, and it really comes through; Under is super creepy, with kind of a Tim Burton-esque cast, and I personally didn’t find the descriptions too graphic (YMMV). For me this was definitely the biggest draw, and I’m also intrigued by the idea of distilling one’s name and identity into a single physical object — that might not even be what you actually valued most, because (being dead and all) you don’t get to choose what you’re buried with.

There are sounds echoing through the giant cavern. A laugh, a hiss, a whisper. A reminder there are monsters here.

As you might expect from a plot surrounding murder and (un)death, there are some dark themes, including blood magic, betrayal, and abuse, and for the most part they were complex if not quite as nuanced as I would have liked to see. (Proceed with caution if this is something that bothers you, though I’ll note again that I didn’t find it to be excessively graphic.) Plenty of action in the present timeline, mixed with flashbacks from Key’s life and memories with her new friends, keeps the narrative moving forward, though there are quite a number of tropes at play so I didn’t find myself quite as intrigued as I’d hoped.

I really appreciated seeing all the different types of relationships — romantic, platonic (friends), familial — and how they affected the characters and their actions. Despite my general cynicism towards heterosexual YA couples, there was one flashback in particular that made me stop and smile and kind of just pause to bask in the wholesomeness of a courtship built on respect, a shared sense of humor, and adventurousness.

He’s strong, adventurous, funny. A bit mysterious, perhaps, but we’ve only known each other a few weeks. He challenges me. His conversation is thought-provoking. He makes it seem possible to achieve more than what’s expected of us in this life.

And he occupies my every waking thought, along with every midnight dream, in a way no one ever has before.

That said, I was not a fan of the love triangle or the emphasis on platonic love being “not enough” just because the other party fell in love. (Can we do away with this male entitlement going forward, pretty please?) And there were some points where I felt that romantic drama subsumed the rest of the plot, up to and including Key’s journey of self (re)discovery (which is what interested me most, though the murder mystery was of course a close second).

But overall, this was a vivid and memorable read, and I would recommend it to YA readers who are looking for something that’s a little different without being revolutionary.

Quotes are taken from an Advance Review Copy and may change upon publication.

content warnings:
Profile Image for Lindy.
795 reviews201 followers
April 5, 2019
My Thoughts:

Smoke And Key was a unique story. It begins with "Key," hearing a voice urging her frantically to "Please wake up." She finds herself lying down in darkness, and starts to panic when she realizes she is trapped inside of a casket. As she tries to break out by hitting, kicking, and screaming, she finds herself falling to down below. She soon learns that she is in a place where nobody has memories of their names, or their pasts; including herself. Instead, everyone refers to themselves by an item that they had on them when they woke up in "Under." She had a key around her neck, therefore "Key" becomes her new name.

Nobody really knows what under is, other than a place where each of it's inhabitants fell from their caskets to down below or under. This place is made of dirt, with no sky, homes or civilization as we know it. The inhabitants have made the best of this place. Friendships have been made, individuals have their roles to play, and there are those that are nice and welcoming, as well as those with malicious intent. Some inhabitants in under are well-preserved, while others are grotesque looking.

In Under, Key meets Ribbon, Spoon, Doll, Journal, Handkerchief, Tintype, and many others. However, no one catches Key's eye the way that Smoke does. He instantly becomes her protector, and these two share a connection. Shortly after arriving in "Under" "Key" begins to have memories of her past return to her. Simultaneously, murders are taking place in Under, and the bodies are being burned. Key is desperate to uncover her past, and the closer she gets, the closer she comes to becoming the next victim.

Smoke And Key was an intriguing mystery. I rapidly read the story, and was riveted with each new memory that Key unlocked. There was danger, magic, romance, deceit, a curse, and love interwoven throughout the plot of Smoke And Key. While the beginning of the story had a slower start, and had me confused at times, the second half of the story had me devouring pages and excited to unravel the mystery of Key and Smoke's past, as well as all of the other inhabitants down in Under. If you enjoy a story heavy on mystery, light on romance, and a mixture of paranormal and historical fiction; Smoke and Key will be a delight for your senses!

3.5 Stars!
Profile Image for ☾❥.
94 reviews19 followers
May 29, 2019
Thanks to Dani@perspectiveofawriter I was introduced to the amazing author Kelsey Sutton and all of her amazing work. I plan on buying all of her books sometime this year because wow.

The whole story itself is so special and well written and ugh, I don’t even know how to properly articulate my feelings. The words on the pages are a lyrical masterpiece, so imaginative. Sutton has a way with words that just sucks you right into a story. I am, however, am not feeling the insta connection between Key and Smoke. It’s a little, eye roll but the intensity of everything that is going on keeps me glued to the pages. The mysterious start of the story easily drags me in because I already have so many unanswered questions and a thumping heart.

Key is thrown in a world she knows nothing about. The place she falls in is neither hell nor heaven or even earth, and on top of that she has no idea who she is or who the people she meets are, it is a wonderland of no sleep or memories. She tries to fit into the somewhat “normal” life the resident of the place have created, but its hard to be normal when people start dying and know one knows why.

What makes this story unique is that it incorporates so many aspects. There is a little bit of everything for everyone. Romance, fantasy, horror, historical and magic, and they all come together so well without any sort of distractions or breaks. Fair warning though, the story does contain some things that made my heart quiver with uneasiness and horror because my mind started reeling
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