Justine's Reviews > Below

Below by Alexandria Warwick
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See this review and others at Whispers & Wonder

The night is long, but the sun will soon greet you.

Below by Alexandria Warwick is an intense and incredibly unique tale of love and sacrifice filled to the brim with perilous danger and broken promises. It’s an account of respecting the past and your culture, yet willing to go against the grain of everything you know and believe in order to attain what is believed to be unattainable. It’s pages preach about learning to appreciate your own strengths and capabilities, and cracking through the ice to develop the will to pave your own path in life. It’s tragically heart-wrenching and mournful, but also unquestionably beautiful.

Of the many praiseworthy aspects of this book, its setting and worldbuilding are the most notable. We’re transported to a cold and unrelenting North, where life is as harsh and perilous as the most violent of mid-winter blizzards. Its people are wary of spirits and demons, inspired by Inuit mythology, stalking the snow-laden lands, and a horrific encounter with the one known as the Face Stealer is what allows us to tread into the land beyond. We traverse a labyrinth of ice and deadly puzzles, with portals leading to winding corridors, rooms filled with frozen seas, forgotten dungeons, and ruins lorded over by angry, hungry spirits. There’s an air of mystery that lingers throughout the story’s entirety, and learning the secrets along the way is a satisfying experience.

Below is essentially an account of the unbreakable love of family; a girl willing to travel into the unknown for the well-being of her kin, regardless of the dangers she’s sure to face. Warwick’s ability to convey raw emotion is outstanding, continuously barraging us with sheer brutality, only to highlight the resulting feelings of fear, panic, rage, and hopelessness. The trials Apaay faces are utterly heartbreaking, meant to tear her apart until there’s absolutely nothing left of her. However, that profound driving force of love only bolsters her resolve, forcing her to forge ahead through the pain and heartache. It’s somber, but exquisite.
A lonely, wandering heart.

We encounter an interesting cast of characters along our journey, beginning with and focusing on its heroine Apaay. Her path is not an easy one, as she’s stripped of all she knows by malevolent spirits, but as her willpower is tested, she always proves to be stronger than anyone could’ve anticipated. Her encounters with broken human prisoners and ageless beings of ice and shadow allow her to not only slowly approach her goal, but find her true self, as well. I won’t go into much else here, as I feel you must meet these characters on your own in order to fully appreciate what they have to offer.

The writing itself is simply stunning. Poetic and vivid prose graces the pages, each sentence an intricate brushstroke, making this a truly beautiful read that sent chills down my spine countless times. Its singsong style made it easy to associate with a targeted cultural backbone, allowing a certain level of immersion so rarely seen. Unfortunately, the book isn’t without its blemishes. Inconsistent pacing, its repetitive nature, and lack of closure are its largest pitfalls, severely hurting what has the potential to be a perfect dark fantasy tale. We get a glimpse of the grand picture, but it lacks the depth I was hoping for.

Below is a highly original tale defined by its secrets, twists and turns, and moments of harrowing cruelty. This was a highly anticipated read for me, and for the most part it delivered on its promises. Presented with a fantastical world that feels as if it could exist, and jumping from one instance of misfortune to another kept the pages turning at a rapid pace for me. I’ve been left with a lot of questions, and I’m hoping that book two holds some of the answers. If you’re looking for a dark YA fantasy of strength and love, set in an unconventional setting, then I suggest you give this one a try.

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Rating: 3.5★, but I'll round up for this one!

Note: A huge thank you to the author and Wolf Publishing for providing me with a complementary copy in exchange for an honest review, and to the Fantastic Flying Book Club for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.
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Reading Progress

November 13, 2019 – Shelved
January 22, 2020 – Started Reading
January 28, 2020 – Finished Reading

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