ARC review: Below by Alexandria Warwick

Expected publication: February 4th 2020 by Wolf Publishing


From the author of The Demon Race comes a dark YA fantasy series inspired by Inuit mythology.

In the heart of the frigid North, there lives a demon known as the Face Stealer. Eyes, nose, mouth—nothing and no one is safe. Once he returns to his lair, or wherever it is he dwells, no one ever sees those faces again.

When tragedy strikes, Apaay embarks on a perilous journey to find her sister’s face—yet becomes trapped in a labyrinth ruled by a sinister girl named Yuki. The girl offers Apaay a deal: find her sister’s face hidden within the labyrinth, and she will be set free. But the labyrinth, and those who inhabit it, is not as it seems. Especially Numiak: darkly beautiful, powerful, whose motives are not yet clear.

With time slipping, Apaay is determined to escape the deadly labyrinth with her sister’s face in hand. But in Yuki’s harsh world, Apaay will need all her strength to survive.

Yuki only plays the games she wins.

My rating:

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 suited 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*

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