ARC Review – Below by Alexandria Warwick

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.

Apaay is not the strongest of her people, not the best hunter or the best tracker but what she is is resilient, headstrong and determined. All she wants in life is to lead her people in their yearly hunt, but after coming back from a failed attempt at catching a seal her world is turned upside down. The face stealing demon has come to her village and stolen the face of Aska her beloved sister. Knowing that Aska’s fate is sealed without her face, a life without sight, without taste, she sets off to find this demon and bring her sister’s face back. She is lost alone in the harsh north, when suddenly she wakes on a cold floor in a land that shouldn’t exist. Ruled by Yuki, a girl who looks a similar age to Apaay but appears far older, Apaay is given a chance. Enter the labyrinth and find her sisters face and one that Yuki has been searching for and she will be let go. But the labyrinth is too much for Apaay to handle and she fails becoming Yuki’s prisoner. In this cruel world Apaay has no one she trusts, least of all Numiak, the demon who stole her sisters face. It will take all of Apaay’s determination to make it out alive and she may just have to depend on the one person she simply cannot trust.

You all know how much I love a book that is centred around a specific cultures folklore, so when I was approached by Alexandria to read and review this book I simply jumped at the chance. She manages to render a world so wholly into being that I felt I was there, in the harsh arctic like land, braving the weather along side Apaay. I got chills whilst reading it, both from the beautiful style with which she brings the characters and setting to life and the fact that I felt like I was in the book, right there alongside Apaay on her perilous journey. The setting should have been bleak, a lot of white snow and ice, but Warwick manages to make it as enticing as towering palaces and even the most magical of worlds.

Apaay was a truly believable and relatable character whose story I followed with bated breath. Strong, resilient and determined she would do anything to give her sister her face, and her life back. She is slow to trust and quick to judge but these characteristics save her life on more than one occasion and make her a much more realistic character in my opinion. She would sooner die than return to her family and Eska empty handed.

One thing that I truly loved about this book is that it contains no romance! Sure there are hints to what could happen in further books, but the love in this story is wholly centred around family, that which you are born into and that which you choose. We see through Apaay the inuit culture, where naming a person literally takes a village and the Analak people are as much Apaay’s family as her mother, father and sister. Named after her grandmother, the Analak culture means that she calls her mother daughter, her father son and her sister granddaughter. Something I found utterly interesting and endearing.

I loved the insight Warwick gave us to Inuit culture and folklore. I hadn’t managed to read any books previously that were centred around this culture but Warwick manages to weave it so seamlessly into the story line that you hardly realise you are learning whilst reading. These are my favourite kinds of stories, where I come away from the book with bits of information I was previously unaware of, and I will certainly be seeking out other books centred around Inuit folklore/mythology.

This book contains plenty of twists and turns that keep you guessing the whole way through. Are they good? Are they bad? Can we trust them? The plot had me flying through the pages and i couldn’t put it down. There was a small bit in the middle of the book where I felt it dragged slightly but it didn’t take from my overall enjoyment of the story line and I flew through to the ending. And what an ending it was, a true cliff hanger, leaving not only Apaay’s future uncertain but that of her people as well. I am so glad that Alexandria contacted me asking to review this beautiful book, though I’m slightly annoyed at how long I will have to wait to read the next instalment. 4.5*

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