Summary: 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…
Genre(s): YA, Fantasy, Mystery
Content warnings: death, murder, minor gore, blood magic, mild sexual content, mentions of physical abuse
I received a copy of the book for the blog tour through YA Bound Book Tours; however, this does not affect my rating or opinions expressed.
“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.