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    3.5 out of 5 stars

    I received an ARC of this book via the author, Alexandria Warwick and The FFBC, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! In no way does this affect my rating or review. All included quotes have been taken from an ARC and may not match the finished publication. Content Warning: Death of an animal and character, Imprisonment, Blood, Gore, Torture, Starvation/self-imposed Anorexia, Talk of Suicide, mild Profanity, near-Drowning Below is an incredibly unique story. Based on stories and figures in Inuit mythology, it offers a very different, unfamiliar, and fresh look for Young Adult fantasy. Elements of The Last Airbender are also represented, mainly by a face-stealing demon who is the bane of the local villages. The culture and mythology were mainly inspired by the Inuit of Nunavut, Canada. "'They didn’t believe in you, did they?' They hadn’t, and she had wanted them to. She’d wanted them to so badly. She had come for Eska, but she had come for herself too. The guilt swelled for needing that belief, that trust from those she loved most, to be a reason at all." Apaay resides in the frigid Arctic north. Small villages pepper what would otherwise be a frozen land of white. One would think that the severe climate would be the most of the Analak’s worries. Surprisingly, one other force has yet to meet it’s reckoning--the Face Stealer--a demon that sneaks into the village to steal the face of an unsuspecting individual once every few months. No warning is given when the demon strikes. It is in this moment that Apaay’s younger sister Eska, falls prey to the demon’s ruthless pickings. Now faceless, except for two slits where her nostrils once remained, Eska is forced to live a life of isolation. Others who have befallen the same fate typically don’t make it--the isolation and loss of identity prove to be too much for their continued existence. Desperate to help her sister, Apaay decides to seek out the notorious Face Stealer to get her sister’s face back. Her family, and the rest of the community surprisingly discourage her, due to their loss in hope in returning something so intimate to the people that have been affected. Unable to write her sister off, Apaay sneaks off and traverses the barren North in search of the demon. In her wanderings, Apaay becomes trapped inside a labyrinth ruled by a treacherous girl named Yuki. Working hand-in-hand with the notorious demon, Yuki makes a deal with Apaay that she will give her freedom if she can locate Eska’s face in the labyrinth. If she fails, she will be trapped in the labyrinth, and the in-between. The labyrinth is not what it seems, and Apaay finds herself stuck within it’s slippery grasp. Unexpectedly, Appay meets others that have been trapped there for different reasons, and creates lasting relationships--one with a deaf girl named Ila. The longer she stays within Yuki’s grasps, the more she learns about Numiak, the face-stealing demon, and that his motivations for stealing faces may be for a very different reason than assumed. "He was keeping something from her. She didn’t know what. She only knew the feeling of lies upon the tongue, and his was a most burdensome weight." Throughout everything, Apaay questions a lot about her identity, and learns how to love herself. Her journey makes her character incredibly personable for the reader, as every person traverses these musings at some point in their life. Several aspects of her culture heavily influence how she views herself. Her family, her image, her hair, her beauty, usefulness, and so on and so forth. For much of the story, she progressively learns how she views herself now, compared to who she used to be. Ultimately, Below is a story about self-love, dedication, and identity. I really enjoyed the diversity, setting, and Apaay’s character arc. I’m very curious to see where this story will go, and to learn more about some of these characters that I feel will show up in the sequels to this story. I think that some of the settings could have used more detail. It was confusing trying to understand exactly where the scene was taking place at times. No matter what, I think that Apaay's story itself is very memorable. "More importantly, she had found herself. She was not Ila or Chena or Mama or Papa or Masuk or Eska or Silla. She was Apaay. She was enough." Vulgarity: Mild. Sexual content: There was one scene of nudity but nothing sexually happened. It was to humiliate one of the characters. Violence: Moderate. My Rating:★★★1/2
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