Smoke and Key by Kelsey Sutton

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A sound awakens her. There’s darkness all around. And then she’s falling…

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…

DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.



TW: body horror, gore, suicide mentions, implied abuse, sex scene, death

If I had to describe this book in one word, I think I’d choose “underwhelming” before I went for anything else. I went in hoping to scratch the mystery itch I’ve had, and this just didn’t do it for me.

I think the biggest problem was that I wasn’t engaged. Key, the main character, spends so much time in her memories, unable to control the situation, forced to watch it play out, and when she isn’t steeped in memory, she’s being herded around Under, where the unusual dead reawaken after tumbling down from their graves, not quite alive but not quite dead. She’s the only one who can remember pieces of her life at first, and while the concept was interesting the first time it happened to her, by the end of the book, I was tired of the flashbacks and wanted her to take action and put the pieces together.

Another problem for me was the romance. It was bland, and even though it tried to set itself up as a love triangle, it kind of failed in that, and the only thing worse than a love triangle for me is a love triangle that doesn’t even really keep up a triangle shape. The romance was flimsy, and it also focused mostly on connections made in the flashbacks. I would have been a hundred times more interested if there had been more forging of new relationships in the Under, if the romantic partners had found themselves growing closer and closer without memory to stitch them back together, but like Key and most of her characterization, it all depended far too much on what happened before Under.

Troubling too was the final confrontation, which was lacking in the tension I expected, as well as a sound explanation. The ending was almost flimsy in some ways, dull in a way that made me wish I’d put the book down sooner and moved on to something else. I finished it disappointed, which is never fun.

That said, I will admit that the concept was excellent, and so was the fact that this was a standalone (at least, I think it is; what else is there to do?). The dead tumbling from their graves, renaming themselves after whatever came with them, minds empty of their lives? The dead, building a new society from nothing, living half lives in the dark and searching for ways to feel halfway whole again? It was a great concept, one I wish had been explored more fully! But the execution fell far short in the end, too many characters left flat, too many potential threads left unexplored. It could have been great, but didn’t live up to the expectation the summary set.

Still, if you’re looking for a quick read with romance and murder rolled into one, and if you want to see the world of Under for yourself, Smoke and Key is set to release on April 2nd (tomorrow!!). Now’s the last chance to get your pre-orders or library requests in, and if you decide to get it, I hope you enjoy it more than I did.

0 thoughts on “Smoke and Key by Kelsey Sutton

  1. I absolutely agree, outstanding premise, slightly disappointing execution 😕 but I believe the author confirmed on GR that it’s a standalone, which is nice since we could always use more of those in YA fantasy!

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