What I’m Reading: Smoke & Key by Kelsey Sutton

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…


I just finished reading Kelsey Sutton‘s latest, Smoke & Key which released yesterday. If you’re no stranger to the blog, you know that Kelsey is one of my favorite authors. Her concepts, her worlds speak to me so intensely.  She speaks my language and reading her books, I get to fall right into it. This one really will make you fall…into the world of Under, as in the world underneath a local graveyard. There, we meet a girl who goes by Key and a boy who goes by Smoke among others (Splinter, Ribbon, Doll, Journal, etc… and when Freckles came along, I thought of Lost for a hot second.) Anyway…

In this story, we follow Key as she discovers the world of Under which is definitely not heaven or hell, discovers who she was before she died which is possibly not who she wants to be in the present, and what it means to have power, control, peace and rest no matter where her key takes her.

Once the murders begin, it truly is a fight to rest in peace in Under. Because once you’re gone from Under, that’s probably it for you. I loved the murder mystery elements of this story just as much as I enjoyed finding out who Key was, who Key is, and what Key is going to do about all of this.

I feel like this was certainly more story focused than Kelsey’s other works in that the characters always drive the story but the story took a front seat here whereas in her past works, the characters and their arcs led to the story. It’s kind of like different ways of peeling an onion, I guess…usually, it’s a slow peel but here, we cut right to it.

The story is told in Key’s present day (not our present day) as someone who has died but she’s also literally thrust into memories of her life from before which added even more intrigue as her memories from life begin to come back to her more clearly over time.

This reading experience began as a really exciting, dark and dirty and grimy paranormal and then we get a surprising dose of a magical element which I was indifferent about initially but the power of words and how we yield them is so important in the end. It’s life. It’s death. It’s the afterlife in this case. We also sort of get the surface of a love triangle, which is quite frankly all you need with all that is happening in the book (dead people unable to rest in peace).

Smoke and Key is a really thoughtful and engaging story about self discovery, community, trust, forgiveness, and love. It’s about what it means to be heard, to be seen, to have control, and to have peace of mind. I love the incredibly unusual world that was created to explore those themes. I love the voice and tone of this book (of all of Kelsey’s books, it’s a given at this point). I loved seeing an author take a chance diving into such an extraordinary story and setting and really playing in that sandbox. The minor characters really jumped off the page and brought this world together and mystery to life. I’m glad to have sunk my teeth into this one. I wanted more and I would totally read this story again again from every other character’s POV if I could.

The timing of this read was odd though as on a personal note, the past week hasn’t been great family wise – today, we found out that my uncle died. I wanted to talk about this book yesterday on release day but finishing this read today, I can say now that I did find myself drifting off and thinking about all of the memories I’d love to be thrust into as a fly on the wall of his life, all of the stories that died with my uncle, a key I can never use again to unlock those stories. I digress…

Smoke and Key is a solid addition to the Kelsey Sutton catalogue. If you enjoyed Kelsey’s previous work, settle in and get comfy for this one. She’s #OnBrand with the creepy stories. Keep them coming! Also, this cover is beautiful! Possibly one of my favorites of 2019. Gorgeous. Favorite line? I sit on my headstone and wait.

Smoke & Key by Kelsey Sutton is available now.