Book Review: Small Favors

Synopsis from Goodreads: Ellerie Downing lives in the quiet town of Amity Falls in the Blackspire Mountain range–five narrow peaks stretching into the sky like a grasping hand, bordered by a nearly impenetrable forest from which the early townsfolk fought off the devils in the woods. To this day, visitors are few and rare. But when a supply party goes missing, some worry that the monsters that once stalked the region have returned.

As fall turns to winter, more strange activities plague the town. They point to a tribe of devilish and mystical creatures who promise to fulfill the residents’ deepest desires, however grand and impossible, for just a small favor. But their true intentions are much more sinister, and Ellerie finds herself in a race against time before all of Amity Falls, her family, and the boy she loves go up in flames.

Small Favors is a beautifully creepy gothic tale loosely based on the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin. 

This is the newest release (just out in late summer) from writer Erin Craig. I read her House of Salt and Sorrows earlier this year and really liked her writing style, so was anxious to read this one when it came out. It’s also another (very loosely based) retelling of a fairy tale and those are almost always winners for me.

The thing Craig does REALLY well is to create atmosphere and characters. The town of Amity Falls is lushly depicted, from the Bells at the edge of town before the dense, dark forest begins, to the well-stocked larder filled with honey from Ellerie’s family’s bees; you can easily become immersed in this world. Craig also does a great job seamlessly blending the world as we know it with things that go bump in the night. Like creepy things that stare out of the woods with silver eyes.

Ellerie and Whitaker are wonderful characters. They are both young people at the verge of becoming adults, and forced into situations requiring courage and smarts. The townspeople are all nicely drawn characters and they spring to life in their interactions with Ellerie as the book progresses. I did wonder what happened to her parents, however. The plot has them leave for a larger city to get medical care for Ellerie’s mother and they don’t reappear in the story again. (I also wished for more bee things. I felt like they wanted to be a secondary star in this story but that story line wasn’t developed.)

The nod to Rumplestiltskin is pretty faint but that didn’t detract from the story for me. Craig blends traditional frontier life with a gothic vibe and just a smattering of magical things. I was really engaged with Ellerie and wanted to find out more about what strange things were happening to the town and townspeople, and I appreciated the concept that awful things aren’t always caused by the unknown spectors that inhabit the dark woods. There are plenty of not-nice things people in a community can do to each other when under stress. Ultimately, the ending fell a bit flat for me. There were a few unresolved minor plot lines I wanted to have resolved, and the major plot line finished up a bit too easily/simply for my tastes.

An enjoyable atmospheric read for the season, however, and an author I’ll look for more titles from in the future. This is book 10/24 for my Fall Into Reading Challenge, and fits the “young adult” prompt.

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