Erin A. Craig’s latest novel uses Rumplestiltskin as the inspiration for a dark fantasy, but what’s truly spine-tingling to me is that, monsters aside, the horrors in this book are way more plausible than any fairy tale.
Ellerie Downing lives in the isolated town of Amity Falls, surrounded by a wild forest and imposing mountains. The first settlers there were said to have fought off monsters from the woods to secure their home, and set forth simple rules to preserve peace and safety for their descendants. But when a supply party is attacked and increasingly strange things keep happening across the town, the growing suspicion and dwindling rations threaten to upend that peace, unless Ellerie can discover the root of their problems first. As time passes, all signs seem to point to the return of the monsters of legend, creatures willing to offer a person’s deepest desire, for only a small favor in return. But as Ellerie learns, even small favors can have great consequences.
The setting is key to this story—a small, isolated, claustrophobic. The kind of town where everyone knows everyone and cooperation is key to survival, but secrets and grudges still fester. Between the community rules, the forest locale, and the pre-industrial time period, the immediate comparison that comes to mind is M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. Craig does an excellent job of crafting that setting, and using it to the fullest extent to draw out the pettiness, paranoia, and every other little flaw in her characters. This story goes to the extreme, but there’s a disturbing reality in how she illustrates neighbor gradually turning against neighbor. While it may have been monsters who instigated this village’s problems, they are not necessarily the most dangerous creatures in the end.
I will say, the pacing of this book will not be for everyone. There are stretches of very little action, but they serve to demonstrate just how grating the passage of time must be for the townspeople, cut off from the world for months and making do with less and less. Personally, my little complaint was the abruptness of the ending. I wish I had a little more denouement to allow me to take in what I’d just read, because the final scenes are jam-packed, or at least a little more information regarding certain characters’ fates, but I do respect the more cinematic effect Craig was probably going for with her ending.
Overall, I would say if you’re a fan of dark fantasy or The Village, and don’t mind slow sections, Small Favors is worth checking out. I give it 3.5 stars.