Small Favors by Erin A. Craig is a Rumpelstiltskin retelling. Ellerie Downing has lived a simple life, but in Small Favors, it’s all about to change.
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.
“We’re stewards for the hives, protectors of these bees. We need to make sure they’re healthy and their needs are being met.”
Ellerie has been tending to the bees with her father as her brother has been wandering off all summer. She’s always felt like the bees were hers anyway, so she doesn’t feel too upset about this additional chore. Their lives are seemingly quiet, until a horse comes back dead and the supply party has gone missing. This book is a slow burn, creating tension in subtle ways over time. You see it with Ellerie and her twin brother, and then, with small things. Supplies going missing or being unavailable, and there are new travelers who live in the woods. One of them is a handsome man, who refuses to tell Ellerie his real name.
“Games are rarely ever fair, honey-haired girl.”
Ellerie names him Whittaker, and he accepts this. He slowly infiltrates her and her family’s lives, giving them gifts and food. This romance was interesting in that it was formatted as instalove. However, Ellerie’s stubbornness and need to be present for her family made her push him off and hold off on the romance. I didn’t necessarily feel the chemistry between the two of them until much later. I found Whittaker suspicious and didn’t trust his intentions with Ellerie. As I know the original story of Rumpelstiltskin well, I was worried that this would be some strange, romantic twist on the tale. Luckily, that’s not quite what happened and we got a slowly more and more intense and scary storyline.
“We’re together, Ellerie Downing. I won’t let anything happen to you. You have my word.”
There are some elements of religious tension in this book, however, the comparison to The Village missed the mark for me. This led to the expectation of more of a cult to be responsible for the chaos within the town, and instead, it was a paranormal force. I did love the way that the paranormal force was slowly introduced, in a way that made you feel like maybe you were looking too deeply into things. I have also seen this book compared to The Grace Year, but once again, the religious tension is an afterthought, not the main plot of the book.
The majority of the tension comes from the town being incredibly small, with families who have known one another for generations, and from a lack of food and medical supplies. This would cause any town to feel extreme stress, and that’s the whole point. All of these are things that could happen easily on their own, and so you wonder- are there really monsters in the forest causing all of this, or is it mass hysteria?
“I couldn’t get her out of my mind, no matter how I tried. She was always there, just on the edge of everything, waiting. Wanting. I wanted to be there when she was brave enough to take that next step.”
The pacing of this book was strange, and a little frustrating at times. There were moments where things were happening quickly, people’s anger heightened to a peak and the consequences being high. There were other moments when things were going incredibly slowly. You hear about birthdays, and clothing being made. The way that they lose animals due to the lack of supplies. These things are obviously connected to the overarching story of the tension, but it still got dull after a constant flow of heightened moments and incredibly dull ones right before and after. This may be a personal preference, but I would prefer a steady rise to the peak, and then the resolution of the story based around the aftermath. The up and down of it made it hard to pick the book back up and want to continue reading it.
“There’s nothing. Not even for the girl who can name every flower. The girl who thinks she can name the stars. The girl who thought she could name me.”
Overall, I did enjoy this story and I loved the retelling aspects of a fairytale I’ve always loved. Conceptually, this story was fantastic, but in execution, there are some things that could have been done better.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.