Does anyone remember that M. Night Shyamalan movie, The Village? I think I was in middle school when it came out. We went to see it for my friend’s birthday, and we were all waiting for one of the director’s famous twists. And he delivered! Okay movie, crazy twist. As Small Favors feels a lot like The Village early on (in that ominous, spooky way), I amped myself for a wild ride.
Small Favors, for those who don’t know, is a YA Fantasy by Erin A. Craig, whose debut novel House of Salt and Sorrows was incredibly well received. As such, I was super excited to get my hands on her sophomore novel, and while it didn’t quite live up to my expectations, Craig is an author whose books I’ll always be eager to read.
As an Amazon Associate, this post contains links to products that we may receive compensation for at no additional cost to you. View our Disclosure Policy, and feel free to Contact Us if you have any further questions.
Small Favors by Erin A. Craig
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: July 27, 2021
Genre: YA Fantasy
(from the publisher)
Ellerie Downing is waiting for something to happen. Life in isolated Amity Falls, surrounded by an impenetrable forest, has a predictable sameness. Her days are filled with tending the family’s beehives, chasing after her sisters, and dreaming of bigger things while her twin, Samuel, is free to roam as he wishes.
Early settlers fought off monstrous creatures in the woods, and whispers that the creatures still exist keep the Downings and their neighbors from venturing too far. When some townsfolk go missing on a trip to fetch supplies, a heavy unease settles over the Falls.
Strange activities begin to plague the town, and as the seasons change, it’s clear that something is terribly wrong. The creatures are real, and they’re offering to fulfill the residents’ deepest desires, however grand, for just a small favor.
These seemingly trifling demands, however, hide sinister intentions. Soon Ellerie finds herself in a race against time to stop Amity Falls, her family, and the boy she loves from going up in flames.
Small Favors takes places in the fictional village of Amity Falls, and the vibe in this town is creepy. Upon its founding, the town was beset by monsters, and so the founders imposed a set of rules that keep the residents safe, but living in perpetual fear and dread. I love, love this premise. There’s so much potential! Unfortunately, the elements that spring from it (the Rules, the Bells, the Our Ladies) end up vastly underutilized. It feels like lots of “cool ideas” that provide neat visuals, but are ultimately shallow in their purpose.
Likewise, the plot feels fairly underdeveloped and is padded out by sometimes irritatingly long segments of chores, chores, town meetings, and more chores. This book is long. It’s nearly 500 pages, and if Craig didn’t have such a compelling writing style, I don’t think I would have made it through the entire book. When the plot does advance, it comes quickly. The climax especially feels rushed, crammed into the last 10% of the book.
In some cases, I think poor pacing can be saved by strong characters you want to spend an extra 100 pages with. However, Ellerie Downing is sadly a little too bland for that. She’s quite passive, which is disappointing as the premise of Small Favors seems to demand a curious, active protagonist. Likewise, many of the secondary characters fell flat for me. The romance is heavy on outdated tropes, and several characters who are important early on vanish with barely another mention. And then there are others, who seemed incidental, that are suddenly key to the resolution.
I want to reiterate that Craig is an incredibly skilled writer. Small Favors is packed with effective, highly sensory details & descriptions, and those ominous vibes I mentioned permeate her writing in a delightfully eerie way.
Now, like I said, from the moment I started reading, I was thinking: “It’s like a book version of The Village!” This isn’t quite accurate. In fact, Small Favors is apparently a reimagining of Rumpelstiltskin, though I didn’t get this sense while reading and only found this out after I had finished the book. Granted, I know only the gist of Rumpelstiltskin, so other more astute fairy tale fans will likely pick up what I missed (and may enjoy the book better as a result).
For as long as Small Favors is, I found I consistently wanted more. I wanted to know more about the characters, the backstory of the town, the monsters. I credit this wholly to Craig’s writing. That element of overbearing dread lingers throughout the whole book; I only wish that it gave us what it seemed to promise.