Published by Crooked Lane Books on April 30th 2019
“Mother knows best” takes on a sinister new meaning in this unsettling thriller perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman and Grimms’ Fairy Tales.
Everyone says Lauren Tranter is exhausted, that she needs rest. And they’re right; with newborn twins, Morgan and Riley, she’s never been more tired in her life. But she knows what she saw: that night, in her hospital room, a woman tried to take her babies and replace them with her own…creatures. Yet when the police arrived, they saw no one. Everyone, from her doctor to her husband, thinks she’s imagining things.
A month passes. And one bright summer morning, the babies disappear from Lauren’s side in a park. But when they’re found, something is different about them. The infants look like Morgan and Riley―to everyone else. But to Lauren, something is off. As everyone around her celebrates their return, Lauren begins to scream, These are not my babies.
Determined to bring her true infant sons home, Lauren will risk the unthinkable. But if she’s wrong about what she saw…she’ll be making the biggest mistake of her life.
Compulsive, creepy, and inspired by some our darkest fairy tales, Little Darlings will have you checking―and rechecking―your own little ones. Just to be sure. Just to be safe.
Where to start with Little Darlings? Well, I guess looking back my overall reflection is that this book is both good, and also very weird. Lauren is convinced her babies have been stolen and swapped for a sinister woman’s monster twins, and that no one but she can tell. She’s a first time mother, her husband isn’t particularly supportive, and as she becomes more and more terrified, she becomes increasingly alone and isolated. The only person who seems willing to concede that something might be wrong is Detective Jo Harper, who ends up pulled deeply into Lauren’s life and everything going on.
“She was still waiting for the rush of love. That one you feel, all at once the second they’re born, like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. The rush of love that people with children always go on about. She’d been looking forward to it. It worried her that she hadn’t felt it yet.”
I was absolutely sold by the blurb for this – I went in expecting a creepy, fairytale with a horror twist blended with a crime murder mystery. Something like Alice by Christina Henry or maybe Once Upon a Time crossed with Donnie Darko. Little Darlings is that, and yet, it somehow also wasn’t what I expected. It’s a powerfully emotive read; I have never been a mother and yet I so strongly empathised with Lauren and what she was going through. Golding has created a character with such raw, visceral feelings you can’t help but get swept along with them. It’s an uncomfortable read at times that had me questioning everything I thought I knew about motherhood and relationships and the way the world treats new mothers. It was gripping and addictive and it will absolutely mess with your mind (see how restrained I was there with my wording? I resisted the obvious swearword of choice!).
The book at times felt like it had two different halves, and while I liked both, I wasn’t always convinced they blended. On the one hand you have Lauren’s story with the changelings; throughout the book there are excerpts and references to creepy folklore, stories of changeling babies and of fae deals gone wrong. It’s heart-poundingly tense, a truly great psychological thriller. On the other hand, we have Jo Harper’s storyline. Harper is a DS who’s not very good at following procedure, but she’s very likeable. I’ve seen a few criticisms for the romance element of her side of the story but I thought it was well done and it let Golding show off some of Harper’s more vulnerable side, which is usually well guarded. I’d happily read another book about Harper, her future cases and the potential romance opened up here. While I liked both plotlines, it made for a slightly strange mix at times – I wanted MORE dark, heart-pounding horror and MORE police procedural drama, so at times it felt like I was just getting into the swing of one when we’d switch to the other.
“Look at someone every day for long enough and you stop seeing what everyone else sees. You start to see what no one else sees, what is kept hidden from most people.”
I personally was disappointed by the ending, but that’s very much a case of personal preference. If you love the kind of story that will have you constantly questioning your narrator, and whether what’s happening is real or not (think Before I go to Sleep, Riverdale’s Gargoyle King plotline, or The Grace Year) this is absolutely a book for you. I just maybe wouldn’t recommend reading it at the same time you and your partner are having a conversation about your future plans in terms of children!