‘Small Favors’ Review: This Small Town Mystery Horror is Eerie, Psychological, and Deliciously Dark–Perfect for the Chilly and Biting Cold
In all honesty, I went in Small Favors by Erin A. Craig with such high expectations after completely falling in love with her work from House of Salt and Sorrows. There were moments where I had to stop myself from constantly comparing the two, and seeing which one I preferred. But though Craig keeps (and betters) her atmospheric writing, dynamic characterization and gripping plot progression, the two are vastly different. And I’d say that I love them both equally.
For someone who is generally a scaredy-cat, I’m happy I have two horrors in my library to boast about. Hehe.
Synopsis: Small Favors by Erin A. Craig
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.
Small Favors is a beautifully creepy gothic tale loosely based on the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin.Read full synopsis at Storygraph
I think it’s best to go into this book with little to no knowledge about what you’re getting into. So I’ll keep this brief, and completely spoiler-free! 👌🏼
Atmosphere / World-building
Small Favors is set in the small town of Amity Falls, enclosed and completely isolated from big cities. To go out and gather supplies from neighboring towns, they need to go through miles of forestry, believed to be home to wolves, bears, and unspeakable monsters. The townspeople of the Falls stick together, harvest crops and other goods to trade with one another, and are almost wholly self-reliant.
From the get-go, Craig’s writing is something that really sucks you into this fictional world. Every time I picked up my e-reader to read this, I could immediately see the fields of crops outside the Downing’s loft, their cramped and cozy cabin, and the pines skirting the periphery. With those three elements locked in, it was easy enough to imagine how the rest of the town looked like.
As the seasons changed, the atmosphere also transformed with it. You never need to go back a few pages to remember what season we’re in. There’s always small details sprinkled in, or huge occasions marking the new month. This was especially palpable in winter, where things got considerably more complicated, and creepy, to say the least. I read this while it was raining outside my house and it for sure amplified the spooky vibes.
Plus, the detail of the Our Ladies dotted around the town, to be set on fire as beacons to whoever’s lurking in the pines, adds so much depth into the lore surrounding Amity Falls. The fact that they have that to begin with speaks so much of how many people have been lost to the woods, and how much they believe monsters exist beyond the tree line. Adds major points to the ~ atmosphere ~.
Characters / Community
Since it’s such a small town, we’re quick to realize into the book that a strong sense of community lives in the Falls. For generations, a set of Rules has presided over its people, with founding families and Elders leading the way. Neighbors trade their goods with one another, always ready to help whenever disaster strikes. And everyone just gets along… right?
So many personalities are in this book, and thankfully, there’s an index of all the families right at the beginning. It’s a bit more difficult when you’re using an e-reader to reference that page, but it’s there nonetheless. Much more handy for physical copies, though.
But anyway, even if you don’t constantly go back to that page, it’s easy enough to remember the most prominent names. The Elders. The doctor. Close family friends. Since there’s always some sort of community gathering going on, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to familiarize yourself with everyone. Each one of them have their own vivid personalities, seemingly benign secrets, and hidden dark wishes.
The Downing family, at the core, was a treat to be with. Ellerie’s POV and narration was smooth, non-intrusive, and her reactions are just so real and believable. Even her romance with new guy Whitaker was believable. I feel like her and Annaleigh from HOSAS could pass as the same person, but I’m not complaining.
Her twin, Samuel, was a character who easily stood out. Merry, as the middle daughter, was a comforting presence to be with. For some reason, I felt like nothing ever bad happened when Merry was around. And Sadie… She’s definitely embodying that creepy little sister vibe who sees things she shouldn’t. As for their parents, they stood as such a comfort blanket as well, and whenever they’re gone, you could really feel the absence and extra layer of tension.
If you’ve watched Amityville films before, it’s easy to assume the same vibes here. Dark things happen, and people’s personalities turn for the worst. But instead of one house, we have a whole town—small, neighborly, and surrounded by forestry. The claustrophobia kicks in quite early on. Although it’s natural to assume the same plot, Small Favors gives us something more. Especially in terms of exploring human psychology and the supernatural.
Each chapter added something to the overall plot. It may feel slow at times because these events happen across seasons, but it all pays off in the end when secrets are revealed and tensions rise even more. One thing I really appreciate about this story is that there’s space after the climax for things to spiral even more, or resolve themselves. You’d think that after we find out the truth, that’s it. For someone who’s not that familiar with horror/mystery, that’s what I expected from the movies I’ve watched, anyway.
But, surprisingly and thankfully, Small Favors tied all loose ends essential to the plot. Leaving us with a satisfying conclusion in the end. After the “climax”, SO MANY THINGS HAPPEN. It was absolutely insane, to be honest. A particular movie comes to mind, but I don’t want to spoil anyone, so I’ll keep it to myself. 😬
Final verdict: Small Favors by Erin A. Craig
Loved it, highly recommend!
I’m very easy to spook, so I can’t say if everyone will feel as creeped out as I did. But in terms of the plot and as a piece of storytelling, I think this is definitely one that a lot of people will enjoy. It’s not just the creepy vibes, it’s the actual story that’s gripping, with character dynamics that will really make you question each person in town. There’s an uneasy feeling throughout the novel that stays, even after you’ve turned the last page.
As the story progressed, you just get paranoid with everyone! Especially as Ellerie herself notices the little disturbances here and there. But more than that, I really appreciate the fact that we get answers. It would be so easy to pass this on as a nameless or faceless horror, but Craig didn’t do that. And after we get the answers, we get consequences. I like that, at the end of the day, there’s accountability to everything.
If you liked House of Salt and Sorrows, or even if you haven’t read that at all, I’m sure you’ll love this one! It’s perfect for a cozy night in with a storm raging outside (that’s definitely the case here in the Philippines right now).
Big thanks to Erin A. Craig, NetGalley, and Delacorte Press for giving me early access to the e-book in exchange for an honest review! I’m also cooking up some extra content with Erin to be released in the near future, so stay tuned. 😉
Featured art background courtesy of Tommy Kwak on Unsplash