Little Darlings by Melanie Golding is one of the first books I requested from Netgalley. It’s slightly outside of my typical range of titles. It’s more of an adult fantasy with a big focus on motherhood and childcare. It’s also a modern retelling of the traditional changeling myth, which is the major draw for me. Read on to see what I thought.
CW: child abduction, spousal neglect, difficult birth
Release Date: April 30th 2019
Click here for the Synopsis!
“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.
The basic premise is fairly straightforward. A new mother, Lauren, is scared to lose her newborn twins after having a few scary encounters with a mysterious woman. One of the major twists to the book is Harper. She’s a detective who gets involved in Lauren’s case after she places a 999 call. Harper has a vested interest in mothers. Very early on in the book you learn that Harper had a child early in her teen years, but her parent’s helped her raise the child. In a lot of ways Harper feels like her child was taken from her.
That theme of child abduction, and post-partum depression/fear lies at the heart of Little Darlings. It’s a bit of an exploration in body horror. Several scenes get into the specifics of child birth, nursing, and extreme exhaustion. I really enjoyed seeing those more medical elements at play in a traditionally supernatural changeling tale.
In a lot of ways, this book digs into every parents (or parental figures) desire to just do what is best for their charges. It’s hard to know what’s best for anyone; every baby (and fur baby!) has their own specific needs.
SPOILERS AHEAD FROM THIS POINT!!
A small river town serves as a focus point for the plot. Essentially, in years gone by the town was destroyed and flooded. Unbeknownst to anyone, a young girl and her twin boys drowned (maybe?) during the flood and their bodies were never properly put to rest. When the water level drops and some structures of the old river town become visible, their restless spirits wake and seek out new mother’s of twins to try and give life to the drowned infants.
Obviously this is a bit of a departure to the expected myth of the changeling! I was surprised that the mysterious woman Lauren saw repeatedly wasn’t a physical being, though there were some hints to that being the case throughout the book. This is the type of mystery I love, where it’s possible to piece the puzzle together if you want to, but it still keeps you guessing. Instead of being physically swapped out, I do believe that Lauren’s children were possessed by the souls of the drowned children. I really enjoy the blend of fantasy and paranormal elements in Golding’s story.
Do you have a favorite changeling story? I would be interested to read some more unique takes on this story archetype. Let me know in the comments!