‘Little Darlings’ by Melanie Golding ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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THE TWINS ARE CRYING.

THE TWINS ARE HUNGRY.

LAUREN IS CRYING.

LAUREN IS EXHAUSTED.

Behind the hospital curtain, someone is waiting…

After a traumatic birth, Lauren is alone on the maternity ward with her new-born twins when a terrifying encounter in the middle of the night leaves her convinced someone is trying to steal her children. Lauren, desperate with fear, locks herself and her sons in the bathroom until the police arrive to investigate.

But there’s nothing on the CCTV. No one remembers seeing a woman come close to Lauren, or her babies. They don’t believe anyone was ever there.

And yet, Lauren keeps seeing the woman and is convinced her babies are in danger. With every step she takes to keep her children safe, Lauren sinks deeper into paranoia and fear. From  the stark loneliness of returning home after birth, to the confines of the psychiatric unit, Lauren’s desperation increases as no one will listen t her. But here’s the question: is she mad, or does she know something we don’t?

Thank you to NetGalley, HQ and Melanie Golding for the chance to read and review this novel.

This book is such a triumph that I can’t believe it’s the author’s debut novel. Deliciously sinister, twisted, dark and unsettling, this beautifully written book starts with a letter to the reader that tells us about changeling folklore and how the child-friendly, Disneyfied Fairy Tales we know today are very different from their terrifying origins that were used to scare children rather than entertain them. Through the main character this book emerges you into every mother’s worst nightmare and chills you to the bone.

‘Choose one,’ said the woman, ‘choose one or I’ll take them both…I can make sure they look the same.’

Lauren Tranter is feeling traumatised after the difficult birth of her twin boys, Morgan and Riley and feeling overwhelmed with the task of caring for the two tiny infants alone in the hospital. In the middle of the night Lauren a woman in the supposedly empty bed next to hers singing an eerie song. Lauren decides to ask her to stop and is confronted with a strange, ugly woman with two babies of her own. She tells Lauren both sets of twins are charmed, only hers are cursed with darkness. To balance this out she demands they exchange a twin and that if Lauren refuses she’ll take both and make sure the replacements look the same. Lauren, aghast and overcome with fierce maternal protection, locks herself with in the bathroom with the twins and calls the police. But hospital security say no one was there and there’s nothing on the CCTV so Lauren is referred to a psychiatrist. Despite this, DS Jo Harper can’t shake the feeling that there is more to this case than meets the eye.

Back at home Lauren lives in fear that the woman is going to take her children grows but no one believes her, not even her husband, Patrick. She refuses to leave the twins alone even for a minute, won’t leave the house, is scared to sleep and is just trying to survive each day. Patrick and her friends become increasingly worried about her. Eventually, she takes the boys to the park but the outing ends in disaster when she falls asleep on a bench and wakes to find the boys gone. Lauren’s elation at their recovery soon turns to horror when she realises these babies are not Morgan and Riley. The woman has carried out her threat to take them both. But everyone else is fooled and her desperate attempts to convince them leads to her being sent to a psychiatric unit.

At the psychiatric unit Lauren is filled with panic and fear.She knows she has to convince them she isn’t insane, that she doesn’t think the babies are her children so that they will let her go and she can save the real Morgan and Riley. So she tries to say the right things and act like she isn’t full of revulsion for the things that have replaced her perfect boys. When the police investigation finds no suspects everyone seems sure that Lauren is suffering from mental illness. Everyone except DS Harper. She still feels sure there’s something they’re missing and begins investigating various leads that could prove she’s right. But is she being fooled by a sick and unstable mother who is a danger to her children or the only person who believes a mother who is innocent and desperately trying to save them?

There’s some books you seem to just instantly connect with for one reason or another and this was one of those for me. The letter at the start, the ominous prologue and even the setting, were reasons this novel resonated with me so quickly. The book is set in my hometown of Sheffield and while I’ve read books set in places I’ve been or know a little, I have never before read a book set in my hometown. It added an extra layer of enjoyment when reading for me. I loved that I could picture the hospital Lauren gives birth in as I gave birth there myself and all the places mentioned are so familiar that I could picture them clearly.

One of the things I loved about this book was the uncertainty if Lauren was crazy or the fairy tale was real. I vacillated on this point many times and still can’t decide which I believe or which would be the least unsettling. Sometimes I find such ambiguity ruins a book for me but in this case I thought it enhanced the story. Afterall, this is a story based on a fairy tale and they require you to suspend your disbelief at the impossible, so it isn’t a stretch for me to believe that Lauren was telling the truth. But then the changeling folklore began as an explanation for the impossible, for something that is now a recognised mental illness, and therefore it is also not hard to believe that this is the explanation for what she is seeing. Overall, I did like Lauren. She did whatever she could to protect and save her children in her mind and while she seemed weak and paralysed by fear at the start, she found strength and fought her fears as the book went on. DS Jo Harper was also a great character, probably my favourite. Her back story gave substance to her actions that you could tell were often emotional and I liked that when she believed in something she pursued it, even if it got her in trouble. Patrick is another matter. I couldn’t stand him and for most of the book I wanted to reach through the pages and slap him as hard as possible. His complaints about losing sleep, complaining he can’t function without it and she knew that before the babies made me so angry. He was anything but the helpful father Lauren expected and my heart went out to her as she realised the man she married wasn’t who she thought he was. Although he did seem to step up after the babies were abducted his earlier actions and other revelations meant that even this didn’t endear him to me.

Little Darlings is a spine-tingling, absorbing and spectacular novel. Filled with clever twists, shocking revelations, edge of your seat suspense and unnerving changeling folklore this is a book that will stay with you. Melanie Golding is an exciting new voice in fiction and has created a book everyone will be talking about.

Out May 2nd

2 thoughts on “‘Little Darlings’ by Melanie Golding ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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