Release Date: June 22nd, 2021
Rating: 5/5 Stars
I have to admit, I might a slight mistake recently. If the review isn’t up by the time this is posted, it should be coming shortly, but basically – I reviewed Iron Widow over on Divination Hollow, and declared it the best book of 2021, remarking that it would be extremely difficult to find a book as good in the months this year has left.
Well, then I picked up Darling. K. Ancrum’s latest book is very different from Iron Widow, except for the fact they’re both Young Adult, but I’d say Darling has become my tied favourite of 2021, and because what appeals about them both is so vastly different, it’s hard to really truly compare them.
Darling is a dark, thriller retelling of Peter Pan. And because Ancrum is absolutely brilliant, she manages to explore dark themes and ideas without any brutal on-page violence. When Wendy’s family move to Chicago, all Wendy wants to do is go out to meet her friend, Eleanor. But when her parents refuse, Wendy settles in for a night on her own – until the strange, beautiful Peter appears at her window, and Wendy agrees to join him for a night on the town. But as she joins Peter, Tinkerbelle, and the Lost Boys, Wendy realises there are dark secrets in Chicago’s underground, and she soon finds herself caught in a strange web, running from Detective Hook, dealing with the Crocodile, and trying to work out what, exactly, Peter is hiding.
I have been excited for this book since Ancrum first started talking about it. It really didn’t disappoint. Although this is firmly contemporary, Ancrum injects it with a feeling of magic surrounding Peter, with his drawing Wendy from her home into the city’s underground feeling very much like her crossing into Neverland. Although Wendy gets a sense not all is right early on, it’s clear to see why she sticks around, and Ancrum portrays the other characters around her sensitively and wonderfully, especially with The Lost Boys, a group of kids who have no one but each other.
It really gives a darker side to the Peter Pan story, one often mentioned only in passing, or shown on screen in smaller storylines (Once Upon a Time definitely springs to mind here). Darling does a great job at taking an old story and updating it to deal with modern themes, laying out the hints throughout and allowing the reader to piece things together as Wendy does. There are excellent scenes throughout, from the time the group spend in The Mermaid’s Lagoon, to Wendy’s meeting with The Lost Boys and the build up towards a huge party.
I loved how Ancrum handled various relationships throughout this novel, from the growing friendship between Wendy and Tinkerbelle, to the way the group slowly come to accept Wendy’s presence among them. She also does a fantastic job of showing how Peter gets these people under his spell, and for me personally, there was a strong sense of realism to his character in the way he manipulates people, twists how people view him, his toxic behaviours and how he portrays himself to others. There’s a short scene where the group find themselves in a crowd, and some teen girls seem overly excited to see Peter. He explains to Wendy how he ‘looks out for them’, and knowing Peter as we do (and his dark side isn’t a spoiler, don’t worry!) it’s absolutely chilling.
It’s not hard to see the various elements of the original stories Ancrum has used throughout the book, Wendy’s trip through Chicago strangely mirroring Wendy’s adventures in Neverland, and as said before, she handles these dark, real themes with sensitivity, while still showing the very real impact they can have on people. Overall, this definitely lived up to and even exceeded expectations, and I found myself very glad to have read it.