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Recent Release Review: Darling Girl by Liz Michalski

Updated: Aug 10, 2022


Release date: 3 May 2022

Rating: 3.5/5

Book boxes: BOTM

Synopsis: In this beautiful, grounded, and darkly magical modern-day reimagining of J. M. Barrie's classic, to save her daughter's life one woman must take on the infamous Peter Pan--who is not the innocent adventurer the fairy tales make him out to be . . .


Life is looking up for Holly Darling, granddaughter of Wendy--yes, that Wendy. She's running a successful skincare company; her son, Jack, is happy and healthy; and the tragedy of her past is well behind her . . . until she gets a call that her daughter, Eden, who has been in a coma for nearly a decade, has gone missing from the estate where she's been long tucked away. And, worst of all, Holly knows who must be responsible: Peter Pan, who is not only very real, but more dangerous than anyone could imagine.


Eden's disappearance is a disaster for more reasons than one. She has a rare condition that causes her to age rapidly--ironic, considering her father is the boy who will never grow up--which also makes her blood incredibly valuable. It's a secret that Holly is desperate to protect, especially from Eden's half-brother, Jack, who knows nothing about his sister or the crucial role she plays in his life. Holly has no one to turn to--her mother is the only other person in the world who knows that Peter is more than a story, but she refuses to accept that he is not the hero she's always imagined. Desperate, Holly enlists the help of Christopher Cooke, a notorious ex-soldier, in the hopes of rescuing Eden before it's too late . . . or she may lose both her children.


Darling Girl brings all the magic of the classic Peter Pan story to the present, while also exploring the dark underpinnings of fairy tales, grief, aging, sacrifice, motherhood, and just how far we will go to protect those we love.

 

Review


Darling Girl, though classified as fantasy and magical realism, held thin resemblances to anything fantastical or magical. At best, I would classify it as fantasy-light. Though it may contain magical characters loosely based on those from the classic children’s fantasy novel, its world is firmly real and its setting and conflict decidedly contemporary. Though the book held my attention for its duration, I feel the first half of the book captured my attention until Peter made his appearance, and everything after that lost its muchness for me.


I can’t rely too heavily on my memory, but I’m certain the pre-release ratings for this book were much higher than they are now. My rational mind tells me not to put too much faith in the ratings before a book releases, but I fell for it this time (as I do every time), and I ordered this as my main BOTM pick for May. I’m pretty disappointed. Peter took more of a back seat to the story, though he was the overshadowing villain of the tale. I suppose this was meant to give the tale tension and ominous foreboding, but Peter’s treatment as a character felt like the man-behind-the-curtain trick and left me disappointed in the expectation of his darkness.


Notably, the Darling characters were the focus of the story, though I think the cover of cosmetics industry biologist and executive for the main character, Holly, while it gave the pretense context, served to make the plot less believable for me than more. I think she may have been better served as a doctor or molecular biologist—something less seedy than cosmetics. The connection between the healthcare she provided for her son (which grossed me out) and her cover occupation was pretty thin. Holly’s relationship with her son was fraught with tension, typical for the teenage years of development, but I don’t feel the exhaustion that comes with the care of not one but two terminally ill children came through successfully. Holly was also not a sympathetic character for me. I don’t feel there was any reason for her not to tell anyone of the existence of Eden, at least those in her immediate family, and her keeping that large of a secret from Jack after he spent his early childhood knowing Eden muddied the waters. She spent the entirety of the novel doing damage control instead of trying to fix anything. After a while, the layers upon layers of intrigue and subterfuge made the plot too convoluted. In this case, less may have been more.


The Neverland characters incorporated in the story, as there are more than just Peter, were great supporting roles. I found myself more eager to keep reading when they graced the pages. Too much detail about them will ruin the surprise, but their presence and development outshined that of our traditional hero. Peter’s character arc didn’t rise very much. He was made the villain, of course, but his end was anticlimactic. In the end, though he was built up for the duration of the novel as a foul, demented, devilish creature, his demise was like biting into fresh baked bread only to discover it was full of air. It was more pathetic than deserving and did not feel neatly wrapped.


The climax, which did not happen on the page—lazy—came not from any of our main characters but from Holly’s mother, who spends her whole life resenting her mother and daughter for their interactions and sightings of Peter. She goes from a controlling, unlikeable character to the surprising hero of the story. Her development was slapdash, but I liked it most of all the rest offered. After spending the whole book suspending my disbelief for all the ridiculousness, her story was the least full of incredulity, and though she missed her daughter’s growing up, she ends up making up for it in the end, which I thought gave the story a redeeming quality, even if miniscule.


The sum total of the whole book leaves me with an underwhelmed sense of my hopes being dashed over what was hyped up so much as a great, magical story that was anything but. It was unoriginal, and I’m surprised with all the retellings floating around nowadays that it got published, as I don’t feel it any more remarkable than any of the others.



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