Sorry, but I need to gush about this one. Kill Your Darlings by L.E. Harper is an astounding piece of writing craft, as a self-aware story inside a subtly unfolding story, where all is not as we perceive. I received a free digital ARC copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
But first of all, make sure you read the forward of the book for trigger warnings. The triggers are there in a big way, so take them seriously if you are vulnerable to trauma.
Our MC is a fantasy author. We learn that she is on book 5 of her wildly successful YA fantasy series, and spiraling. Her editor hates her ending. Her revision deadline is days away. She hasn’t even started them. Depression and burnout have her in a chokehold. Her one escape is in her dreams, where she drops into her main character, Kyla, and spends time in the beautiful world of Solera that she’s created. But this time it feels different. This time, as she wakes up in her fictional lover’s arms, it might not be a dream.
When I first started Kill Your Darlings, I was a little meh on the standard fantasy world and creatures, and a few slightly shaky line edits. But I really loved the meta story. I loved how the MC lampshades the fantasy genre and tropes, playing with the meta narrative and fourth wall, and breaking all the rules. It felt like a Rian Johnson film, where the subtext, background, symbolism, and inside jokes took center stage over the actual plot. Then, as the book progressed and we learned all was not as it seemed, we discover the author was pulling off a master class in unreliable narrator. Just breathtakingly well-executed. And when dreams turned reality turned back into metaphor and the darkness falls, that last twist left me completely destroyed, and unable to put the book down.
I can see why Kill Your Darlings struggled in the query trenches. The real story, the thing that makes it unique and phenomenal, is a slow, subtle burn that takes time to develop. Querying, with the pitch plus ten pages approach, is going to bury a gem like this. It’s like trying to pitch a souffle to people looking for a candy bar. But if a slow-burn meta-narrative is your thing and you’re comfortable with darker themes, this is your dessert.
I picked this up excited for queer and Ace rep. I kept reading because it was a fun escapist fantasy. I loved the lampshading and the cleverness of an MC who knows what genre they’re in. But that last dark twist lets this book live rent-free in my head for the foreseeable future. Even now, days after reading, I look back and see how small pieces fit together into that final whole, and how perfectly unexpected yet inevitable the ending turned out to be.
Kill Your Darlings comes out on May 24, 2023 and is available for pre-order. Connect with this author on their TikTok at
https://www.tiktok.com/@selfpubdragon and make sure you request indie titles at your local library!