Thursday, March 21, 2013

Review: Dreams and Shadows

Title: Dreams and Shadows
Author: C. Robert Cargill
Pages: 416
ISBN: 9780575130098
Publisher: Gollancz
Published: February 2013
Genre: Fantasy / Urban Fantasy
Source: ARC won in competition from publisher

Buy it from:
eBook from
The Book Depository

In the debut novel DREAMS AND SHADOWS, screenwriter and noted film critic C. Robert Cargill takes us beyond the veil, through the lives of Ewan and Colby, young men whose spirits have been enmeshed with the otherworld from a young age.

This brilliantly crafted narrative - part Neil Gaiman, part Guillermo Del Torro, part William Burroughs - follows the boys from their star-crossed adolescences to their haunted adulthoods. Cargill's tour-de-force takes us inside the Limestone Kingdom, a parallel universe where whisky swilling genies and foul mouthed wizards argue over the state of the metaphysical realm. Having left the spirit world and returned to the human world, Ewan and Colby discover that the creatures from this previous life have not forgotten them, and that fate can never be sidestepped.

With sensitivity and hopeful examination, Cargill illuminates a supernatural culture that all too eerily resembles our own. Set in a richly imagined and constructed world, complete with its own richly detailed history and mythology, DREAMS AND SHADOWS is a deeply engaging story about two extraordinary boys becoming men.

Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill is an engaging story that will captivate you, terrify you and by the end tear your heart to shreds. It’s a story about what happens when two boys encounter the fairy realm that coexists with our own. One boy, Ewan, is torn away from a loving family after he is kidnapped and replaced by an unspeakable doppelganger, the other, Colby, goes willingly after he encounters a djinn and wishes to see everything supernatural – a wish that would have far-reaching consequences. Once the veil has been drawn aside you can’t ever go back to who you were before.

Cargill manages to weave together elements from various myths and folklore to create a world populated with mythical creatures unlike anything you’ve encountered before. These fairy creatures aren’t cute and cuddly; some of them feast on despair and agony and others have an insatiable craving for human blood. All of them are devious and although they might not act out of malice their actions often end in tragedy, which is made abundantly clear by the brutal demise of some campers in a later chapter. So be warned - this is not a story for the faint of heart

The story unfolds in two parts. The first part focuses on the two boys and their first encounters with the supernatural. In the second part the boys are both young adults living their lives as best as they can, but their past soon catches up with them. They soon learn that you might be able to postpone your fate, but you can’t outrun it entirely. Through circumstances beyond their control they are pulled back into the world of the fairy and forced to make one final stand.

The writing is superbly done although it does take some time to really pull you in. This might be due to the fact that, especially in the first half of the novel, the narrative is interspersed by chapters containing excerpts from a book explaining the denizens of the fairy world. While these provide much needed background information, I found them somewhat jarring and felt that it slowed the flow of the story. Once the groundwork is laid these excerpts are far less frequent and you can immerse yourself more completely in the story.

Cargill has a beautiful way with words and while he’s being compared with Neil Gaiman he has a unique voice and style of his own. The novel is filled with beautifully descriptive, often haunting passages:

“... a thick, dewy fog had set it. It swirled through the dim wood, rivers of elegant mist pouring down the sides of knobby mounds like swift, wispy waterfalls, spilling a thick pea-soup miasmic sea across mossy earth, ankle high and impenetrable by the naked eye.”
“Just a hollow, drab space two antidepressants shy of suicide.”

The cast of characters were all interesting and engaging, each with their own role to play although some of those roles only become completely apparent towards the end. While I empathised with Ewan as a character I was far more drawn to Colby. I can’t exactly put my finger on why, but I think it must have something to do with how he stoically accepts the consequences of the wish he made and how he doesn’t hesitate to do the right thing – even if it’s only due to boyish bravado at the start. While Knocks, the changeling, is a despicable character you can’t help to feel sorry for him. Rejected from all sides he is a tragic figure driven to horrible actions by both his nature and his circumstances.

The ending veered off from the direction I expected it to go and just kept twisting and turning until I didn't know how things would turn out. While it wasn’t the ending I expected or hoped for it was far more fitting. It ends with the truth, as the world really is, not how we want it to be.

This is one of those novels you can't adequately describe without ruining it. You have to read and experience Dreams and Shadows for yourself to see how all the threads come together in the end. It's a journey you won't soon forget.

The Verdict:
Dreams and Shadows is an enchanting, entertaining and utterly heartbreaking read. Cargill manages to craft an exceptional story that turns fairy tales and our notion of faeries completely on its head. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with in the next instalment. I'm definitely hooked. If you are looking for an urban fantasy with a twist, look no further. Just don’t expect any happy endings.

Highly recommended!

The Rating: 7.5/10 (Very Good)

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