(This review was originally posted on Fantasy Faction in February 2013.)
Think you know fairy tales?
Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill is initially the story of Jared and Tiffany Thatcher and their life together, from high school sweethearts to newlyweds to loving parents. They have a baby son, Ewan, and are for all intents and purposes, the perfect family.
That is until something terrifying and monstrous skitters through Ewan’s bedroom window one night and replaces him with an evil changeling, taking the young child for itself and spiriting him away to the world of the Limestone King – the world of faeries.
Dreams and Shadows is an absolute masterpiece of sheer imagination and lyrical storytelling. Although every one of the fantastical creatures and concepts Cargill has included in the novel have their roots in real folklore, the way in which he has brought each idea into a modern novel and fashioned his own version of a fairy tale out of them is incredible.
The main narrative of the novel follows the story of two children – Ewan Thatcher and his early life in faerie, and Colby Stephens, a boy who meets a Djinn (Genie) in the woods near his home and makes an ill-advised wish that sees his life change forever.
But Dreams and Shadows goes further than a simple narrative. Cargill intersperses the novel with excerpts from a fictional book which serves to explain the nature of each different fairy. The story of the Djinn in particular is a real highlight, reading like Cargill does Arabian Nights.
It is a dark and severely twisted tale – and is never what you expect. The first third of the novel is mostly set-up (and what a bizarre and entrancing set-up it is) but the tension ramps up to excruciating depth once we’re introduced to a new batch of characters. A group who decide to go on a romantic camping trip, deep in the dark of the forest.
The characters in Dreams and Shadows are a delightfully twisted bunch of faeries, humans and creatures from the netherworld. Every one of them is more intriguing than the last – and each is fighting for something. The world of humans and faeries are always a hair’s breadth away from each other, and at the centre of it are two boys – Ewan and Colby. Both serve as the readers lens into the world of the Limestone King, switching roles at different points in the book.
The world that Cargill has cobbled together from different elements of folklore is one of monster, magic, love and horror. It is a world of dark nights by cool forest glades, midsummer fairy council meetings and bloody death in every form.
Dreams and Shadows has elements of Gaiman, Rothfuss and the Brothers Grimm themselves. But make no mistakes, this is Cargill’s novel – a majestic tale of love in the shadows and death in bloody dreams. It’s an astounding novel, and hard to believe this is Cargill’s debut. If he ever decides to return to the world of the Limestone King, I’ll be there.
Thanks to Gollancz for supplying me with an advance review copy of this book.