Dreams and Shadows, by C. Robert Cargill

Genre: Fantasy (urban) | Edition: Hardcover | Publisher: Gollancz | Publication date: February 28th 2013 | My rating: 5/5

It begins with a love story. A love that is almost too sweet, too perfect. From that love comes a child. Life is wonderful.

Until something unspeakably vile scuttles out of the shadows and steals the child away. Leaving a changeling in its place.

But this is no ordinary fairy tale …

It certainly isn’t. It’s also certainly not your usual urban fantasy fare – while the author makes very interesting use of mythical creatures and applies fairy tale themes throughout this story, they aren’t ‘adapted’ in the usual way of most urban fantasy novels. In the world within this story, fairies are the things that go bump in the night, that steal away children and bewitch people. They hide behind glamour, and they certainly don’t mix well with normal people. Cargill takes fairy tales and makes them frightening again, simply by refusing to compromise on their natures – and the end result is an astoundingly tense and intriguing story of what happens when a fairy child and a mortal one try to change destiny.

You might well be thinking “that never ends well” – and you’d be right. When I said Cargill was uncompromising on fae nature, I wasn’t kidding. The story starts with the death by suicide of a young couple whose first child is taken away and replaced by a changeling, a fairy child who feeds upon pain and despair – making one hell of a meal of those parents, before the child’s eventually taken back to his world. Next, we meet Colby Stevens, a young human boy with a neglectful mother, who meets a djinn – the old-fashioned wish-granting genie, but this one comes with a curse and a fascinating story all of his own – who, against his much better judgement, eventually grants Colby’s wish to be able to see all of the weird and magical things in the world …

“That won’t end well” is pretty much the number one rule here. For all that Cargill applies his myths unaltered and uses his monsters faithfully, there is no happy ending to this fairy tale. It is the logical outcome, of course, but for all of its darkness, peril and gloom, there’s a story of relationships here that drew me right in. Colby Stevens and Ewan Thatcher, the child who’s stolen away by the fairies, remain friends for years after they cross paths one night in the fairies’ realm. That friendship isn’t an easy one, and certainly isn’t an honest one given that Ewan’s memories of where he grew up begin to fade when he returns to the normal world – Colby chooses not to tell him the truth until the past comes back to haunt them both. For all that he was born human, Ewan simply isn’t human anymore, and fairies are what they are – and so Ewan will be what he was meant to be. Regardless of this, these two boys become young men together, and when all they have is each other, that friendship holds firm. It’s light against the darkness of everything that befalls them, and it makes their story all the more affecting in the end.

It took me longer to finish this book than it normally would, though that is certainly not due to any fault of the author’s. Real life got in the way, as it often (annoyingly!) does, and I soon found myself practically itching to get back to it. When I did, I found it nearly impossible to put down again. The story is fresh, the characters wonderfully flawed and fascinating, and the mythical creatures that appear here certainly satisfied my love of such things. I am a proud flag-waving fan of a good fairy tale, and this is an astoundingly good one. By the end I was biting my nails during the repercussions of the boys’ actions, and I admit I even got a bit ‘something in my both my eyes’ over the fallout. I won’t say more than that here, but if you want a story that breathes fresh life into the fairy tale genre, this is it. Do yourself a favour, and don’t miss it.

3 thoughts on “Dreams and Shadows, by C. Robert Cargill

  1. Oh, that’s really spooky – I literally was looking at this book in a store earlier today. I eventually didn’t buy it but kept a name of the title and author to take a look at later. Having read your review I should have bought it straight away!
    Lynn 😀

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