Title: Dreams and Shadows
Author: C. Robert Cargill. He spent years as a film writer on the web and is the co-screenwriter for the recent horror film Sinister.
Summary: There is another world than our own—one no closer than a kiss and one no further than our nightmares—where all the stuff of which dreams are made is real and magic is just a step away. But once you see that world, you will never be the same.
Dreams and Shadows takes us beyond this veil. Once bold explorers and youthful denizens of this magical realm, Ewan is now an Austin musician who just met his dream girl, and Colby, meanwhile, cannot escape the consequences of an innocent wish. But while Ewan and Colby left the Limestone Kingdom as children, it has never forgotten them. And in a world where angels relax on rooftops, whiskey-swilling genies argue metaphysics with foul-mouthed wizards, and monsters in the shadows feed on fear, you can never outrun your fate.
I love fantasy and horror, but stories about the fairy world usually don’t cut it for me. This one wasn’t much different, although there were many aspects that I did enjoy. The comparisons to Lev Grossman are very apt – Dreams and Shadows does for fairies what The Magicians did for Harry Potter. It grounds the fantastical in our world, creating strife where the two cross over. Since I don’t know fairy lore as well as I do Hogwarts, though, I felt I didn’t always have a firm grasp on what was happening.
I really enjoyed Cargill’s writing, and I’ll be interested to see what he comes up with in the future. This is certainly better than most first novels, but it falls a bit flat within the genre.
I’m definitely a fan of Neil Gaiman, have heard many wonderful things about Lev Grossman, and am intrigued by fantastical creatures (I love the TV shows Supernatural and Being Human for that exact reason) so I was eagerly anticipating reading Dreams and Shadows. I have to admit, the beginning was a little rough. The story jumped from character to character and I had a bit of a hard time following, plus I was unfamiliar with some of the creatures discussed. But power through, readers! Suspend your belief with this fantastical creatures swearing up a storm and speaking crudely and make sure you read the chapters explaining the characteristics about each creature because about a quarter of the way through the book, something clicked and I went from being thoroughly confused to needing to know what was going to happen!!!! It was like the pieces of the puzzle were coming together and I just had to keep going to see the completed picture. The pacing was just right for me that just as I felt like things were making sense, the focus would shift elsewhere and I would have to keep going to keep discovering more.
The writing was also extremely graphic at times but also extremely descriptive without being “in your face”. I could picture the scenes in my mind but also was giving license to leave a little to the imagination. I also liked how you could never figure out what was going to happen- Cargill kept me on my toes and never let me as a reader get complacent and think I knew what would happen. By the end, though, I was so connected to many of the characters that the end was pretty emotional. The last chapter had an interesting twist on usual fairy tales, which I appreciated, so keep on reading, just so you can make it there.
I love a good urban fantasy, so I really wanted to like Dreams and Shadows, but I just didn’t. The book follows two boys, Ewan and Colby. Both become entangled in fairy affairs. The narration alternates with excerpts from several books on fairies and other supernatural creatures. The excerpts do serve a purpose in the story, but they also break up the narration. The story also toggles between Ewan’s and Colby’s perspective. Alternating between characters can be a good thing. It can raise the suspense in a novel because the reader wants to get back to the character they left behind. Half of the story takes place while the characters are boys. Then we jump forward in time and Ewan and Colby are 21 and living in Austin. There are too many breaks in the narration in this book. Dreams and Shadows starts out strong. I read the first few pages and thought, “I’m going to love this book,” but the love didn’t last long. The characters are not particularly loveable, and the love story doesn’t inspire much devotion. There are a couple of good moments (like The Hunt), but not enough to make up for the rest of the book.
If you want another book with a leanan sidhe read Maggie Stiefvater’s Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie
If you want a really good urban fantasy read Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys
If you want a book about wizards and fairies (and a alternate history to boot) read Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
This is book was not for me while I do love a good fairy tale this book is not your typical Tinkerbell romp. There was no happily ever after and you don’t even get a naughty fairy sex scene. Instead you get a seedy nasty tale dealing exclusively with the dark side of life. Full of greedy selfish and mean spirited creatures that leave you questions humanity and wondering if the author is trying to make a point about the human race. There are no characters to really like save Colby but even he slips and falls towards the end. The one redeeming thing about the book is the descriptive world that C. Robert Cargill has created, that alone keep me reading to the bitter, seriously it was bitter, end. I will admit that any 15 year old boy would enjoy the ending assuming you can get them to read that far.
Read instead: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
I just did not want to finish this. I kept looking at the percentage completed at the bottom of my Kindle and willing it to be higher. There is definitely a good idea at the bottom of it but I think the author needs to tighten the story up a lot and pick fewer characters to develop further. We get the point of view and motivation of pretty much everyone mentioned in the story in a way that felt like an adjective-heavy English class exercise but then the dialogue between the major characters is stilted and flat.
In the middle of Chapter 9, I went and reread the description of the book and realized that that wasn’t even the book I was reading. I wanted to read that book. It also meant that I had about another 100 pages of development in order to get there. Or there was going to be a major break and “10 years later”. I’m fine with either way, if I thought that the story would feel more “real” once I was there. The author just wants to include so much in his world that nothing has any depth and he has to intersperse chapters of faked textbook explanations of certain creatures or events. Imagine if J.K. Rowling had written the entire Harry Potter series as one book: so much texture would be lost OR she could have worked out a cool way to do it in, say, the last year at Hogwarts. This book has that problem; the author didn’t opt to take the space or time to develop the world and all the creatures in it in an engaging way nor did he go for conciseness and work out his plot in a riveting way. If he had gone 300 pages and the story in the description or if he had gone multi-volume, textured opus, I would have read either happily.
Thanks to Harper Voyager for providing our readers with access to this novel before publication.