Fiction Reviews

Dreams and Shadows

(2013) Robert Cargill, Gollancz, £14.99, hrdbk, 405pp, ISBN 978-0-575-13009-8


A friend of mine sometimes says 'Kwality!', when of course, he means 'quality' and right from the off, this hardback edition of Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill oozes quality, or kwality, rather like the recent hardback of The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. Maybe it is the dark cover these two books shared, although in this case we get a central, circular illustration by Simon Erkas which presents a myriad of fantastic, yet, disturbing scenes of mythical creatures, with some human ones – alive and dead, thrown into the swirling mix.

Subtitled A dark place to be…Dreams and Shadows, also curving around the top of the Erkas’ illustration is a little warning, perhaps, letting the prospective reader know that this is 'a modern American fairy tale from an extraordinary new voice'. Cargill might be a new author, but he is a well-respected film critic, writing for and and also writes for Ain’t it Cool News, however, if anyone on this side of the pond knows him at all, it is as the screenwriter of the film Sinister which I certainly enjoyed for its creepiness and its scares, although my wife did nearly jump out of the settee at the lawnmower scene.

In a way Dreams and Shadows is my kind of book, first from the purely reading point of view in that it is just over 400 pages long, divided into 'books' made up of 48 chapters and an epilogue. No, long 30 page chapters here, phew. But, secondly, it’s the actual subject matter – the fairy and folklore basis of the novel – that has drawn me in. I live in Scotland where there are places called 'Fairy Bridge', 'Fairy Knoll', and for years I used to work in central Scotland next to a rolling range of hills – The Ochils – which were full of fairy myths and legends, particularly of creatures called Redcaps, and those very same creatures appear here.

One of the most enduring fairy stories is about the Changling - the child, or person replaced by a double, while the original is spirited away to the land below. It happens here to young Ewan Thatcher when he is snatched from his bedroom and taken to the land of the Limestone King. That’s one narrative strand. The other concerns Colby Stephens who meets a Djinn or a Genie and makes the wrong wish which affects his life from then on. We then follow both characters to adulthood, helped along the way with extracts from 'fictional' factual books by one Dr. Thaddeus Ray, Ph.D. author of Chronicle of the Dreamfolk, and The Everything You Cannot See which explain key characters, fantastical creatures you are about to encounter, key events, and the laws which govern the land the boys visit.

This book is already drawing comparisons to Gaiman, and King and Barker, which is unfair on Cargill, but given Gaiman’s recent, gentle offering, which admittedly does concern a boy looking back on his younger self, Cargill is definitely veering towards the Barker side of the scale given the breadth of imagination on display here and the unflinching, blood-letting towards the end (remember that scene with the lawnmower in Sinister? Ouch!). Yet, with the intertwining tales of two boys growing to adulthood we are in King and maybe, Robert McCammon, territory here, so followers of all these aforementioned authors should get something out of Dreams and Shadows.

It would be wrong to say that Cargill with his film reviewing and screenwriting history has written Dreams and Shadows with one eye on the big screen, yet it is a very cinematic book, very striking, with multiple points of view that perhaps will not be to everyone’s liking, but have no doubt, I fully expect Dreams and Shadows to appear in a cinema near you in the not so distant future.

Ian Hunter

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