Dreams and Shadows, by C. Robert Cargill.
In this highly imaginative debut, C. Robert Cargill (reviewer for film.com and Ain’t it Cool News and screenwriter of the uber creepy Sinister) builds a world that is quite close to our own, but unseen by most of the human world: Austin (yes, that Austin). In it dwell fairies and angels, sorcerers and djinns. It is a world most children would give up anything to be a part of; which brings us to our protagonist Colby Stevens, who does just that. Though the premise itself may sound like a story perfect for lovers of Harry Potter or Narnia, this one is certainly not for kids. The audience for Dreams and Shadows is far more adult (think more Neil Gaiman meets Clive Barker).
It starts the way any fantastical story should, with those four magic words: once upon a time. From there, Cargill sends the reader unprotected through his dark fairy tale, exploring some characters and creatures you may or may not be familiar with (the leprechaun’s not-so- distant cousin the Clurichaun, the beautiful and dangerous Sidhe and remember those Bendith Y Mamau stories we all grew up with? No? Just me?).
It truly is an expert reworking of traditional folklore (particularly Irish mythology) and Cargill does not leave the reader lost for a moment. Throughout the novel, especially the first half, there are excerpts from the fictional “Dr. Thaddeus Ray’s” various novels written on the fantastic inhabitants. These serve as explanations for some of the less familiar dreamfolk and fairies in Cargill’s strange Austin, TX. These excerpts show us how talented of a writer he really is. He writes this book through so many different points of view including this “non-fiction” one.
This book is a true page turner. Though the exposition does run a bit long, Cargill is simply drawing his audience in and establishing the world in which they are about to immersed. Once he does this, a fairly simple question is presented which serves as the plot for the remainder of the novel: what happens when the traditional “young boy” protagonist grows up? He has already seen too much of the world (in a way that most people will never get to see) and can never feel as if he belongs. This is just what happens to the adult Colby Stevens. The result is a sort of John Constantine-type character, forced to walk the world knowing and seeing far more than he should (some might say a cursed existence). It is a story of love and loyalty, pain and loss; and it does it beautifully.
I always had a theory, and perhaps it was just one aspiring writer’s defense against critics but I believed it anyway: those who cannot do, teach. Those who cannot do or teach, criticize. While this may be true for many, it does not seem to ring true for C. Robert Cargill. He has proven his worth as a critic and has made the extremely successful leap to novelist. If his debut is any indication, I think it will be only a matter of time before you’ll be hearing his name again, with an equally impressive follow-up.