Dreams and Shadows
by C. Robert Cargill
Cover Artist: Photo: Sky by Philippe Sainte-Laudy Photograph / Getty Images;
cityscape by Yurkaimmortal / Shutterstock Images
Review by Mel Jacob
Harper Voyager Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780062190420
Date: 26 February 2013 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
C. Robert Cargill’s debut novel Dreams and Shadows offers a Shakespearean tragedy set against the background of Romeo and Juliet. Colby, a lonely young boy meets a cursed djinn and demands a wish. He wants to see everything, seen and unseen, including monsters and fairies. Little does he know where his wish will lead and what future he will face.
Cargill provides a rich tapestry of folk and fairy lore with humans, monsters, and a wide variety of Sidhe, Seelie and Unseelie. The novel consists of separate threads including excerpts from books about dreamstuff, stories of others: the djinn, Coyote, the Trickster; Ewan and his parents; the changeling, Knocks; and Mallaidh, a Leanan Sidhe. At first, some of the tales appear unrelated, but as the novel develops, the interactions become clear. Colby wants to save Ewan, Mallaidh wants Ewan’s love forever, Knocks wants him dead, and the djinn seeks redemption.
When Colby first visits Fairyland, he encounters Ewan Thatcher, the child stolen at birth and replaced by the changeling Knocks. Ewan is being groomed as the Tithe Child. Periodically, the Sidhi must sacrifice a child to the Devil or risk utter destruction. They feed Ewan fairy milk, keep him isolated, and tell him in time he will become a fairy. He has no idea of his eventual fate.
When Colby meets Ewan, the two lonely boys form a lifelong friendship. Once Colby learns of Ewan's fate, he demands the djinn make him a wizard with no understanding of what such a wish will engender. Only as a wizard does he have any hope of defeating the Sidhe.
Knocks feeds on agony and misery and drives his adoptive mother, Ewan's real mother, to suicide. When Ewan's father discovers Knocks' true nature he tries to drown the changeling. The attempt fails and leads to the man's death. The quartet of nixies who drown Ewan's father adopt Knocks and raise him. The changeling suffers a lifelong envy and hatred of Ewan.
The rich language, world building, and moral questions posed make for fascinating reading. Much of the novel is dark, but hope and redemption form the bedrock of the complex characters.