By C. Robert Cargill
Available now from Harper Voyager (HarperCollins)
When I learned that there was a modern faerie story set in Austin, TX, I was there. I love faeries and I love my former home. I certainly enjoyed reading DREAMS AND SHADOWS. It was much more fast-paced than I expected. Also, it centered around the Tithe, which is always a good bit of mythology to play with.
While DREAMS AND SHADOWS was an entertaining novel, it could be better written. Now, it's probably paling in comparison to the other adult fantasy novels I've read recently, all of which were masterful. C. Robert Cargill's writing isn't bad, but it doesn't invite one to linger. I don't remember any clever turns of phrase or particularly memorable images. His prose went in one ear and out the other.
The characters aren't well developed. Several figures exist just to give pseudo-philosophical speeches. Now, I don't think we're expected to buy into those speeches entirely. They tend to be given by untrustworthy or biased characters. But the main character seems to buy into them, which is kind of lame. (The main character being Colby. He and Ewan are given equal billing in the blurb, but it's much more Colby's story.) Speaking of Ewan, he more often resembles a plot device than a co-protagonist. He's an object of desire or loathing, but rarely someone whose actions move the plot along. Knocks, the antagonist, is given zero billing, but I finished the novel knowing a lot more about what made him tick than Ewan.
The first two hundred or so pages are about Colby, Ewan, Knocks, and Mallaidh (a female faerie) as children. They eventually all meet on a night that sets the course for their future lives. It is Colby's coming of age story and the other three are caught within it, even though none of the four know it.
Going back to the whole faeries in Austin thing . . . it doesn't quite work. There's a kitchen sink of fantasy creatures with no explanation of why those creatures are all together or how they happened to end up in Hill Country. Almost every other chapter contains an excerpt from an ersatz academic text explaining the mythology, but there's just as much left unexplained. C. Robert Cargill never really puts his own spin on the mythology and just lets the rules crop up when they're plot relevant, often to the detriment of the protagonists.
Perhaps the best tragedy in DREAMS AND SHADOWS is the opening, a nasty tragic vignette about how Ewan came to be raised by the faeries. Much of the darkness in the latter half of the novel is more miserable than fantastic. I much preferred the first half to the second.
DREAMS AND SHADOWS isn't a bad novel. It's an extremely readable one that I expect will satisfy many fantasy fans. But despite its thick spine, it's a shallow novel. There's talent there, but Cargill isn't a rock star yet.