Dreams and Shadows

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When I received my copy of Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill, the first thing that jumped out at me from the press release was the number of comparatives to Neil Gaiman. This did not bode well for the book, as I've become somewhat inured to hyperbolic release praise, finding that most books that claim to be the next big thing barely reach the bar the publicist has set. And, already being partially into a rather large novel already, Dreams and Shadows was destined to go "in the stack" to maybe get a look at whenever I could get around to it.

Blame the fussy eating habits of a five year old. I was on "make sure he eats" duty while the missus went upstairs to put away the clean clothes. Dreams and Shadows being the only media to have arrived in the daily posts, I sat at the table and read the liner notes again. Then I let myself mildly peruse the opening text, making no promises.

Five hours later, I was several pages in, and not about to put the thing down. The hyperbole was, in this case, true: C. Robert Cargill is indeed the second coming of Neil Gaiman.

Dreams and Shadows starts off like a roller coaster. There's that steady chk-chk-chk-chk as the cars are going up. You're holding on. You know the drop is coming. Only in this case, the ascendance is so delightful, the ambience so charming, that when you begin the rapid descent, you don't just scream out loud, you actually place your hands on top your head with a real fear that your stomach might actually penetrate your skull and get left behind. And that's before you start to notice the tracks are disintegrating just around the curve and there's a pit below you filled with broken roller coaster cars filled with the tattered skeletons of those who've taken the ride before you.

To put it in hypester terms: Dreams and Shadows is American Gods taking over the stage from the opening act of Stardust, near a bar built by Richard Kadrey on a disreputable corner where innocent children play streetball with trickster gods, using puddles of crushed whiskey bottles for bases.

Are you there yet? Then let's get more detailed.

When you enter Dreams and Shadows, you are actually entering two intertwining stories told across two books. The first character you meet is Ewan, who has been stolen by fairies living outside of Austin, Texas, and replaced with a changeling child. The fairy court has a very special destiny in mind for Ewan, of which they are only partially telling him. Until that day, he's treated as a golden child of the community, raised by his mentor and becoming the object of love of a young sidhe named Mallaidh.

The other story is that of seven-year-old Colby, who finds himself on his own in the world after meeting an honest-to-God genie named Yashar who grants Colby a wish. As with all wishes, there come the unintended consequences (through no malicious part of Yashar's, which I found refreshing).

Inevitably, Colby and Ewan's paths cross -- and neither of their lives will ever be the same again, as Colby and Ewan become best friends even as Colby becomes the most hated and feared person in all the Limestone Kingdom. And while both young men ultimately reach their destinies, their lives are "made interesting" through encounters with the trickster Coyote, Hell's own Wild Hunt, and Nixie Knocks -- the emotional-vampire changeling child who did not die as he should have, and who nurses a deadly grudge against both Colby and Ewan for the roles they have played in his misfortunes.

Magically written, enchantingly told, at turns both entrancing and terrifying, Dreams and Shadows is a book I cannot recommend highly enough to fans of the urban fantasy genre -- or fans of good writing and compelling stories, for that matter. It's that good. Get this book now, or you may not know what to do when a vicious pack of redcaps comes for your innards.

5.0 / 5.0