Monsters are everywhere. They’re people, they’re nightmares. They’re jealous viziers. They are the things that we harbor within ourselves. If you remember one thing, even above remembering me, remember that there is not a monster dreamt that hasn’t walked once within the soul of a man.
When I received the book at my home, I thought to myself, who the fuck is C. Robert Cargill? I came to the gentleman’s Tumblr page and lo and behold, he is the film critic turned screenwriter behind last year’s pretty creepy flick, Sinister. Color me excited. I examined the cover, expecting some clues to the story within, completely ignoring the jacket summary in the process. I set it down at work where it was immediately picked up several times by different people, all of whom tried to buy it. Intrigued by the pull it seemed to have, I flipped it open and dove in headfirst.
Like most fairy tales, it begins with “Once upon a time…”
Unlike most fairy tales, the first chapter ended with a harrowing ache in my chest as I felt for the first trio of characters introduced, head swirling with the magical implications of all that was to come.
To say the characters are fleshed out wonderfully would be to undersell the book. The creatures alone deserve their own bound compendium/appendix à la Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, complete with gorgeous illustrations. The book itself is divided into two parts, aptly labeled Book One and Book Two, and interspersed with the main narrative are supplemental excerpts that flesh out characters and creatures further, creating a tale so vivid, it’s hard to tear yourself away.
Book One revolves around two children, a boy swept away shortly after birth with a changeling left in his place and a boy swept away with tales of magic. In a wholly creative, original way, the author manages to blend these two stories into a whimsical fabric wrought with tragedy and pain. It is delightful to feel joy at having something nostalgic like simply playing as a child described so wonderfully, only to turn a page and be hit in the heart with a feeling of loss. Although Book One has the role of introducing dozens of characters and their back stories, not once are you lost or confused about who is who. There is certainly a hero (or two), an antagonist worthy of him, and even a couple of anti-heroes for good measure for you to get to know before the two boys head in different directions in life, destined for things not of this world.
Book Two is set in Austin, Texas (of all the places!) and amidst on point description of true Texas weather, Cargill expertly shifts the focus to the now adult boys. One has seen the world over, human and fey alike which has brought him enemies, friends, and allies while the other is the picture of mediocrity until he meets the girl of his dreams, which catapults him into his destiny. As dreams shatter and they realize their anguished adulthood is the result of past doing, it dawns on them that fates cannot be escaped, no matter who intervenes. In a gory finale full of angels, fairies, shadows, tricksters, and betrayals…it’s one to leave you breathless! For those of you expecting a happy ending, all I offer is a quote from the book:
“One day, no matter what, you and I will both be dust and dreamstuff, and the total of our lives won’t be the things we did to survive, but the things we did to change the world.”
Overall, I’d give the book 4/5 and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for any other books by C. Robert Cargill, especially if they continue to showcase his remarkable imagination. My only note of caution would be on reading this to little ones. Some of the creatures are monsters straight from nightmares and with colorful language you might not want them spouting until they’re older, it’s best to use your good judgement before passing it on.
Dreams & Shadows goes on sale on February 26th and can be found on Amazon and through your local bookstore.