There comes a time in every reader’s life where you pick up a book not for the author, the genre, the blurb or the half-price offer – but because the cover looks so darn good.
I mean, just look at it! The fantastical creatures, the wonderful colour combinations, the attention to detail, the vibrant yet sinister feeling it creates. As soon as I saw this book cover, I couldn’t look away. It needed to be on my shelf.
But sadly, I am not a book cover reviewer, so the story became a deciding point; the line between whether this would be a book on my bedside table, or a decoration on my bookshelf.
How did it turn out? Pretty well, actually.
Once upon a time, a happy couple had a son.
Once upon a time, a young boy played in the woods.
Once upon a time, they were thrown into the fairy world, hidden behind the veil.
Once upon a time, they believed magic couldn’t hurt them.
Not now. Now they’re all grown up. Now their adventures are remnants of innocent youths: a collection of forgotten days in the Limestone Kingdom, mingling with hazy memories of the darkened woods.
But no one truly forgets their Once Upon a Time – especially not the Fae. And now, as the two boys find themselves thrown behind the veil once more, they’ll be lucky to leave it alive.
Cargill’s passion for folklore and mythology is something to be admired. Celtic, Native American, English – the array of Fae that he portrays, with such a colourful and entertaining flourish, is the sign of a novel that is not just well-researched, but passionate about it’s mystical material.
All too often we see fairies ill-treated when transferred into a modern setting, their sinister side wiped clean in amongst technology and night clubs. But Dreams and Shadows not only sticks close to each and every creature’s own peculiar quirks, but integrates them so well into the modern setting that you can’t help hoping that they’re real.
That being said, the tone of the novel is hard to pin down. At the beginning, it reads like a modern fairy-tale a-la Angela Carter, or Naomi Novik, but mid-way through it takes on the tone of the YA novel – two young boys, growing up amid magic, discovering their place in the world as they travel into adulthood. I adjusted to it easily enough, but I can see other readers finding the shift in tone fairly jarring.
In addition, there are a few too many “talking head” scenes – scenes of uninterrupted dialogue, with little description or pauses to break it up. With a lot of characters and magic to portray, I understand why these were necessary, but I feel there could have been a better way weave the exposition in with the description, keeping the flow of the narrative. For some pages, it felt more like a script than a novel.
Yet, in spite of its faults, Dreams and Shadows is a master of building readers expectations, only to smash them down. From the first page to the last, I had no idea what was going to happen. Cargill leads you down one clear route, then forces you into the unforseen; he teases one predictable story, only to slam you straight off the garden path.
Dreams and Shadows, on the whole, is a good story. A novel with creative, imaginative creations, and a plot that perfectly echoes the forests of the Limestone Kingdom – dark, twisted and so easy to get lost in, no matter how hard you try. So if you’re looking for a creative, fun and story-gripping fantasy, this is definitely the book for you.
A beautiful cover with a compelling tale – this book has found its home upon my bedside, just waiting to be read again.