Looking back, I’m actually pretty dissatisfied with the write up I did of Dreams and Shadows – and I’m not a huge fan of the format I used for my old posts. So, I figured that in the event that I forget my book at home on any given work night, I’ll re-read some old stuff on my phone, and post about what I haven’t put up here yet.
I was a big fan of Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill, and a bigger fan (in a slightly different way) of Queen of the Dark Things (the sequel), and I’ve been wanting to write about the second novel. But, looking back, I feel like my original post didn’t do the first book justice, so I figured: why not do both?
So, here we go.
Dreams And Shadows (Take two)
I first bought this book on kindle quite a while ago – at the urging of Chris. It’s probably safe to assume, at this point, that if I’ve decided to post about a book on here, it’s because Chris got it for me, found it for me, or wanted to read it with me. There are a few notable exceptions, obviously, but this isn’t one of them.
So, what exactly is it about?
Dreams and Shadows is split into two books – simply called Book One and Book Two. Book One tells the stories of Ewan – a young human boy who lives with the fairies in the Limestone Kingdom, Knocks – a changeling, and Colby – who meets a djinn one day while playing in the woods, and upon learning that not only are genies real, that so are fairies, pixies, etc, wishes to see everything. It’s pretty easy to see where this is going – as a result of his wish, Colby’s life becomes intertwined with those of Knocks and Ewan. Book Two picks up fifteen-ish years later.
There’s a lot more I could, and would like to say about the story, but I think I’ll leave it at that for now. While Book One is clearly all intended as setup for Book Two, it still is literally half the book, and I feel like the destination that you arrive at when you get there is worth the journey of reading it on your own.
When we first started reading Dreams and Shadows, I couldn’t get into it. The first few chapters read like a series of disjointed stories that take place in the same world, or have common themes. And while the stories seemed to be pretty cool, I just wasn’t feeling it. I put it down a bunch of times, but Chris kept on pestering me to give it more time. So, I did, and all I can say is that if you’re having the same trouble – if you can’t get past the first handful of chapters, keep trucking along. Just like with Perdido Street Station, it’s worth the effort involved to get going.
Dreams and Shadows is a “dark urban fantasy”, written by C. Robert Cargill, which in and of itself will tell you something about what you’re reading. Cargill co-wrote the screenplay for the movie “Sinister” – a gory supernatural horror film about a true-crime author who finds a series of snuff films, and starts investigating them – and that shows in this book. A number of the reviews I read made mention of how they thought the book was needlessly gory – which I get.
At a glance, Dreams and Shadows is a story about fairies, genies, and the little boys who live among them, and I believe this is what put so many readers off of this book. While it’s fairly apparent that the actual content of the book is somewhat sinister and dark, it starts off with a real bang. It doesn’t really pull any punches from the get-go. Many of the ugly, grotesque creatures are described in vivid detail, and all the terrible, bloody, violent ends that people meet are described fairly graphically. I can get why people may not have been expecting that from this book, and why it would be a little bit of a turn-off for some readers.
I have a few criticisms of this book – it reads like it was written by someone who works as a screenwriter. Which, as we know, it was. While I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, it’s something that shows. It’s sort of like if you’ve read American Gods by Neil Gaiman, where sometimes it reads like the early draft of a comic book, rather than a novel. If you read that, and that was something that bothered you, then this book may not be for you.
Another criticism I have is the treatment of women. There aren’t very many female characters in the book. The ones that do make an appearance are either parts of the background and just added to give color to the Limestone Kingdom, or exist to further the plot of a male lead character. It’s pretty “Women in Refrigerators”-ey, which is kind of a bummer. There is one obvious exception to this, a female character who is portrayed as powerful, and doesn’t exist just to be brutalized, add texture to an otherwise resoundingly male cast, or be protected by a man, but she’s problematic for a whole other variety of reasons.
Despite that small handful of issues, I was a big fan of this book before, and actually quite enjoyed it on my second read-through. I recommend it highly. While I would have liked to see it a little longer, apparently I’m a sadist, and didn’t mind the length of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Knorell. 4/5.
Queen of the Dark Things
This one starts off pretty similarly to the first book, in that it starts off kind of dense – a little hard to get into, but then you get to Chapter 2, as a quick reference to what happened in the last book, and you meet Colby again in Chapter 3, at which point you’re back on familiar ground.
One of the biggest, most immediate differences between this book, and the first, is that you don’t spend the first half of the book following around childhood versions of all the characters. There is, of course, some flashing back to the previous adventures of Colby and Yashar, and excerpts from various books by the Dr. Thaddeus Ray appear. However, as a result of being a sequel, Queen of the Dark Things doesn’t need to spend as much time on world building, and establishing the main characters as was needed in Dreams and Shadows. As a result, the story is able to take a little more time. While I had no major complaints with the tone of Dreams and Shadows, it was very serious, very dark, and very sinister. Yeah, there were jokes here and there, but Queen of the Dark Things lets you see Colby be human, and see Yashar be human-ish. You get to see scenes where the characters are something besides brooding, drunk, or children.
But, what is Queen of the Dark Things about? Aside from being the further adventures of Colby and friends?
Six short months after the events of the first book, Colby is still reeling from everything that happened “that night”, when he finds himself at the mercy of a beautiful woman, who begs him to save her children from the spirit that’s started hanging around her home. Though this, Colby finds himself at the mercy of a pissed off “Genius Loci”, and a host of sinister spirits who need his help.
Much like in Dreams and Shadows, Queen of the Dark Things deals with themes of damnation, salvation, martyrdom, etc. Because the worldbuilding is already largely taken care of, more attention can be given to these themes, and the overall storytelling.
I liked QotDT better than Dreams and Shadows – I think the story, the writing, and characterization were all better – plus Colby has a dog, and dogs make everything better.
There’s so much I want to say about this book, but it’s hard to say anything without spoiling the end of the first one. But what I can say is this: if you liked Dreams and Shadows, Queen of the Dark Things is a definite must read.
The issues with women are handled way better – not great, but way less alarming. It also reads less like a screenplay turned novel, and more like a novel. There’s also some more subtlety and foreshadowing as well. If I were to give Dreams and Shadows a 4, I’d give Queen of the Dark Things a 5/5. Dang!