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Victoria Reads Books

Global citizen, adventurer, ponderer. Lover of coffee, books, and the Oxford comma. Infected by wanderlust, enchanted by stories. Might occasionally be a photo blog.

Currently reading

Jane Austen
Progress: 230/412 pages
Le Petit Prince
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Eight Great Comedies
Sylvan Barnet, Morton Berman, William Burton
The Longman Anthology of Short Fiction, Compact Edition: Stories and Authors in Context
Dana Gioia, R.S. Gwynn
Anna Karenina
Leo Tolstoy, Louise Maude, Aylmer Maude, E.B. Greenswood
Dreams and Shadows - C. Robert Cargill I’ve been mulling this book over in my head for a few hours now, trying to decide whether I like the book, or whether it is simply ‘okay’. After some deliberation, I’ve settled on the 2/5 rating.

This book is divided into two parts, and follows two protagonists, Colby and Ewan (yes, like Ewan McGregor). Commencing the unfulfilled promise of a fairy tale with “once upon a time”, the author quickly snatches the reader’s attention by ruthlessly shattering a perfect family. This is the beginning of Ewan’s story, and is, in my opinion, the best chapter in the book. Then, eight-year-old Colby is introduced as an overly curious, precocious child largely ignored by his mother. He meets Yashar, a cursed djinn, who grants him a wish. Little Colby does a Phaëton and makes a wish that will doom him to a terrible fate that he is unable to yet perceive. He wishes to be able to see the supernatural. The focus of this book is on the supernatural creatures that are very unpleasant (and do most of the slasher film-style killings). Colby’s naïve desire to see everything that the supernatural has to offer leads him to the Limestone Kingdom, where he meets young Ewan, who is now living amongst the fairies. Other significant characters worthy of mention are Mallaidh, a beautiful young fairy in love with her ‘hero’, Ewan, and Knocks, the vicious changeling who has dedicated his bitter life to ruining Ewan. Throughout the rest of the book, we see the consequences of Colby’s choice play out, and see that fate and the ‘nature of things’ can never be defeated.

Dreams and Shadows is a fantasy novel that is most certainly not intended for young readers. The author – who was the screenwriter for the horror film Sinister – writes scenes containing explicit goriness with a great deal of gusto. Hence, if descriptions of people getting sliced in half, smashed against walls, having their head shattered, and having their organs spew everywhere grosses you out, this book is definitely not for you. Although gory scenes can have their place, I felt that at times, the excessive violence did not play any significant role in providing description in scenes that strengthen the plot. For instance, in Part 1 (which I feel is the weaker half of the book), there are chapters pertaining to the slaughter of unfortunate characters in the wrong place at the wrong time. The characters who meet their untimely ends are undeveloped and unlikeable, so their deaths have little meaning to the reader. In general, I never connected with any of the characters (except for Ewan’s mother at the beginning of the book), which prevented me from being fully invested in the plot.

In terms of nature vs. nurture, this book takes the ‘nature’ side of the argument to the extreme. The fairies all feed on different things – not necessarily flesh. Certain types of fairies feed off of things like fear and agony; others such as the ‘redcaps’ wear a woolen cap and must kill to keep the cap red with blood in order to maintain their power, and the ‘sidhe’ feed off of sexual energy. Most of the deaths in the book are justified because it is ‘within the nature’ of the fairies to feed and kill in horrible ways; the fairies have absolutely no control over these urges. Although I do know that this is a fantastical world, it still seems weird to me that a fairy can brutally murder someone (to feed), be extremely upset, then cry something along the lines of ‘why did you leave me, my love?’ and repeat this cycle over… and over… and over. The rules of Colby’s capabilities were also lost on me- I felt like I didn’t have a good grasp on what he could or could not do. Hence, his performances in the battle scenes often left me baffled. The background facts about other creatures are revealed in non-fiction textbook-styled chapters sandwiched between chapters of the actual story. Although they were occasionally interesting, they generally felt very formulaic in the sense that something would happen in the plot, and pause! What did we just see there? – sometimes even when characters in the plot just explained what happened. I felt like they interrupted the flow of the plot. I did enjoy, however, when the text was referenced within the plot itself.

Although I didn’t buy the romance between Mallaidh and Ewan, I thought that her death scene was thought out well, and was quite clever. I also thought that Ewan’s final words were brilliant. Although I have difficulties understanding the nature of the fairies, I thought that a great moment in the book was when one of the main characters acknowledges that absurdity, and tries to use it as an argument against them.

I think what this book was missing was the necessary description to make the characters and their significance more fleshed out. I understood that Colby and Ewan were friends, but I had trouble feeling their relationship. I may simply be hard to please, but my lack of belief and investment in the story made me unable to connect to it- which is somewhat ironic considering the importance of the concept of belief in the story itself. To add, I didn't feel that this book was comparable to the works of Neil Gaiman- everything from the the prose style to the use of imagery and tone felt quite different. All in all, I did finish the book, and enjoyed some aspects of it- but I won't be rereading it or picking up the sequel.

Entertainment value: 3/5
Writing quality/style: 2/5
Readability: 2/5 (5 being the most difficult to read)
Characters (depth/development): 1.5/5
Plot: 3/5

I received an ARC of this through the Goodreads First Reads program. This has not influenced my opinions about the book in any way.

Review edited 3/17/13