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Dreams and Shadows
by C. Robert Cargill
Harper Voyager; $24.99; 433pp
Release Date: February 26, 2013
This is a fine first novel by Cargill. Set in Austin , Texas , it’s a tale of changelings and fairies, the nature of wishes and the consequences of power. Cargill’s writing is sharp and brisk driving the story swiftly.

The first half of the book begins with a happy couple who fall in love and have a baby - a baby who is then replaced with a nasty changeling. The changeling ruins the human parents’ lives and both commit suicide. The changeling is taken in by a quartet of lake nixies.

Cargill spins the story between the changeling and his human counterpart and gives us a rather dark, nasty reason for the fairy’s need for a human baby. To keep the Devil from taking his due, the fairy folk must offer a Tithe Child—one whose life is sacrificed to appease the Devil, thus sparing the need to sacrifice a fairy child.

The fairies who live in the Hill Country outside of Austin are not a very nice group—there is Seelie and Unseelie—but we mostly see the antics of the Unseelie. Vicious redcaps, nixies, trolls, austere, cold elves and one who winds his way through both human and faerie life with equal aplomb, Coyote the Trickster. Coyote is the slippery moderator/commentator of this tale.

Throughout the first half of the book the story is peppered with excerpts from a Dr. Thaddeus Ray PhD’s obscure texts: A Chronicle of the Dreamfolk which Cargill uses to give us a précis on different species of fae folk. As well as the tome The Everything You Cannot See. The actual writer of these books is a bit of a surprise.

The other major human player in this tale is Colby Stevens, a human child with a rather worn out drunk mom who lets him play unsupervised in the nearby woods. Colby meets up with a genie named Yashar one day wandering among the trees. And the genie grants him his wish: “I want to see everything Supernatural” with the addendum Yashar will show him and protect him.

Sweet and simple; n’cest pas?

Oh, dear Lord, no.

Colby, at the tender age of eight leaves his home and goes off with the genie and sees everything supernatural.

Colby comes back years later quite changed---a wizard for all intents and purposes. Because seeing everything supernatural also gives him complete insight in what fuels the supernatural: the power of magic and its very essence.

And Ewan? The baby who was taken by the fairies? He meets with Colby just before he’s about to be sacrificed—thinking he’s going to go through a ritual to make him completely a fairy.

Colby not only rescues him, but kills a redcap to do so.

This, needless to say, really angers the fairies.

And the war is on.

So part two of the novel is the two young men, Colby and Ewan coming to grips with their changed natures and dealing with the anger of a thwarted fairy kingdom who didn’t get what they wanted and lost one of their own. All set in the center of Austin , with a few side trips to the Limestone Kingdom (the name of the local fairy realm). There is a third player in this tale: the changeling known as Knocks. A thwarted bitter creature that is jealous of Ewan.

This is not a particular cheerful tale and there’s loads of violence and gore. But Cargill gives the characters wonderfully layered personalities and challenges. There is even True Love, transcending time and everything.

The end is a whopper with the power (and the pain) of a baseball bat across the knees.

To sum up the tale, let me quote Coyote who is talking to Yashar the genie after a very bad night at the end. “…I am life’s hard lesson, Yashar. The source of man’s humility. Colby needed to learn something, the fairies needed to learn something, those two kids needed to learn something (Ewan and a Sidhe named Mallaidh (pronounced Molly) he’s desperately in love with). Everyone had a lesson waiting, and they learned it with blood. Sometimes that’s how it goes. People learn from failure and tragedy, not success.”

And Mick Jagger said it even better: “You can’t always get what you want; but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.”

And excellent, compelling book. ~~ Sue Martin

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