Top critical review
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Fun but flawed
on 25 November 2012
'Dreams and Shadows' is an interesting novel. Its various fairy creatures are not new - a quick Google reveals they all already exist in folklore - but most of them I had never heard of. Cargill brings these folklores together, telling a story that is in places quite mad, and a lot of fun. It is also very dark, featuring Hell as a key player and revelling in gore (making it unsuitable for younger readers). I was surprised to find Hell in a story about fairies, but I can't but praise Cargill for his fascinating musings on the nature of Hell - to give a hint, he presents an argument for why Hitler could well be in paradise.
Why only 3 stars? The first half of the book is noticeably better than the second, and there were too many flaws for me to ignore, both within the plot and within the narrative itself. In terms of plot, the adult Colby Stevens - one of our human protagonists - seems rather thick, and slow to grasp events, despite his supposedly extensive knowledge of the fairy world. The climax of the novel was unforgivably cliché, a standard mash of characters punching or stabbing each other. I had expected better when the rest of the story felt so unusual.
In terms of narrative, the pacing felt a little off, and I was not a fan of the constant switching of POVs (point of view) between different characters in the same scenes, sometimes in the same paragraphs. And one particular bugbear for me was the way the author was happy to describe people being mutilated and killed in exquisite detail, but too prudish to describe two characters making love (God forbid!).
I was hooked by 'Dreams and Shadows' from the beginning, but gradually my delight waned and by the end I was left feeling deflated. I cannot help but think this novel would have benefited from a few more redrafts before publication. It has the spark of potential, but it is unpolished.
(But my, what a great cover!)