I love modern fairy tales. I love them so much I’ve even started writing my own (check out my novel Clockworkers). Dreams and Shadows was like something I’d written myself, which is perhaps why I enjoyed it so much.
The novel tells the story of Ewan and Colby; two little boys who have very different upbringings but end up having the same experiences with fairy folk. But these aren’t the friendly, pretty fairies of Disney tales. These are the dangerous sprites, redcaps, goblins, and other supernatural beings who exist in a magical world just outside of ours.
It’s a dark story, for sure. The book is mostly about the unfortunate and tragic events that occur when the fairy world and the human world meet. There are lots of deaths, and Ewan and Colby end up seeing far more tragedy than 8-year-olds should ever know. But there’s also the wonderful innocence and naivete of youth that keeps the story from being wholly depressing. Ewan and Colby are often saved by the fact that they don’t know they should be scared. Author C. Robert Cargill really captures the pure, unbridled power of the imagination that little boys have. There’s a beautiful line near the beginning of the book that sums it up well:
“There is no place in the universe quite like the mind of an eight-year-old boy. Describing a boy at play to someone who has never been a little boy at play is nigh impossible.”
And our plucky young leads, combined with the carefully-crafted magical worlds they find themselves in really make the first half of the novel quite enjoyable. But when Ewan Colby grow up, I felt the book lost some of its magic. Suddenly the joys of youth were replaced by the doldrums and depression of adulthood. This is a great thematic element of the story, as it reflects how the things we learn as we mature take much magic out of the world, but it also makes the story less fun.
Still, Dreams and Shadows is a fun read with lots of interesting mythical lore based on age-old tales, combined with a modern setting and modern sensibilities. Definitely worth a read if you like your fairy tales dark and melancholy, mixed with some childish glee.