“Do you believe in fairies?… If you believe, clap your hands!”
The seventh book I’ve read for the Once Upon a Time Challenge was Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill, a story in which fairies play an important part. After reading about djinni, golems and angels it’s the fairies’ turn, which, when I think about, I see Tinkerbell – fragile, tiny and mischievous.
The fairies in this book however, come in different shapes and sizes and they are far from being fragile and cute (some are, but not all). They live in Limestone Kingdom, a realm accessible only to their kind, and to those human children they have abducted. Ewan is such a child. Taken from his human parents from infancy, he grows up among the fairies, under the protection of Dithers, a monstrous creature whose job is to take care of the boy. In his place Dithers leaves a changeling, Knocks, an equally monstrous creature that can take the appearance of baby Ewan, and whose true nature is only visible to Ewan’s mother.
The boy Ewan and the changeling Knocks meet later on in Limestone Kingdom. A third boy, Colby, enters the story with the help of a djinn whom he meets while playing not far from his house. The djinn does what all djinn do, he gives the boy a wish and Colby wants nothing more than to see magical creatures. This way, the triangle is complete – Colby and Ewan become friends, while Knocks is the enemy, their paths crossing quite often, even after Colby leaves Limestone Kingdom and comes back to the human world. But the fairies have wanted Ewan for a very special reason, and unless Colby intervenes, the boy’s fate is sealed. The story follows all three of them into adulthood while Ewan becomes a rock star, Colby is haunted by his experience among the fairies, and Knocks just wants revenge.
I loved the first part of the book. The background story of Jared and Tiffany who fell in love, married and had baby Ewan, seemed like something out of a fairy tale. After their baby is abducted and the changeling left in its place, the author gives a detailed explanation of the creature who performed the exchange, a Bendith Y Mamau called Dithers, whose ugliness is matched by his ability to play incredibly beautiful music. Such breaks from the original story come here and there in the form of explanations of one Dr. Thaddeus Ray, Ph.D., whose excerpts from several of his books give details about the creatures of the Limestone Kingdom.
The story however, did not hold its magic sway over me. I found none of the main characters (the boys) particularly interesting and was a bit bothered by the way the female side was represented, either as innocent looking but actually evil, or as self-sacrificing mothers and lovers. This is definitely “a boys’ book” and it made me feel somehow left out, as if I was peering through a glass door instead of being invested in the story.
It did not help that the blurb at the back proclaimed it as “…definitely going to attract readers of contemporary fantasy, particular those who enjoy Neil Gaiman’s adult books.” Now I do love Gaiman’s work (not all, though) and while I do see a hint of Neverwhere in it – parallel worlds, the ability of some of the characters to cross from one world to another – the similarities end here.
My favorite parts where those excerpts by Thaddeus Ray I mentioned earlier, which goes to show I liked the background information more than the story itself.
Bonus point for the cover, which is really nice, and it reminds me of Shadow Show, which was what attracted me to the book in the first place. Or it may have been the word shadow in the title. A goodreads.com search revealed this is only the first book in a series and the second one is called Queen of the Dark Things – an intriguing title but I’m not sure if I’ll add that to my TBR stack just yet.
My rating: 3/5 stars
Read in May, 2014