Once Upon a Time…was there ever a more perfect beginning to a story? From those first four words I was mesmerised by Dreams and Shadows. Lots of books are compared to fairytales, but for me, this is the real thing. The first chapter is so perfect. Time is condensed, moving swiftly to get to what matters. Extraneous detail is pushed aside, as in all the best fairytales. What’s important is that Jared and Tiffany meet, fall in love, and have a child. Their life is perfect and full of promise. Until the night their child is swapped for a changeling. The swap is lingered over, so we miss no detail. Only Tiffany can see what has been left in her beautiful son’s place. A horror, destined to destroy her, feeding off her fear and distress lies in Ewan’s crib, whilst Ewan is carried off in a sack to live amongst the fairies.
Ewan and his changeling, Knocks, are one part of this tale. Colby Stephens is the other. A largely neglected eight-year-old, self-sufficient by necessity, meets a djinn. Yashar has a long and troubled past, that he shares with Colby. He needs someone to remember him to keep him alive, and Colby fits the bill. In return Yashar grants Colby one wish. Colby wants to see everything – he wants to see all the supernatural world hidden behind the veil. It’s a wish he might live long enough to regret.
The two boys, Ewan and Colby, meet and forge an unbreakable bond. As the true nature of Ewan’s life amongst the fairies becomes apparent Colby makes another wish, one that changes his path forever. The first part of the book leads up to a confrontation between Colby and the fairy folk; the second takes us a decade or so beyond. It’s not simply a linear narrative. Interspersed between the chapters are extracts from the works of a Dr Thaddeus Ray, describing and explaining the supernatural creatures and energy. Cargill has combined mythology and folktales to produce a story full of Sidhe and Red Caps, forest bogies and vicious mermaids.
The Limestone Kingdom is a terrifying place where no human creature is safe. Knowing the seelie from unseelie fairies is tricky, and probably won’t do you much good anyway. Contact with either is unlikely to end well. Steer well clear of two characters in particular. Knocks is driven by his hatred for Ewan, and delights in causing pain and sorrow. Coyote is a trickster, manipulating events and people. His motives are impossible to second guess, but he drives the story in his underhanded manner. Above all, beware the Wild Hunt.
Dreams and Shadows is gruesome, gory, saturated with blood and horror, but strikingly beautiful for all that. I ought to have been more scared, but I was so tightly bound by the tale it carried me away. It is a story to frighten yourself with, but it compels your attention and leaves you wide-eyed with as much excitement as fear. Just like a fairytale of old.