Book Review: Dreams & Shadows (2013) – C. Robert Cargill (aka @Massawyrm)

C. Robert Cargill is a name you may have heard of around the internet as Massawyrm of Ain’t it Cool News – and I recently finished reading his first literary work of fiction Dreams and Shadows.


This one

I have to say I doubt I would have normally noticed it on the shelf.  It’s described as a magical realm something something and while I tend to be drawn to sci-fi/horror novels, magical fairy lands tend to be a bit too fluffy fantasy for me.  I almost ignored it, but I recognized the name and I can honestly admit that I gave Dreams & Shadows the benefit of the doubt purely because of the author.


this guy

It so happens lately my favourite (John Dies at the End) and most anticipated books (Notes from the Internet Apocalypse) are coming from authors that started out writing online.  I figured Dreams was worth a second look, because whatever special sauce of wit and sarcasm it takes to actually find success writing online, I’m finding makes for unexpectedly creative fiction.


Keep an eye on this one

So, if you have similar reservations for the genre, put them aside.  For me, Dreams and Shadows is more of a gritty, noire creature-tale than fairy-tale. Similar in tone to something like Fables (or the Wolf Among Us for gamers) or the works of Neil Gaiman or Guillermo del Toro than your assumed awkward cosplay convention.

but fairies, not fairy-tales, incidentally a fantastic game

The story itself takes place in modern day Austin, Texas.  Cargill populates a familiar Austin with a richly dark phylum of classical fairy creatures both recognizable and extremely obscure, mostly (but not entirely) from celtic lore.  The detail presented (as chapter lead-ins from a fictional encyclopedia) lend a great deal of reality and historical grounding to the creatures.


Pirhana-toothed Nixies, Deformed Changelings and Drunken Angels to name a few

To me, the most important factor making this a mature and believeable reality, is Cargill’s particular attention to internal consistency (i.e. the plot/characters follow the rules of magic in their universe and creatures’ established behaviours).  Magic is never used conveniently to further the plot… because magic. 

My usual issues with magic were thankfully dispelled – actions have permanent consequences in the world of Dreams and Shadows.  This allows for believable character-driven story progression and dark scenes that have weight to them.  The characters themselves aren’t divided up in to heros and villains, they are nuanced, plausibly motivated and murky (i.e. no cheap fairy-tale tropes here) – they’ve all got their hands dirty.


You’ve got something in your eye

Overall, I’m glad I picked up Dreams & Shadows. The wealth of peculiar creatures and their uniquely associated powers set up creative action sequences and gruesome fun.  C. Robert Cargill offers a modern, gritty and original take on the classic fairy ecosystem, that thankfully doesn’t follow your typical outsider/hero/chosen-one BS.  It’s not at all predictable (which is one of my highest compliments) making for a damn fun weekend read.


Booze accompaniment: Forty Creek Copper Pot Whiskey on the rocks for sipping while you read

Musical accompaniment:  90’s grungey-bluesy album Above by Mad Season for the second act of the book through to the end

Check out my other book reviews here, and for those following along, I’ve just started reading: Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer


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