Title: Dreams and Shadows
Author: C. Robert Cargill
Okay. Let's be honest. Being an Austinite who's a little homesick, I might be a bit biased on this one. But it was plenty of fun, with well-built suspense, writing with just the right tone, and fantastic urban fantasy fairy tale worldbuilding. The added beastiary bits only made it better.
Dreams and Shadows follows the story of two young boys: one who was taken from his mother as an infant and replaced by a changeling, and another who met a djinn and wished to see everything. Their paths intersect and start them down a road no one fully comprehends, but everyone can see will end in disaster.
The story itself is interspersed with fictional essays explaining different types of fairies and mythological creatures, as well as stories within the story. This balance felt just right, and added some nice lulls to the book where it was needed. Furthermore, it's then later tied back into the plot, in a way that's not significant, but fun.
There are a lot of themes being explored here; the most obvious are the nature of humanity and the destruction of innocence. However, I didn't feel like Cargill was being too heavy-handed with the themes. Instead, they were just there as you're taken along a ride, a fun dark fantasy ride.
I also appreciated the book being set in Austin. And not just because the reading challenge asks me to read a book set in my hometown. Usually specfic stories are set somewhere... not so Texas. And not only does this story choose an uncommon town for its setting, it appreciates Austin in a way that only an Austinite can. Usually, when stories are set in Texas, it doesn't feel like Texas, because it's what other people think Texas is.
While the book was long-ish, it was a rather easy and quick read, all things considered. So if you're looking for a dark fantasy fairy tale story that doesn't do everything by-the-book, I highly recommend Dreams and Shadows. It was one of those pleasant surprises I don't get often enough.