With Queen of the Dark Things, C. Robert Cargill returns to the dark, consequence-filled world he created in Dreams and Shadows. This time around, hisWith Queen of the Dark Things, C. Robert Cargill returns to the dark, consequence-filled world he created in Dreams and Shadows. This time around, his modern fairytale comes wrapped in the mythology of the Australian aboriginal people, creating a more philosophical and, if possible, even darker story than his previous book as the themes of life, death, and the afterlife are explored.
I was actually rather surprised when I saw this book, as I'd read the first one with the understanding that it was a stand-alone novel. So with my surprise came the tiniest bit of dread. After all, Cargill's debut, Dreams & Shadows, was so dark and twisted and unique--would any kind of follow-up be able to match the level of creativity he'd created, let alone surpass it? Well, in my highly personal opinion, I feel I can say: Yes, yes it can.
Our story begins on a island somewhere in the Indian Sea in the year 1629, where the remnants of the shipwrecked Batavia have created a gallows for the small company of sailors, led by one Jeronimus Cornelisz, who mutinied. Handless and lifeless, these mutineers return as ghosts to seek vengeance on their fellow conspirators, the ones who survived the gallows by turning on their mates. No matter how long it takes. From there we return to the present, to Austin, TX and to Colby. It's been a few months since the showdown at the end of Dreams & Shadows and he's still mourning the loss of pretty much everything, especially his best friend, Ewan. This grief takes the form of severe self-recrimination and self-destruction. But Colby won't be allowed to spiral down: his actions have made him famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) and brought a lot of people out of the woodwork. Including some very dangerous enemies looking to settle a score. Into this dark and treacherous world is thrown Kaycee, a young girl from Australia, who is the yang to Colby's yin and has some very special abilities of her own. They're drawn together, and with the aid of the djinn Yashar, the Clever Man Mandu, Gossamer the talking golden retriever, and others--not all of them willing allies--attempt to hold back the evil threatening to spill out of the land of dreams and into our world.
From demons and djinn, to ghosts and fairies and the personification of Austin in the form of a woman, Cargill somehow manages to throw together disparate mythologies and cultures into a story that is cinematic in scope (no surprise, really, considering he's a screenwriter) yet still intimate enough to make the reader involved in the characters' lives and emotional journey. As with his previous book, Cargill also intersperses chapters from scholarly works, in this case works by a "Dr. Thaddeus Ray, Ph.D." concerning the history and significance of the Aboriginal concept of Dreamwalking and the role of the Clever Men who straddle the line between our world and the Dreamtime, along with other "references" which tie into and deepen both the chapters that follow these side excursions as well as the story as a whole. The intertwining of these "scholastic" works grounds the story and adds an element of realism, setting Cargill's work apart from most Urban Fantasy. And I say that as a lover of UF. But whereas most UF is set in our world, is meant to be our world with the same set of rules just slightly tweaked by the addition of vampires, werewolves, elves, whathaveyou, you understand that none of it could ever happen. Cargill's storytelling, however, leaves a small nugget of doubt in your mind telling you that, should you turn the wrong corner at just the right time, in the right city, you might just run into something straight out of your worst nightmare....more
Like a string of pearls- no, no, that's an imprecise description. Like matryoshka (Russian nesting dolls), each tale within Scorpion Soup draws itselfLike a string of pearls- no, no, that's an imprecise description. Like matryoshka (Russian nesting dolls), each tale within Scorpion Soup draws itself into another, leading the reader further and further down the rabbit hole until you find that you've been looped back to the beginning, where the first story took off. (Not unlike how some say time itself may behave.) Rich and lush, ensnaring the entire range of the human senses through Shah's skillful descriptions, Scorpion Soup invites you to sink into its silk-covered, spice-scented, desert wind-warmed embrace and forget your troubles for a spell.
Reading this collection of interlinked stories might confound some people as they do not follow the typical 'beginning, middle, end' format. Instead, just as one story reaches what would be its climax, it becomes instead the introduction for the next tale. And so on and so on. What is created is a patchwork of ambiguity – fluid, imprecise, unbounded. One might even say sensual. Yet for all their freeform nature, the stories do contain lessons and morals. Nothing strictly defined as one might find in, say, Aesop's Fables; instead, the lessons contained within must be teased out, mulled over, perhaps even come at as though they were epiphanies, scintillating through the mind in brilliant 'ah ha!' moments.
Part of the appeal and success of Scorpion Soup must go, if I'm honest, to the publisher, Secretum Mundi Publishing. As with the other book of Shah's I've read, Timbuctoo, they've crafted a marvelous tome, harkening back to the books published 100 and more years ago. The cover is printed with an antique map of Africa, in all its fantastic “Here be Dragons” glory, with embossed gold lettering on the front and spine detailing the book title and author. Inside, the pages are sewn in (sewn in!) with a burgundy satin ribbon (which matches the burgundy end papers) for a bookmark. As a bonus, with nearly each story a fold-out map has been provided illustrating a piece of geography matching that which is in the story. However, these are no ordinary maps. Instead, as Shah explains in his afterword, the selection of maps are replicas of those conceived and completed by the father and son duo of Willelm and Joan Blaue of Amsterdam in 1665, maps which were light-years ahead of any other cartography of the time. Maps which still contained elements of fantasy in the form of mythical creatures and expanses of empty space representing that which had yet to be explored. As Shah says, each map walks the tightrope between fact and fantasy and, as such, provide the perfect accompaniment to his tales.
Born of a culture renowned for its rich history of fables and legends and raised in a family of master storytellers, not to mention gifted personally with a vivid imagination, Shah has taken all the gifts his heritage, family, and talent have bestowed upon him and put them to excellent use in his writing career. His latest effort is no exception, weaving together fantastical, ingenious, and sumptuous stories into a single elegant and highly readable tale.
Disclaimer: I was given a hardcover copy of Scorpion Soup by the author in exchange for an honest review of his work. I am not acquainted with him in any professional capacity, nor I am affiliated with his publisher, agent, or any other entity associated with him....more
C. Robert Cargill has taken the pieces of his tale, like so many hanks of hair, and woven them together into a beautiful and beautifully-created FrencC. Robert Cargill has taken the pieces of his tale, like so many hanks of hair, and woven them together into a beautiful and beautifully-created French braid, the end result being (not a hairdo, obviously), but a skillfully-wrought, modern-day fairytale which harkens back to the dark origins of the genre. In the vein of Neil Gaiman, Charles De Lint, and Emma Bull, Cargill's novel revolves around creatures that are a far cry from the beings of goodness and light which have taken over popular imagination and instead takes us back into Grimm territory, to a time when things that went bump in the night were not to be explored and all that glitters should be avoided like the plague because it often comes with (sometimes horrible, sometimes deadly) strings attached.
Dreams and Shadows begins with the story of Tiffany and Jared Thatcher, friends, lovers, soon-to-be-parents... doomed. Dithers, a Bendith Y Mamau (a baby-snatching fairy), has made the Thatchers his latest target and switches their baby boy Ewan with the misshapen changeling, Knocks. Tiffany is the only one who is aware that her baby is no longer her baby, and her desperation and revulsion (emotions on which Knocks feeds) eventually drive her to suicide and lead to Jared's drowning at the hands of nixies. Next we meet Colby, a little boy chosen by the djinn Yashar to receive a wish. Colby confounds Yashar by wishing for the ability to see everything supernatural. This wish leads Colby and Yashar to Austin, Texas and the Limestone Kingdom where Colby meets Ewan and the two boys become the kind of fast friends as only a couple of eight-year-old boys can. When Colby discovers the fate in store for Ewan, he manipulates a promise given to him by Yashar to save his friend.... and forever change his life. His actions intertwine the lives of Ewan, Knocks, and himself, with repercussions which will play out years later when they're adults, in a massive showdown of blood, death, and loss.
Interspersed between the chapters detailing the lives and actions of our characters are excerpts from scientific/philosophical books written by on Dr. Thaddeus Ray, Ph.D. These excerpts typically discuss whatever was the subject of the previous story chapter, thus deepening and expanding the plot without slowing down the action or having the characters dump a lot of exposition. (Later on we find out the identity of “Dr. Thaddeus Ray, Ph.D.” which makes for an amusing side-note.)
It's very obvious the novel was written by a screenwriter as the story had a very cinematic feel to it, especially when it came to the scenes of action and gore. There have been some complaints that Cargill skimped on character development, especially when it came to the female characters. While I can see the merit in these critiques, I can't agree with them. The one character, Mallaidh (pronounced 'Molly'), is fae and her nature is that of being changeable and, well, shallow. The other characters, both human and fae, seemed to possess enough development and backstory to compel the reader and keep them invested in the story. If we stopped to discover in detail what made them what they were and why they did what they did, the momentum would've come to a complete halt. We found out enough to either empathize or grudgingly understand a character's motivation without delving into the furthest reaches of their psyche and losing all track of the plot.
The ending was both final and ambiguous enough that, should he desire, Cargill could expand on Colby's adventures in further novels or leave Dreams and Shadows as a stand-alone novel (which would be a rather daring and--har, har-–novel move considering almost all books published these days are “the first in a brand-new series!”). Terrifying, dramatic, and, yes, even funny, Dreams and Shadows is definitely worth a read....more
I have been having the hardest time coming up with a review for this book. It's not because I didn't like it; quite the contrary, it was very entertaiI have been having the hardest time coming up with a review for this book. It's not because I didn't like it; quite the contrary, it was very entertaining. It's like... well, is it possible to make Cool Whip out of Greek yogurt? Because that's what this book is, fluff with a Greek flavor. It's a distant cousin to Neil Gaiman's American Gods in that it has many of the same elements--ancient gods living in modern times, weakened in power because no one believes in them anymore, as well a mortal (or, in the case of Gods Behaving Badly, two mortals) thrown in the mix, one of whom becomes "The Hero" who manages to rescue the damsel in distress and solve whatever problem is fueling the plot--just in a slightly "fluffier" version.
The gods in this novel are Greek (if you hadn't guessed), specifically the big 12 (the major gods of Olympus we've all heard about, one way or another) who are currently crowded together in a run-down London townhouse. They've fallen on hard times in the last thousand years or so and, my, how the mighty do fall: Artemis spends her time as a dog-walker, always looking for that one, modern dog which still has a trace of wolf in it and is always disappointed by the poor idiots; Dionysus still makes his own wine, but does a lot more damage with it in his role as nightclub owner, where his wine is the only thing on tap and weird, grotesque, erotic floor shows are the entertainment, which explains the club's draw; Hephaestus is still a mighty craftsman, though most of his efforts go into improvements around the house such as fixing broken furniture and improving the bathroom fittings; Aphrodite works off her mighty sex drive as a phone sex operator, panting, moaning, and faux-orgasming into her mobile phone at any time of day, to the disgust of Artemis; and Apollo has taken his Oracle to television, in a low-budget show where the set was "held together with safety pins and masking tape" and, just as in the good ol' days, the sybils did all the work. It's at the taping of the first (and last) episode of this show that Eros, who's now a Christian and suffering an existential crisis because of this, shoots an arrow of love into Apollo's heart at the behest of Aphrodite in a fit of "woman scorned" anger. Apollo falls instantly in love with Alice, a cleaner who's sneaked her friend, Neil, and herself onto the soundstage. Thus begins the complications and the drama: Alice is fired from the TV station, Neil convinces her to go freelance with her cleaning skills, as a result of which she ends up at the gods' townhouse where she's hired by Artemis and gleefully stalked by Apollo as he tries to convince the rather mousy woman of his love for her. And so the adventure begins.
This is a fun and funny book; it's entertaining and a quick read. While it may not offer up any great moments of genius, there's a tremendous amount of skill shown in the actual writing: clever and occasionally witty prose, authentic characters, and a story which evokes a genuine emotional involvement in the reader. (Yes, even in fluff, such things are possible.) Considering that this is a first novel, the high level of talent in Marie Phillips' writing is pleasantly unexpected....more
What the hell was this? It started off fine, if a little bit bumpy. I kept waiting for the 'tragic romance' of the premise to begin--frankly, I was waWhat the hell was this? It started off fine, if a little bit bumpy. I kept waiting for the 'tragic romance' of the premise to begin--frankly, I was waiting for any kind of action to take place--yet nothing of the kind ever developed. There was an interesting, if bizarre, set up involving owls and plates and mysteries, but *fzzzt* it completely fizzled out. Nothing was ever explained and that ending... What kind of an ending was that? There was no resolution, no explanation, nothing that rewarded the reader for investing their time and interest in the book. Frankly, I can't understand how this won any awards. While the narrative did have a sort of poetic flow to it, the dialogue was occasionally disjointed and the character interactions were just...off. The whole book was off. Where was the great and tragic love story that was supposed to plague this particular Welsh valley and play itself out generation after generation? No love story ever came onto the scene, except for an old one involving one of the character's mother and another character's uncle, but even then we don't get much of the story. The entire book didn't make one whit of sense. As I started it, when I was still fairly excited about it and the characters were searching for clues, I thought to myself, "Huh, this kind of compares to Susan Cooper's Over Sea, Under Stone." As I continued reading, though, that comparison flew right out the window...just like those damned paper owls from The Owl Service....more
I had a hard time slogging through this, as evinced by the length of time it took me from start to finish. The concept is good, in fact the plot is aI had a hard time slogging through this, as evinced by the length of time it took me from start to finish. The concept is good, in fact the plot is a tried-and-true escapist fantasy, it was just...dull.
First off, the main character, Ben Holiday, is, well, frankly, he's a woman in many ways. His behaviors and emotions reminded me quite often of the heroines in modern PNR fiction: "Oh, woe is me, I'm so miserable. I have a horrid sense of self-worth and everyone keeps telling me how important I am, how special I am, and I just can't, I won't believe it, at least, not until the last act when my obstinacy and sullen attitude has put everyone else in a position of danger and I wake up, stop being such a whiny bitch and take my rightful place as the true leader I was supposed to be all along." Yeah, that gets really annoying after the first few chapters and even more so when it's a man doing the whining. Conversely, Ben Holiday would also act like a complete Neanderthal when it came to female characters. This was most obvious in his actions toward Willow the sylph (half sprite, half wood nymph). He constantly rejects her, even when she tells him that his rejection will be detrimental to her and/or to him. For instance, she tells him to ask her father, the River Master (the sprite), for his permission for Willow to leave with Ben, as she's important to his quest. Instead, he sneaks off the next day at dawn without talking to the River Master about Willow and when she shows up later on (to rescue him, naturally), she tells him that because she left without permission, permission Ben failed to acquire, she's now exiled from her father's land. And he's surprised about that! What a dumbass. Then again, Willow isn't much better as a character. When she first meets Ben, she tells him she belongs to him, a concept which he doesn't accept (of course), but which she repeats on every subsequent meeting with him. If that isn't bad enough, most of the time she's around, she simply floats passively through the scene, as though she's there merely to do Ben's bidding or to get trampled on by his insensitivity. Which she pretty much is. Even during the rescue, when she gets to be proactive for once, you don't feel any sense of heroics from her, just a sense that she couldn't let anything bad happen to the man "she belongs to." The whole thing is irksome. (And, by the way, when did hairy women become sexy? Willow has long hair on her head, which is fine, but also lines of long silky hair, growing along the backs of her forearms and along the backs of her calves. I'm sorry, but yuck!)
As far as auxiliary characters, once again they were simply there to support Ben. I didn't feel any particular connection to them and while the wizard, Questar, had a backstory, none of the others really did. And it didn't feel as though that much effort was put into them. I mean, one of his retainers is a former man who's now a dog, having got that way through a magical mishap perpetrated by Questar. Really? That's it? A dog. Granted, a dog who wears glasses and a waistcoat, but, and this is where the creativity seems less creative and more lazy, a dog whose hands have conveniently not fully turned into paws, having stubby fingers at the end of them so that he may still do his job. Right off the top of my head, I can come up with five other creatures/objects the retainer could've been turned into, each of them presenting a more creative and intriguing angle to the plot than this one.
The plot was a quasi-quest as Ben, the new king of this magic kingdom called Landover, roams the land in order to get support for his rule. However, even though there's a big duel at the end and a few confrontations throughout the novel, for my part, I never felt any real tension as far as "I need to get the support of my people before the demon who's challenged me comes to spit me on the end of his lance." It all felt very meandering and casual, with no real drama or danger. And the thing which bugged me the most about Brooks' writing is that he's very repeat-y. In one paragraph, in which he's describing the appearance and situation of a particular valley, he uses the word 'valley' four times...in a three sentence paragraph! And he loved the word 'trailers' when it came to describing the actions of the mist which surrounded said valley; I can't count the number of times he used it. And why, when there are plenty of other, really great words to describe the ethereal, mercurial, fleeting nature of that particular meteorological phenomenon. I realize repeating a word isn't a national crime, nor is using a different word to describe the same object any better; however, a little variety can be a good thing.
I think the most disappointing thing about this book, though, is that it was sold to me as more a comedy than a straight fantasy, at least according to the blurbs on the book jacket. I adore a good comedic fantasy and I was expecting this to be along those lines. Sadly, it wasn't. I've never read any of Brooks' other works; I've heard he's supposedly a well-respected author. If that's the case, this book isn't an ideal introduction to his talent. Overall, it was a very dissatisfying read....more
I actually stopped "reading" this about a third of the way in and skimmed through the rest of the book. The story just lost my interest. Not to mentioI actually stopped "reading" this about a third of the way in and skimmed through the rest of the book. The story just lost my interest. Not to mention it was overly convoluted, with names and places and people flying this way and that. I get that the author was trying to develop some sort of conspiracy, but it felt awkward and forced. There was just too much stuff. Perhaps I just wasn't in the proper frame of mind. When I started the book, I was reminded strongly of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files and Simon R. Green's Nightside books. That said, I enjoyed the Dresden Files and Nightside books a hell of a lot more than I did Sweet Silver Blues. They weren't as complicated and, being an uncomplicated kind of person, that appealed to me greatly....more
A very Harry Potter-esque book, involving mythical creatures instead of magic, and with a female as the lead, complete with an uber-rare gift and subsA very Harry Potter-esque book, involving mythical creatures instead of magic, and with a female as the lead, complete with an uber-rare gift and subsequent celebrity status in her circle of fellows known as the Society for the Protection of Mythical Creatures. And let's not forget a dark and deadly enemy, a shapeshifter known as Kullervo, who has grown in power over the years and wants to use our heroine, Connie, to destroy the society and all humans in order to give the world back to the mythical creatures. Woven in as a subplot, in a fairly even-handed, not too preachy manner, is an environmentally friendly message--the kids and community fight against a big oil company which threatens their pristine coastline, not to mention the nesting spot of a group of Sirens. All this makes for an above-average start to a new fantasy adventure series. I'm glad to see girls getting their fair share of the spotlight for once; as much as I adore the Harry Potter books, we need more novels featuring girls as the bearers of unique gifts, becoming strong and self-empowered as a result.
Since it is the first of a series, many of the characters are merely roughed out, not quite one-dimensional yet not quite fully fleshed out either. However, the writing is engaging and moves along at a good clip; I never got bogged down, and towards the end my emotions were tugged upon as I got involved in the action. 3.75 stars....more
It seems to follow a rule: The second book in a trilogy is invariably the weakest link, usually there only to bridge the story between the first and tIt seems to follow a rule: The second book in a trilogy is invariably the weakest link, usually there only to bridge the story between the first and third books. I can't say this was 100% true for A Gathering of Gargoyles but I will say, if not the story, then the characters were weaker, especially Aeriel. I don't know what happened, but somehow she became dumber during the book. Despite numerous hints, whether about something as trivial as the cloak she wore or about something as important as her true identity, she had to be beaten upside the head with a sledgehammer before any of these concepts got through to her. And once they did, she had to act in the predictable dumb-heroine manner: “What are you saying? Are you saying what I think you're saying? You're crazy!” Despite that annoyance, the story continued its theme of intertwining various elements from folklore and fairytales, as well as a deeper exploration into the sci-fi background of Aeriel's world, into a lyrical story of transformation, rebirth, and empowerment....more
When I started reading The Darkangel, I wasn't sure I would like it. After all, it was told in such a melodramatic way as to read like the fantasy ofWhen I started reading The Darkangel, I wasn't sure I would like it. After all, it was told in such a melodramatic way as to read like the fantasy of a teenage girl. When I found out, however, that the book was published when the writer, Meredith Ann Pierce, was only 23, I understood a little bit better why I was getting that impression.
Though the book has its flaws, the story soon swept me up into in heady mix of folkloric and fairytale elements, set within a sci-fi framework of a planet colonized by a people called the Ancients many moons ago. I won't go into the details of a synopsis—others before me have done that, and quite well—but I will say that this is one of the most unique books I've read, weaving together disparate and seemingly incompatible story ingredients into a compelling dark fantasy. I'm just a bit disappointed that I came late to the party and didn't discover this series until now....more