ARC Review: Queen of the Dark Things by C. Robert Cargill


eARC provided by Edelweiss in exchange for fair review


Screenwriter and noted film critic C. Robert Cargill continues the story begun in his acclaimed debut Dreams and Shadows in this bold and brilliantly crafted tale involving fairies and humans, magic and monsters—a vivid phantasmagoria that combines the imaginative wonders of Neil Gaiman, the visual inventiveness of Guillermo del Toro, and the shocking miasma of William S. Burroughs.

Six months have passed since the wizard Colby lost his best friend to an army of fairies from the Limestone Kingdom, a realm of mystery and darkness beyond our own. But in vanquishing these creatures and banning them from Austin, Colby sacrificed the anonymity that protected him. Now word of his deeds has spread, and powerful enemies from the past—including one Colby considered a friend—have resurfaced to exact their revenge.

As darkness gathers around the city and time runs out, Colby has to turn to forces even darker than those he once battled for aid.

Following such masters as Lev Grossman, Erin Morgenstern, and Kim Harrison, C. Robert Cargill takes us deeper into an extraordinary universe of darkness and wonder, despair and hope to reveal the magic and monsters around us . . . and inside us.


So a couple of weeks back I reviewed Dreams and Shadows, a book that I thought was fairly flawed, but had an interesting enough story for me to want to give the author a second chance. The second chance comes in form of that books sequel, which is due out shortly. Was I right to give him a second chance? Let’s press on.

First I want to discuss one of the biggest problems I had with the first book: the asides that introduced us to various characters and creatures that we needed to be familiar with in the book. I wasn’t a fan of these. I felt they broke immersion and the flow of the first novel, giving the novel a real staccato feel that made it impossible to really get lost in. Problem is, they’re here to stay. They kind of have to be; you can’t really dump an element like this part-way through a series, it’d awkward. So how did it go this time?

The good news is: they’re less frequent. The bad news is: they’re still here. While reading this book, I found my tolerance of them had run so low that I just began to skip over them. Why? Aside from the fact that they interrupted the flow and pacing of the story, they also ultimately didn’t add anything to the story. I picked up enough of what i needed through the story itself, these extra bits just felt kind of pointless.

Aside of my own: I hate to say this, but the more of them I read, the more it felt like these really were a way for the author to show off the research he’d done before writing these books. And he did do research. At the L.A. Times Festival of Books he mentioned his research and how he kept a master list that was basically a list of creatures and the source where he had the information. He need a new one, he could pop over to the list and then pull the source and boom he was ready to go. I love authors who do research. More of them should. But when you do it, it should be incorporated into the world organically. These books, it’s a disruptive information dump. If you can’t find a way to introduce the information in the context of the narrative, it shouldn’t be there. If/when he does start a new series, I really hope that he leaves these asides behind, because they are unquestionably one of the biggest drags on both books.

Like I said though, they were much less prominent which brings me to my other problem with this book: the plot didn’t work for me.

A large part of this plot is predicated on the notion that Colby is, essentially, the Voldemort of his world. He’s super powerful, everyone’s scared of him and everyone hates him, but no one wants to go up against him because of his strength. Hand in hand with this is a recurring theme from the first book: that is to say that Colby isn’t good, but that because he’s trying to be good, he’s ultimately incredibly selfish and therefore on the path to damnation. It’s an incredibly pessimistic view of morality and the problem with it, is that when you see how Colby acts, it’s hard to buy it.

The one thing that gets brought up again and again is how Colby treated the fairies – the main plot of Dreams and Shadows. Basically in that book, Colby opened a can of whoop ass on them because Colby saw that the fairies would abduct a human child, raise him to be faery and then kill the child as sacrifice (and mind you, this kid was like 10 or 11) to demons so they wouldn’t have to kill one of their own.

This isn’t Star Trek. There is no prime directive. I’d imagine that most people in this situation would behave the same exact way and most people would consider those deeds as “good.” Yes, in a sense he’s kind of like a magical Batman – a fearsome vigilante that is ultimately doing it to protect the people around him. And to me that doesn’t read as a bad thing. It’s not “good” in the traditional angelic sense, but it’s well intentioned and most would say that it serves a greater purpose.

I don’t know. Something isn’t working here. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to agree that Colby is bad (I’ll agree that he’s not perfect sure, but none of his deeds ever seem out of line in regards to the situation) or if we’re supposed to disagree with everyone saying that he is and we’re supposed to sympathize . It’s just muddled and that’s a problem because that’s what the story springs out of. The antagonist here isn’t that interesting either which also doesn’t help.

Last time the story was more enjoyable and there were a couple of characters to keep me engaged. This book didn’t have that for me, and so while the asides were less frequent, I still feel like this book was mostly a step back for me.

At this point I feel safe saying that Cargill probably just isn’t an author for me. As for you? Unless you absolutely loved the first book, you can give this one a pass.

Verdict: Skip it

Available: May 13th


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