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Queen of the Dark Things by C. Robert Cargill
Review by Drew Bittner
Harper Voyager Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780062190451
Date: 13 May 2014 List Price $26.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Blog / Show Official Info /

Colby Stevens lost his best friend, with only a ghostly snippet of him as a painful reminder. Trying to hide in his bookstore isn't working, though--it's gotten around Austin that he's a very powerful wizard.

Some people don't like that, while others want to use him. Worse, Colby is on a collision course with another old friend: one who's become very dark and very dangerous.

In Queen of the Dark Things, C. Robert Cargill continues the story of Colby, who made a wish as a boy and is now (as an adult) trying to handle the consequences. Those consequences include a tragic loss, pushing Colby to hide from the world in his bookstore. But now, too many powerful creatures know who and what and where he is; there's no way to hide any longer.

On the other side of the world, another consequence is coming into play. As a youth, Colby apprenticed with Mandu, a Clever Man who lives in the Australian Outback. Mandu's knowledge of magic and the dreamtime stories of his people--which forms the basis of their understanding of reality--is unmatched, but Colby has the potential to be even more powerful. He is learning from Mandu when they are visited by Kaycee, a deformed girl with an astounding ability to dreamwalk.

In dreams, Kaycee is not burdened by a malformed body or the sadness of her alcoholic father. She's just a little girl in purple pajamas who wants to find a mythic creature. However, Kaycee's unsuspected heritage makes her the target of dangerous and undying villains...and leads to a cataclysmic moment where Colby fails her.

Now Colby is being forced into opposing Kaycee, who is now a dark queen of magic in Australia. The Seventy-two, a cadre of Hell's overlords, are the ones forcing Colby to action, even as his friends Gossamer the djinn and Austin (the avatar of the same-named city) urge him to find a way to say no. Unfortunately, strong as he is, Colby cannot defeat 72 archdemons, and so he heads into conflict with an old friend turned enemy.

If he cannot find a way to reach Kaycee, it could bring about a magical apocalypse unlike anything the world has ever seen, destroying all of them in a moment. Only Colby's most desperate strategy, relying upon an odd series of demands of the Seventy-two, has a chance of success. It won't be easy but there just might be a world left when all is said and done.

Picking up from his debut novel Dreams and Shadows, Cargill's new work builds upon that strong foundation with more elaborate and involved mythology. He interweaves the narrative with reference material that is both informative and engaging, such that readers can see the outlines of a much wider world in this story. Flipping between present and past (sometimes the deep past) as well as points of view, Cargill keeps the story moving forward, picking up speed slowly but surely until it is a breathless race at the end.

Colby has matured and grown from his earlier self, despite his early inclination to shut out the world of magic in favor of books. It's not an option, though, as Mandu has taught him too much about responsibility and the true role of a Clever Man. It isn't always straightforward or morally pure; it's about getting the job done. And Colby is very, very good at figuring out what he needs to do and often what he must sacrifice to do it.

Kaycee is a great character, both her real embodied self and her fearless dream self. She is her father's caretaker and reason for living, even so sad a life as he has now, and she is burdened with responsibilities far too great for such a young girl. Being able to escape into her dreams is pure freedom from that other world and Cargill expertly juxtaposes the two and the conflicting pulls they exert on her. When she falls in with a bad crowd, so to speak, her actions may be horrible but they are understandable.

The Seventy-two include a number of great characters, including the Horse, the Holocaust Man, and Paimon, who makes a number of objects for Colby as part of Colby's price for fighting Kaycee. They are ancient, smarter than anything living and practiced in betrayal; they also have Colby where they want him. So what is Colby to do, knowing that they will destroy him the moment they no longer need him? The answer to that is cleverly handled indeed.

Readers looking for something more in their urban fantasy will really love this book and its forebear. Cargill has a great style, amazing characters and terrific settings. This will only build upon what's shaping up as one stellar career as a novelist.

Recommended.

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