QUEEN OF THE DARK THINGS
by C. Robert Cargill
Published in 2014 by Harper Voyager.
Reviewed by Bradley Wilson
C. Robert Cargill’s epic sophomore novel, Queen of the Dark Things, ambitiously sprawls across both time and geography. His omniscient narrator teases the reader into his fantasy’s world by opening with a gruesomely charming scene of a band of mutineers being executed on a beach in the Indian Ocean in the 17th century. From there we jump to contemporary Austin, Texas, where “the veil” between the physical and spiritual realms has been tattered by a well-intentioned, semi-depressed, frequently drunk wizard named Colby Stevens. Reminiscent of a Tom Robbins romp, Queen of the Dark Things features Central Texas hipsters, Aboriginal Clever Men, demons, genies, and a talking dog. And that’s just a small sample of the myriad creatures, supernatural or otherwise, you’ll find in this story.
It’s a fast paced, cinematic read. And it’s right up my alley as far as the subject matter goes. Cargill delves deep into questions about how much we humans take an active and ongoing part in the creation of our universe. He effortlessly manipulates divergent strings of arcana, philosophy, and myth to coax the reader into following along as he riffs on his high-flying humanist themes. Don’t be scared though; the author balances his deep intellectual and spiritual explorations with an irreverent, often downright raunchy narrative voice that’s lots of fun. Following in the paths of Vonnegut and Neal Stephenson, Cargill’s characters never take themselves so seriously as to become boring or unsympathetic.
His obvious love of the philosophical discussion sometimes gets in the way of the story. I often felt as if I was skimming along the top of his tale rather than plunging into it, like I was passively watching a film rather than actively reading a novel. No matter how much my intellect was titillated, too often the book’s omniscient narrator kept me from engaging emotionally and fully immersing myself.
Cargill’s world is incredibly complex and peopled with fascinating characters, each of whom has his or her own closely guarded agenda. He has built a fictional reality of incredible richness and diversity. In many ways the supporting cast is so vividly rendered it pulls focus from the protagonist. Too many times I found myself wishing the narrative would stay on a compelling supporting character’s arc, instead of cutting back to the hero’s. In all fairness, this may have been a function of Queen of the Dark Things being a sequel to his debut novel.
Still, I liked it. I had fun reading it. And I have officially put Cargill’s previous book, Dreams and Shadows, on my reading list. He has crafted a universe overflowing with metaphysical intrigue that’s piqued this reader’s interest and left me wanting more. I recommend Queen of the Dark Things to anybody who likes to laugh and ponder at the same time.
After a twenty-year career in theater, Bradley P Wilson returned to school in 2011 to pursue his passion for writing and editing fiction. He holds a Masters of Liberal Arts degree in Creative Writing from St. Edwards University and freelances as a writer, editor, and stagehand in Central Texas. Currently an Associate Editor at CBAY Books and the staff blogger at Yellow Bird Editors, Bradley also copy edits Stage Call, the quarterly newsletter of Austin’s stagehands’ union, and serves as the President of the Board of Directors for Physical Plant Theater. Manuscripts he has edited have garnered such accolades as Hunger Mountain’s Katherine Paterson Award for YA and Children’s Writing. Most mornings he gets up way too early to work on his YA fantasy novel, The Search for Stagehand Jesus. He’s the author of several award-winning plays, and his poetry has been featured in the Sulfur River Literary Review.