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Queen of the Dark Things

June 1, 2020

IMG_3990Set in the same world as Dreams and Shadows, C. Robert Cargill’s Queen of the Dark Things can be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel or as a follow-on for those who want more from the main characters in his first book. This is a novel about dark things, and that includes human elements.

There are few things I enjoy more than the story of a skeptic coming face-to-face with the supernatural, and one of the early stories in Queen of the Dark Things is about a woman like me who consults a psychic, even though “This wasn’t the sort of place she expected to find herself. It was the last place in the world she wanted to try. It was also the last place she had left to turn to.” As she enters, she sees “a lit glass case stocked with candles, crosses, crystals, and stones, a cash register sitting on top with a credit card machine plugged into the side. This wasn’t the home of a psychic, Carol thought. This was a gift shop for the gullible.” But Carol does tell her problem to the psychic, who, in return, tells her the story of La Llorona and gives her the address of Colby. Colby tells her that the story is true “but the part about God is superstitious bullshit. God doesn’t make creatures of the night. We do. Beatriz made herself out of her own madness and guilt. That’s all that’s left of her now.”

Getting rid of La Llarona for Carol sets Colby off on a series of new adventures involving “the pretty little girl in the purple pajamas” who shared a teacher with Colby when they were younger. Their teacher was a “Clever Man” who warns the pretty little girl, who is dreamwalking, that she shouldn’t wish to stay out of her body because “wishes are dangerous. Especially for a spirit as powerful as you. You are exactly where you need to be to become exactly who you are supposed to become. Too many people be saying I wish I was this or I wish I was there and not enough people saying I will be this here and make this place better. If you want to like better the now you should think more like that.” Good advice for all of us, not just a dreamwalker.

This book has more excerpts from Dr. Thaddeus Ray’s fictitious The Everything You Cannot See, including a list of the villains of this piece: the Seventy-two: “I won’t name them by name, nor will you find them catalogued as you do in the apocryphal texts, The Lesser Key of Solomon, or throughout Crowley’s flawed manuscripts. Even their names have power. Just speaking them too loudly can damn you. They are a motley lot, demons and their unholy spawn, djinn and fallen angel alike. Nine kings of Hell, six princes, nearly two dozen dukes; the rest an assortment of counts, marquis, presidents, and knights.”

The fun of reading Queen of the Dark Things comes from watching Colby and the pretty little girl in the purple pajamas make the best choices they can and still turn into monsters, setting up a clash of the titans with readers as stunned spectators, unable to hope that either side will win. Since we sympathize with both Colby and the pretty little girl, we see how such things can happen. As one of the Seventy-two tells Colby:
“The difference between angels and demons is more than just whether or not we’ve fallen and given ourselves over to something…else. Angels see morality as a simple set of laws; there is right and there is wrong. There is no room for deviation, only law. Demons, on the other hand, believe that right and wrong are based solely upon the outcome, not the act. Measuring that outcome in years or decades or even millennia creates a decidedly different set of morals. Flauros is a master of rhetoric, but he’s also the bearer of Hell’s fire. His philosophy is blunted by the hundreds of thousands he’s charred to ash at the behest of others. A thing like that forces you to distance yourself as far as possible. He’s not wrong, but his view is…corrupted…by his need for perspective. It’s the humanity in him.”
“I didn’t see much humanity.”
“That’s because you, like most of your kind, only use that word to describe your best qualities. To be fair to Flauros, you really weren’t looking for what little of those he still has. When this is all over, the same might even be said about you.”

The stories in Queen of the Dark Things coalesce better than they did in Cargill’s first novel; this one is more of a piece. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t stories that can’t stand on their own along the way, however. Thematically, this little story might be said to sum up the actions of the novel:
“Aaron Brandon strolled down the street as if he was on top of the world. He felt virile, pumped, his parts still tingling. It had taken all night and fifty dollars’ worth of drinks to ply that girl out of her panties, and she could barely stand up by the time he had. After he’d finished, she could barely slur out her own name, let alone remember his. Last he saw her, she was still slumped in the alley, all but passed out in his juices, muttering something like ‘Wait, where are you going?’ before mumbling herself to sleep.
Aaron Brandon was a douchebag. A proud douchebag. All muscles, tribal tattoos, and twenty-four-karat-gold. And he was of the decided opinion that if she remembered tonight at all, it would be a blessing to that girl—a memory she would cherish of the time she’d made it with a real man. After all, she was only a six, and sixes were lucky to get it at all from anything but neck-bearded IT rats and balding men ten years their senior. She was lucky if she ever got anything close to him again. And now he was off to one of his favorite off-Sixth-Street dives to see if he could catch himself a closing-time loner for round two and a ride home.
Bill the Shadow stood in the darkest corner of the alley between two downtown buildings, just out of reach of the streetlamp up the block. He hated Aaron already. He’d seen him before, trolling the downtown bars for easy tail, and had earmarked him for a last-minute substitution on a light night. Usually Bill preferred darker souls than this—violent souls—but pickings were slim, he was hungry, and Aaron had it coming. The man was human trash, a worthless sperm machine pumping out mediocre sex in three-minute bursts to women who could barely tell what was going on around them.
It was an odd treat, drinking one of those. As big and badass as they might seem, they didn’t really understand their own darkness. They didn’t regard their own sins as anything of the sort. There was no remorse lurking in their gut. Only entitlement.”

How many of us don’t really understand our own darkness? More, it seems, than I would have suspected even last week. Queen of the Dark Things is a 2014 novel, but a good one to read with the state of the world as dark as it is right now.

 

5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 1, 2020 3:42 pm

    I never thought of skeptics-encountering-the-unexplainable as a specific genre, but you’re right; there *is* something satisfying about the moment that skepticism starts to crack. I’m reminded of a story I just read in Deborah Noyes’ anthology, Sideshow, about a very practical woman whose son convinces her to visit a medium, just to see if she can trick the performer into revealing what a fake she is. What actually happens is, of course, unexpected.

    • June 2, 2020 10:21 am

      Ha! I think I like that sort of story because I am so deeply skeptical but also very interested in fantastic tales. I identify with the skeptic–it gives any story a satisfying verisimilitude.

  2. June 2, 2020 7:58 am

    “How many of us don’t really understand our own darkness? More, it seems, than I would have suspected even last week.”

    BOY this is so true.

    Also, re skeptics, were you an X-Files fan back in the day? That seems to be the, like, ur-version of the thing you are describing, so I am suddenly curious if you were a fan. I’ve still only seen like three episodes of it, hahaha.

    • June 2, 2020 10:26 am

      Interestingly, I saw six or seven episodes of it back in the day, and then three more when my daughter was watching it a few years ago. I like it but I never got hooked.
      One of the times I watched it was when Ron and I got home and our babysitter, who was also a college student, said it was time for the X-Files and she didn’t want to be taken back to campus just then because she’d miss part of the episode, so we all sat down and watched that night’s episode. That must have been sometime around 1995.

      • June 2, 2020 10:29 am

        Also, one of the best gift of Christmas pajamas I ever found for my daughter was a t-shirt that has a picture of Santa’s sleigh and the reindeer flying over distant rooftops with the caption “I want to believe.” This was just a few years ago.

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