Review: The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men (Valley Books) by Eric Arvin

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men coverWinifred Walterhouse lived in the mansion on the top of Black Hill.  She was aware of the secrets the river and the valley held.   She knew of the river sprites, and of the forest passions, small beings becoming fewer and fewer in number.  She had helped hold off the outdwellers, those who would steal the valley’s magic and destroy the old ways.  But now she is dying, unable to take care of herself let alone a young girl of a certain stubborn temperament.

When her parents died, little Calpurnia Covington was sent to live with her eccentric aunt in the mysterious River Valley. And by her arrival changed everything.  With her aunt, Winifred Walterhouse, dying and confined to her room, Calpurnia is free to roam throughout the estate and nearby woods.  Missing the outside world, Calpurnia is frightened by the beings and things she sees in the Valley and resolutely turns her back on the magic all around her, thus setting her path away from the light and those coming after her.

Minerva True is a mystic who lives deep in the Valley, aware of the magic and light all around her.  She is also aware of The Prophecy and the coming darkness.  Although Minerva tries to warn the river valley’s inhabitants, she is ignored and the darkness is allowed to grow and thrive.  In the future, it will be the mingled destinies of Minerva, the young hero Leith, his lover Aubrey, and the mute boy, Deverell that will tilt the fate of the valley and perhaps the world towards the light or darkness.  Who will succeed and who will fail in the ultimate of all battles?

The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men by Eric Arvin has to be one of the most memorable and complex books that I have read recently.  It is an extraordinary and sometimes confounding mixture of gothic horror, Grimm’s fairy tale, and dark fantasy.  Arvin pulls from a number of sources, from elementals and the Industrial Revolution to the Bible and uses them to help him create a lost river valley where magic still exists along side the human and the mundane.  Inside the valley, power flows through the woods and into the river. Here river dwellers and passions live but no longer flourish.  The Outsiders and Industry test the borders  and darkness has come to claim the valley and its souls for its own.

With this novel and the books to follow, Eric Arvin conceived his version of the eternal war between good and evil, the battle between the light and the darkness.  This story has a language so lyrical that it will remind you of sonnets and characters so beautifully defined and textured that their loss will haunt you for days.  Arvin’s story feels so old and timeless that the aroma of old leather bindings and yellowed pages of text will commingle in your mind along with the title, an effortless interface of ideas both old, fantastical and still somehow quite new.   An ebook of emotional heft and extraordinary value.

In keeping with the large scope of his story that is nothing less than the battle between good and evil, Arvin’s novel encompasses a rather large time span that starts from Calpurnia’s arrival in the valley as a young girl through her marriage and birth of her child and further still as that child, Leith, grows up and becomes a featured player in this timeless spiritual war. Circling around Calpurnia is a convoluted and intertwining group of relationships that will include beings of power to Leith, her son.   Arvin has created a large and incredible cast for his story and series, including Azriel, a angel and the fundamental Mother True.  These characters live and breath and love with an realness that will grab you.  Some love with a lightness of being and others, well,  others are weighed down with such a darkness of spirit that it seeps right off the page.  I mean really some of Arvin’s creations just exude such a feel of evil that they carry a stench of corruption.  And with any tale of good and evil, there are so many losses that will cut to the heart as the story and the fight progress.

Its that unrelenting parade of death as the story proceeds with its inexorable march towards that final battle between good and evil that might turn away readers looking for a warm tale of love and romance.  This is a true fantasy, horror story.  An epic tale that must, by its very nature, come with the deaths of characters the reader has come to love. I think it is those character deaths here will cause not only consternation but pain as the losses add up.  Not only because we didn’t see these deaths coming but because we had come to care for these people in the short amount of time we knew them, a required ingredient of great characters.   It is this aspect of the story that most readers will shy away from, especially those looking for a strictly m/m romance.  This is not that book.   Yes, there is a m/m romance, but there is also heterosexual love, familial love and so much more.  And for those readers to shy away from this story because of those aspects would be a shame indeed because this story also has great heart to go along with great loss.

One of the real revelations here is Arvin’s ability to reveal a true contamination of the soul, a slow defilement of character so extraordinary that you almost weep for the promise of the child that was thrown away, seduced by her own needs and a greater evil.  The author’s prose and descriptions delivering both a story of great emotional impact but also of spiritual warnings that go unheeded to the sorrow of all involved.   The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men is easily one of Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Best of 2013.  Consider this tale highly recommended and a must read for all.

Cover photography by Amy Morrison.  This book needs an extraordinary cover to measure up to the greatness of the story within and it gets it with this great cover by Amy Morrison.  Also one of the best covers of 2013.

Book Details:

ebook, 286 pages
Published April 24th 2013 by Wilde City Press
ISBN13 9781925031065
edition language English
series Valley

Review of Horse of Bells by Pelaam

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Rating: 3 stars

Horse of BellsPrince Donal and his younger brother, Caolan, are hunting in the royal woods when a mysterious stranger saves Caolan from a wild boar.  A case of love at first sight, the two make a pact saying that they will meet back in the woods as soon as possible, saving themselves only for each other.  But royal politics interfere with that promise as their evil stepmother is plotting to kill them and have her nephew seated on the throne. To interfere with her plans, the princes are sent away for their safety and Caolan never returns to the woods.

The princes plan to stay in exile until Donal comes of age but a trick by their stepmother, Queen Doireann, sends the brothers on a quest to obtain the Horse of Bells from the Dark Prince, a mission destined to fail as all the others who have tried have been put to death after entering the Dark Prince’s lands. On their journey, the stranger from the woods joins them in their travels.  But the kindness is gone and in its place a bitterness towards Caolan that threatens to derail their mission before they get started.  In this fairy tale, two brothers must fight for their honor and for love if a happily ever after is to be theirs for the taking.

This story has all the basics of a fairy tale.  It has the princes in danger, the evil stepmother, the clueless  King, the dark strangers to the rescue, and even a magical horse.  What is missing from this tale is the charm to go with the Prince Charmings, the warmth and glow of a childhood tale reworked for adults.   I love a good adult fairy tale but unfortunately this one felt a bit flat.

I will skip over the two instances of instant love as that is certainly permissible in a fairy tale, but give me characters that make it even a little bit believable.  All of the characters that Pelaam delivers are pretty one dimensional people, from the princes to the Dark Prince to the King. Even fairytale characters must be fleshed out enough that we identify with them to some degree. How can we feel any angst at all that the prince will be torn away form his true love if we don’t care about the characters?  All have so little depth that it flattens out the story, wiping it of any gaiety and joy  associated with stories of this genre. It  did have one little bit of darkness in it but it felt out of place considering all that had gone on before.

I did like the magical Horse of Bells, a nice creation and the stepmother was suitably “evil” in her mechanisms but I keep waiting for the literary magic to begin, to be swept away into a enchantedl kingdom, where everyone is gay, and all good Princes wait for their Prince to appear.  That would have made a great fairytale.  But I can tell you after reading this, I am still waiting for that Kingdom to appear.

Review of The Fairy Gift by J.K. Pendragon

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Rating: 4.25 stars

Every third generation on the eve of their 18th birthday, the child receives a gift from the Fairies. What that gift may be no one knows.  It was said of Marcus’ family that his family’s fortunes arose with his great grandfather’s gift.  But times have gotten hard and now the family depends upon Marcus and the gift he is to receive now that he is turning 18.  But Marcus is different, he loves his village of Rell, his family and wants to get closer to the woodman’s boy Adam.  Marcus is attracted to men not women and a fact he hides from all around him.  He certainly doesn’t want a Fairy gift that will change his life and all he knows.  On his birthday, Marcus hides in his room, hoping no one will find him.  Alas the fairy Draeden appears, and despite Marcus’ protests, gives him the gift of seduction.  What is a virgin to do with that?

I had a quibble with this story right off the bat.  Such a lovely fairy tale should start as all fairy tales do.  Once upon a time in the village of Rell, there lived a boy named Marcus.  For The Fairy Gift is truly a fairy tale for adults, following the same strictures and guidelines all such stories do.  Draeden is the fairy godmother (a title such a wry and fey creature would love) who pops in and out of Marcus’ life, bringing both meaning and frustration to a boy trying to find his way through the kingdom and into the path of happily ever after. The King’s Wizard comes to collect Marcus and take him to the capital as an apprentice, but things go awry as Marcus is kidnapped and sold as a sex slave.  What? This didn’t happen in your fairy tales? Well, no matter, Marcus has a gift, the smarts to use it plus Draeden to look after him and give him a shove in the right direction.  Let’s just say wonderful antics ensue along the goal to happiness, all choreographed with a lovely light touch by the author.

J.K. Pendragon has populated this story with all the wonderful characters we have come to expect.  There is an evil sorcerer, a good queen, good townsfolk, and of course, true love waiting in the wings or in this case a house of prostitution run by a Madam named Titania.  Same difference.  All the characters are wonderfully nuanced, adding to the storybook feel while never losing sight that this is a slightly updated and slightly bent version of the same.  And there is even a kind of princess masquerading as a high priced prostitute with a surprise up her skirt. And there are obstacles, and a truth that Marcus must discover on his own. But as this is a fairytale, it will come as no surprise that there is a happily ever after. And that is how I will end this review of a story I really enjoyed.  And they lived happily ever after.  Sigh.

Cover.  Design by Le Burden Design.  Simple yet elegant.  I would have liked to have seen a more traditional storybook cover but still this is nice.

Available at Less Than Three Press, LLC