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 Vertigo by Michael Mandrake

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Rating: 3 stars

London, England 1916. Dr. Hayden Curry is having a rough time of it.  He is a renowned scientist whose recent experiments have all failed and his longtime lover, companion, and assistant in the lab, Lawrence, has been committed to a mental institution.  Then there is the guilt Hayden is feeling of being the person who signed the papers locking Lawrence away in Dr. Gothersbury’s Clinic for the mentally impaired.  A  call from the city morgue interrupts his ennui and informs him that they have something of unknown origins for him to investigate. The “thing” turns out to be a dead body but is it human or animal?  It seems to have the attributes of both.  Intrigued, Hayden and his man servant, Berrows, collect the body and head home to the lab. Just as he is to begin his autopsy the thing comes alive, introduces himself as David, and asks for the Doctor’s help in finding out how he came to be.  Nonplussed Hayden watches in bemusement as David shifts from a manbeast into a gorgeous young man, the most beautiful he has ever seen.

The mystery of David interests the scientist in Hayden while the handsome man stirs up lust and desires Hayden had thought gone with Lawrence.  But is David really what he seems?  As Hayden becomes more befuddled and obsessed with David, David slowly takes over the Doctor’s life in every aspect.  Can Hayden uncover the truth behind David before it is too late to save himself?

Vertigo is an apt title as David succeeds in keeping Hayden Curry off balance for the duration of the story. The same can be said for the reader. And to my mind, it results in the same end for both of us.  As a reader and reviewer, Vertigo, stands for a succession of missed opportunities as well as the author never achieving a balance of plot and characterization.  There are several plots contained within this story, mashed together in a patchwork frame.  It starts out promisingly enough, with the thought that the author is going into a historial Werewolf in London theme when David’s original werewolf physique shifts back to human.  But that storyline is quickly dispatched as the plot sequeways into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr Hyde  whenever David’s plans/wishes/demands are not met.  When thwarted, David shifts back into the original creature whose threats and menace force Hayden to do as creature wishes, including having sex with him, drinking of his liguids (sweat, semen, blood) etc..  I thought we were looking at a gay take on duality of nature theme, which I would have loved to have read. Then as more of David’s backstory emerges Vertigo turns into a demon cast from Heaven horror tale and all becomes lost with a plodding story and characters whose menace has now vanished into a mawkish, and obsessive love.

Another problem is the character of Dr. Hayden Curry.  He is just an unpleasant man.  He is vain, selfish, self absorbed, and thinks society revolves around him. This would have worked in the story’s favor had it turned into a tale of comeuppance and the tribulations that await someone who gets what they wish for.  And the reader gets a glimpse of that now and again.  But clearly Michael Mandrake wishes us to sympathize with Hayden and the path he has chosen for himself, to walk along side his demon lover no matter the consequences.  The upshot of this is that I could have cared less what happened to either Hayden or David, or anyone else in their circle.

The only victim here is that of Lawrence who makes a brief reappearance late in the story and is the fulcrum for the remaining drama that is Hayden’s life at this point. Lawrence is an innocent, undeserving of his fate and as a object of Hayden’s love,  He is another missed opportunity as the only likable person introduced in the story. The fate the author has in store for him is dreadful while clearly intended to be the exact opposite.  He emerges from his captivity still in love with Hayden, trustful and ready to take up where they left off.  Instead, the tag team of David and Hayden will leave him with a gap in his memory and a suicide to deal with.  Not my idea of making amends for the terrible things both David and Hayden did to Lawrence and another misstep by an author who has lost their way with this story.

David is the final main problem here.  As a man, he is controlling,self centered and disagreeable, as a beast he maintains a sufficient threat as to be menacing  and is the most interesting in this form, but finally as a demon, well he is just not very demon like.  He had wandered the earth being the “rumination of man” then spots the child that is to be his eternal love , acts more petulant than obsessed, pouts and has bouts of sullenness. But a mighty demon cast from Heaven? No, that just does not figure into the equation.  He is just not that evil or should I say believably evil.   David the evil demon.  *shakes head*

All the disparate plot lines gather together into an preposterous ending where God is unhappy with the plot (as is the reader), takes away all their powers, and Hayden flings himself out the window on his way to death and a happy eternity spent with David doing Satan’s deeds.  No really they are very happy together. Well, except for the fact that Hayden is clothed in the garments he was buried in, but that is just a trifle.

There were minor issues such as modern American phrases and notions coming from a 1916 London setting and background.  I realize that this is a fantasy but a little homework would have alleviated this problem. Minor Rant Alert! I also have problems with the usage of the word “orb” when used in conjunction with or as a description of eyes.  There are blue orbs, fiery orbs, and so on.  I wish that every author using this as a noun  for eyes immediately select Find and Replace in the Tool section and use it to delete the word orb in every reference. This cannot go on.  I don’t know about you but when I look at a person I don’t think “What lovely orbs they have.” Most people don’t,  so why use it in a story? This cannot be solely attributed to Michael Mandrake as I recently read no less than two other books with the same issue. This was just the breaking point. So please no more orbs unless they are magical ones used by sorcerers.  End rant.

Vertigo is the second book I have read of Michael Mandrake’s and I think the author has promise.  Perhaps a good editor and some crit partners would be of assistance in eliminating some of the problems I had with this novel.  Vertigo has some wonderful stories buried within it, just not the one the author chose in the end.  And that is a real shame.

Cover: The cover is as confused as the story.  Vertigo takes place in London in 1916, so what are the modern cover boys doing here?  And that font is terrible.