Rating: 5 stars out of 5 ★★★★★
Winifred 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 ancient, fantastical and still somehow quite new. All of which makes The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men a book of emotional heft and extraordinary value.
In keeping with the epic scope of his story, 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 between good and evil. 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. Some of Arvin’s creations just exude such a presence of evil that they carry a stench of corruption that threatens to flow off the page. 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. This story 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.