Rating: 5 stars
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You know when you read a really good book and afterwards you are sort of in a stupor? Like you don’t want to talk to anyone, or do anything, or even really think about the book too directly. Because even though you are done, part of you mind is still so emotionally wrapped up in the story that you are not ready to let it go?
Well folks, that is how I felt at the end of The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men. This story took just captivated me with its magic and drew me in emotionally. It is sort of a hard book to describe, and even harder to categorize. To me it sort of felt like a fairy tale, filled with magic and enchantment, amazing creatures, and an epic battle of good versus evil.
The story takes place in a lovely river valley, a place sort of on the edge between the real world and the world of magic and nature. It is filled with special people and beings and wonder, there to see for anyone who can open their eyes and look. The people of the valley live a fairly isolated existence, separated by distance and temperament from most of the outside towns, but not quite of the magical world either. Most still practice the old pagan rites and rituals, sharing a oneness with the magic of nature found in the trees and the woods and the river.
As the book opens, we meet young Calpurnia Covington, recently orphaned and brought in from the outside to live with her elderly aunt. Calpurnia had been raised spoiled and indulged, used to having every whim met, and she isn’t so happy to find herself living in the valley. Even though the magic tries to welcome her, Calpurnia wants nothing to do with it. She spends her days with her best friend Lara, and their playmates Garet and Darcy, watching life in the valley but never really fitting into it. And ultimately, in her selfish desires, taking an action that reawakens an evil in the valley that has been mostly dormant.
The story then moves us ahead in time to when Calpurnia and her friends are adults. Though Garet and Darcy are truly meant to be together, Darcy’s family encouraged a union with Lara, and Calpurnia and Garet soon followed suit. As these couples begin their own families however, things have been changing in the valley. The threats of evil are growing, more of the forest is dying, and people are moving away. The old River Dweller, Minerva True, continues to watch over the valley as one of the last caretakers left. She watches as their world changes, knowing they are preparing for the battle for their way of life, trying to be there to guide things along. The time has passed for the adults, but their children hold the future.
The last portion of the story moves us forward yet again, to the time of the young boys, now men. Aubrey, Leith, and Elijah grew up under Minerva’s tutelage. Life in the valley is all but lost, almost no one remaining and the evil growing. But these men still share in its magic, and hold its future in their hands. They have grown up like brothers, and Aubrey and Leith as lovers, the Princes of the Forest. They are the remaining hope to stop the evil and reclaim the magic of the valley.
Whew, so yes, this one is kinda epic you guys. It is sort of a massive spectacle and a journey that will just consume you. Arvin writes such beautiful and lyrical words. At first I found it a bit hard to get into the rhythm, but once I let myself go, I was just pulled right into this magical world. There is just so much happening here, everything wonderfully layered with bits and pieces that connect together along the way. The evil here is represented by a church, drawing people out of the world of magic and nature, and into one with rules and explanations that keep the people from seeing the wonder around them. But that is the literal evil, and the story really gives us a much broader allegory. We see the dangers of technology and science and industry and structure, all the things that seek to explain away the magic of the world in tidy answer. As the people stop believing in the wonder around them, begin rationalizing away the miracles and the magic, them the dangers take hold. Arvin starts the book with Lewis Carroll’s poem about the crocodile, how it lures us with its smile and golden scales, but then when we are drawn in, snaps us in its jaws. And this is the perfect reflection of those quiet dangers, the ones we don’t realize are upon us until it is too late.
This story is not a traditional romance (nor is it intended to be, it is part of Wilde City’s “mainstream” line), but there are key romances that weave throughout the story in pivotal ways. The most poignant is that of Aubrey and Leith, the sweet and lovely warriors of the forest, linked romantically as well as in their bond of brotherhood with Elijah. But along the way we also see the love between Garet and Darcy, Minerva and her love Hamlin, and even in a twisted way, the love of Calpurnia for Lara, all of which are key to the story.
My only teeny tiny criticism here is that this one is quite long and involved and I think the first half could have been tightened and still given us the same epic feel and set the stage for the rest of the story. Things really get rolling toward the second half. But honestly, once I got started here I could scarcely put it down.
Oh, there is so much more I could say, I could talk about this one for hours. But I think too much more and I will ruin the magic of the tale that you all should discover for yourselves. So pick this one up and settle in with it. It is a lovely, epic, romantic story that will lure you in to its magic and keep you captivated by the wonders of the river valley.
Cover Review: Oh, this cover! Seriously, it has all the beauty and magic that are in the book. So haunting and lovely and dreamy, as if you just woke up on the forest floor. I sort of love that Arvin’s sister took the photo, it just seems all the more right.