Azrael and the Light Bringer (Valley Books), Eric Arvin
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: LGBT Lit Fiction, Angels, Dark, Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Religion, Series
This review contains what some might consider to be slight spoilers. Keep that in mind before reading.
My love for The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men is well-known and I have praised that book and the writing of the author to anyone who will listen. When Eric Arvin announced that Azrael would be getting his own story I was thrilled. The angel Azrael plays a huge part in what occurs in The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men, though very little is known about him at the time. Azrael and the Light Bringer is a prequel to that story and takes place a generation or so before the events depicted in it. Azrael plays a large part in the prequel (it is his story after all) but yet not. This isn’t one of those books where the character whose name is listed in the title takes center stage throughout…. but then again, he does. Confusing, I’m sure, but you would have to read both books in order to understand where I’m coming from.
The story begins with a young boy, Lucifer (Luc), waking up in the midst of trees in his beloved orchard, not knowing how or when he got there. He is only acutely aware that he was running away from home. Where he wakes up is really just dense woods by the river, though it is mistakenly called the orchard by some.
It was too copious a forest, and the trees too tall and round to be any kind of useful or profitable orchard. There might have been fruit trees there at one time, but no more… He felt more at home in the orchard, in fact, than he had in the big house he had been raised in.
It doesn’t take long for young Luc to realize that all he has known in the span of his short life will never be the same again. This is discovered shortly after meeting Azrael, an angel with exquisite black wings and whose flesh was the most peculiar shade of light blue, slight blue, as if he had been soaked in blueberries. Azrael asks young Luc to tell him a story and as he does so the mystery unfolds as to why he was in the orchard in the first place and the reasons behind his running away from home. Everything suddenly becomes all too clear to the boy. If the name Lucifer bothers you, disregard it. Luc is a true treasure and continues to be throughout the book. I fell absolutely in love with the child.
And so begins the story of the angel known as Azrael.
In Azrael and the Light Bringer, the reader is reintroduced to some familiar characters as well as introduced to some new ones. Some are beloved. Some not. We meet the Lone family. There is Mr. Lone, the patriarch of the family; his wife, Willa, who is ill and must be cared for almost constantly; their sons Uriel, and we’ve already met young Lucifer. The Lone family is a huge presence in the Valley. Mr. Lone is all about power and prestige and will stop at nothing to gain both. Already ridiculously wealthy, he unscrupulously goes about gaining more power by all means necessary. In the process, he ignores his wife and treats his children, his heirs, as a hindrance to that power. There is Roman, the raft boy, a young man without a family who must be faced with the unimaginable in order to start to feel. Raft boys don’t feel. They simply are. There are the Cecils, a couple who had suffered an unbearable loss and will do whatever is in their power to get beyond that grief even if it means taking up with someone, some thing, who does not want the best for the couple. While Mother True was only known in spirit in The Mingled Destinies, she is a real life character in this book. She and her daughters, Ingrid and Minerva (who readers of the first book will know well) play a huge part in this story. There is a large cast of characters, both main and secondary, and not all have the best interests of the Valley or river at heart.
Once again, there is a battle of good versus evil. The starting point of the evil invading the Valley and the river is explained here, whereas before it had already begun. The original preacher is shown in his evil ‘fake eyes’ glory, as is the original construction of the chapel. The reader is able to see the beginning whereas before we were shown the end.
Some characters are forced to leave. Some return. Some are unable to do so for a variety of reasons. There is evil lurking in the Valley and all can sense that it is only a matter of time before the true battle begins. How the characters go about choosing what is right and what is not takes a long journey for some. Not so long for others. Once again, beloved characters are lost but are they really? Some still play a part, if only in spirit. Some disappear never to be seen or heard from again.
The story of Mother True was a pleasure. So much is written about her in The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men that it was wonderful to read about her character as a character in the flesh. Mother must suffer her own loss and I found myself teary as a result. Actually, I found myself teary quite a bit throughout the entire book.
Uriel is forced to make a decision that may or may not be in his best interest. Known as the storyteller, when he has a true story to tell, will anyone believe him? Or will they think he’s once again telling tales? It took a long way into the book before I could get a grasp of Uriel’s character. One minute I hated him with every fiber of my being and the next I was rooting for him and hoping he would do the right thing. In the end he does and I was pleased with the outcome. Roman is a big part of Uriel’s life though neither man knows how to share their feelings. It takes a long (forced) separation for them to finally get it right. In Uriel’s travels, he meets some interesting characters, one of which is Madame Dragal and another a professor. Madame Dragal only cares about Uriel’s pretty face and profit. The professor becomes a good friend who in the end, helps Uriel to do what’s right.
Willa, Uriel and Luc’s mother, gained my sympathy early on though there are moments when that sympathy waned. She comes out bigger and brighter in the end and I was pleased with where the author took her later. Mr. Lone is written perfectly. A true bastard who must fight his own demons and discovers, too late almost, that having it all in wealth and prestige means nothing when you don’t appreciate those people around you who are part of you.. those in the flesh, not material things. He learns too late that the power he wished for could have been gained by simply acknowledging and appreciating those around him. Only later does he discover Himself (you would have to read the book to understand why that is capitalized).
Azrael and Luc, while not there in the normal sense, are always close by and are (in their own way) working to rid the Valley of those who wish to harm it. You do not see either character much but you don’t need to. Later, you realize the purpose of those absences as they are not really absent at all. They are always in the background doing their part to rid the Valley of evil. You know the angels are important as they have always taken up residence in the trees high above. But you don’t realize the significance until a scene toward the end with Azrael and Luc. A scene, that literally had me in tears. It was beautiful.
To quote another reviewer (Madison Parker), when I began this book I felt like I was coming home. I was coming back home to the river, the Valley. I was once again seeing beloved characters who I had fallen in love with only a few short months ago, as well as being introduced to new ones. I watched characters I had grown to love die or disappear in other ways, never to return. I watched a young man out in the world trying to find himself, who in the end discovered that he couldn’t be found without someone special he had left behind. I watched a woman battle her demons and later become whole for the first time in her life. I watched Mother True and her daughters fight to do what’s right, never wavering in their life-long beliefs. I watched the mighty fall and the evil forced out, if only temporarily. I watched an angel, a protector, start feeling emotions toward a young boy when angels aren’t meant to feel them. But in the end, I watched the joy of a young boy who was protected by one he so cutely called Mr. Angel, and who refused to leave the Valley or the orchard without ensuring his disappearance would not remain a mystery to those he loved.
I loved the epilogue.
Overall, in case my review has not stated it clearly enough, Azrael and the Light Bringer is another outstanding story by Eric Arvin. I wondered going in if it could possibly come close to being as good to me as The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men (my review for that one can be found here). The Mingled Destinies will forever hold one of the top spots for me as one of my favorite books of all-time. I needn’t have worried. Azrael and the Light Bringer is every bit as outstanding. It won’t be for everyone and I need to stress that point. This is not a typical love story nor is the story typical in any other way. If you read either book, do not go in expecting a light story or one without a lot of twists and turns. Not everything will go as the reader hopes and this should be noted for all who wish to read the series. You might get a little angry. I know you’ll get teary. You might have a few “what the hell?” moments and I have no doubt you’ll smile at the antics of young Luc. But in the end, you’ll be thankful that you took the time to read such amazing books. The books can be read in any order but I am glad I read The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men first as I was already familiar with the world in which it is based and many of the characters.
Bravo, Eric. Another outstanding story. I hope to see more of this series in the very near future.
The cover, as with The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men, is stunning.