Okay, where do I start?
I adored this book. Eric Arvin has the most beautiful way with words, he describes images and places so beautifully you can virtually smell the earth and hear the insects chirruping. It is almost a surprise when you stop reading and realise you're in your bedroom/lounge/kitchen and not the lyrical, mystical valley of the story. This is truly a gift.
The characters in the novel are exciting and complex. Minerva True and the spirit of Mother True, guard the valley from the evil Dark Eyes, but are looked on with suspicion as more and more people turn away from the valley and look to other religions or science to explain the things they don't understand. Minerva was a character you warmed to, there wasn't a bad bone in her body. She was, I feel, the matriarch of the valley, guarding and guiding. And if Minerva is the matriarch then Hamlin Marsh is the patriarch. Minerva's lover he takes on the, unwanted, role of leader of the valley and, though he has regrets and doubts, does the best he can for everyone who comes into his care.
Calpernia Covington - what a truly complex person we meet in her. We meet her as a child, new to the valley and, while she was a bit spoilt, I felt sure she was going to be the heroine of the piece. I was wrong. As the story evolved I alternated between hating her and feeling incredibly sorry for her. After all every one of her actions was done for the love of her friend Lara Kempt. She was truly misguided in her choices but love can make people act in all sorts of ways, I don't think she was really evil.
Dark Eyes - the creature in the chapel is the evil entity in this book. He causes death and pain and the desertion of the valley. With every person who leaves, or who finds guidance from a source outside of the natural valley (the church, science etc), his strength grows. It brought to mind the only thing I can remember from my long ago sociology lessons, religion is the opium of the people (Karl Marx)
. How easy is it to explain away actions, behaviours - things - with religion. Dark Eyes grip was to remain and grow for a long time.
The three heroes of the piece are Calpernia's son Leith, Lara's son Elijah/Deverell and the mysterious Aubrey Avonmore. They grow up together and are the ones who can save the valley from the evil Dark Eyes in the end. I've seen the author claim he doesn't really write love stories (I can't remember exactly what he wrote, but that was the gist I believe) but I disagree. I think the love between firstly these three as friends and brothers is amazing and secondly the romantic relationship between Aubrey and Leith is breathtaking. When Aubrey and Leith were separated near the end my heart broke. Their need for each other is more than just physical, it is friendship AND love AND lust. Beautiful.
I highly recommend this book to everyone, but don't undertake your journey into the valley lightly, it is to be savoured and enjoyed. I am really looking forward to the prequel to this book Azrael and the Light Bringer and will most definitely be reading other works by this author.