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Santino & Ais: Evenfall V01

Santino & Ais--Evenfall V01Evenfall is the first story in the In the Company of Shadows (ICoS) series. The completed series is available to read online (for free), however, the authors have gone back and started revising the story. They say the plot remains the same, but they are tightening everything up. So far they have completed the Director’s Cut of Evenfall which is now split into two volumes, 300+ pages each. And this is what I’ve read. I want to continue on because the story is so good that it just makes me want to curse, but the authors note that there are some inconsistencies in the latter books when read after the Director’s Cut, so I’m going to hold off.

Not.

I thought that at one time, but I can’t wait any longer. The wait until now has been excruciating, especially since I didn’t know when they would get back to it. Santino, also/formerly known as Sonny, is Santino Hassell, who is writing the Five Boroughs series and co-writing the Cyberlove series, both of which I’m presently in love with. There’s definitely more to come where those are concerned, so I don’t know if he’ll be working on it simultaneously, taking a break, or waiting until the Five Boroughs series and the other stories and projects he’s working on are complete to dedicate time to ICoS. And there’s also Ais’ priorities to consider.

Although I’ve been done waiting for a while, I was still hesitant to write this review because I love this story so much, so I’m scared to, but I can’t move on until I do. I want to talk about everything, but this will never end if I do, so I’m going to focus on my thoughts on the lead characters and hope that I’m marginally coherent. Then I can find some measure of closure and stop torturing myself and finally dive back into this beautiful world.

Evenfall is set only a short time from now in a post-World War III version of our world. Although the characters travel to various places, their home base is Lexington, a fictional city in Pennsylvania. The story tells of how two people who could not seem any more like opposites find common ground, themselves, and each other.

Side note. Some of you may remember me talking about my state and city popping up in nearly everything I’ve read of late–ICoS is what started the trend.

Boyd Beaulieu is 18 (“19 in a week”), empty, and would not mind an end to the monotonous and desolate existence passing for his life. Hsin Liu Vega–usually addressed as Sin, but often referred to as the Monster–is a 28 year-old one-man decimation squad and assassination team and has been on the road to his present self since he was eight. These two come together as one-third of an elite anti-insurgent team backed by a super secret government bureau posing as a branch of a pharmaceuticals company and known only as the Agency.

While Hsin had officially been an agent for half his life, Boyd knew nothing of the Agency until his mother, Vivienne, the 2nd in command, called him in to tell him that she was nominating him for Hsin’s new partner. Because of Hsin’s history, to most other agents, such an assignment either represented a prelude to death or a misguided attempt to prove their salt by taming the Monster.

Becoming an agent brought about an abrupt change in Boyd’s lifestyle and routine. He now had a reason to get up everyday, however, he was required to remain on the Agency’s compound during training, so he could not retreat to the relative safety of his home after a long day. In addition to putting his body through the paces with offensive combat training and dusting of his mental faculties with tactical exercises, Boyd also had to endure snide remarks androgynous looks and his sexuality and bullying centered on accusations of nepotism. I had to laugh at that.

A lot of agents, also called fieldies, were upset with Boyd because he was a civilian and essentially came of the street and walked right into an accelerated training program that aimed to place him as a Rank 9 agent. This was the minimum requirement to be Hsin’s new partner. But I don’t understand what the problem was, because, basically, being Hsin’s partner meant you’d probably die sooner than later and there was a 50% chance that it would be by his hand. They also seemed to not realize that, rather than scorned, Boyd was better off being pitied. His own mother nominated him for that position. His own mother. She volunteered a guy who had no background in combat or assassination or anything pertaining to the job (beyond apathy) for the partner of the best agent they had. And an infamously problematic one, so said everyone. At that, no one seemed to understand that Boyd didn’t have any say in any of it. They were all upset with Boyd like it was his fault. I’d allow a bit of their ire if he had continued to fail at his job, but he didn’t. It wasn’t in a blink, but he did become competent enough for Carhart, the unit commanding officer, the Agency’s third in command, to not insist on scrapping him and starting the search for a replacement. And if he could do it, if he could go through the training and be a partner worthy of Hsin, why were they complaining? He managed to do it and stay alive. What was their problem? Jealousy and shortsightedness. Their fury was misplaced.

For all the Agency’s never-ending labeling of Hsin as monster, he was a sharp one. It hurt to see how the Agency fostered such a negative perception of Hsin, but it was just a bit easier to endure because I knew he isn’t. He was most definitely off-kilter, but he was not the embodiment of unprovoked and unrestrained rage, indiscriminately slaughtering people. He was not a lumbering idiot. He wasn’t even callous. And I’m glad the truth of the story didn’t paint him as a mindless, belligerent savage, grunting all the time and that it didn’t try to play off intelligence as beastly instinct. He was intelligent, in all situations (that didn’t require that he reel in his urges where Boyd was concerned)–tense and high key, but also off-the-cuff and everyday moments.

Hsin had to participate in a number of psychological evaluations in order to be reinstated as and active agent–this was the norm for him. I wanted to set fire to the the guy that hosted his last one before he and Boyd were officially partnered. The guy was extremely biased, but still honest and that’s a complicated thing to react to. But because he did not use the information he had access to to make a proper attempt to understand Hsin, I still think he should gargle with kerosene and swallow a lit match. For the most part, under the guy’s hostile gaze, Hsin was largely uncooperative, but he was also clever and snarky. I can’t help but find that cute.

And his brand of humor was not just sarcasm, Hsin’s sense was real and deep. When his mother died, his father, Emilio, who was an agent of the Agency before he died, scooped him up and began training him to be an agent. He was eight years old then and he already showed signs of behavioral difficulties. The training helped to center him and provided an outlet for the turmoil and manic energy that he was not equipped to dispel. And he saw a lot, experienced a lot when he lived with his mother and as he traveled with his father. All of that shaped his cognitive processes and informed his perceptions. So his comments often came of as dismissive and, in a sense, they were, but they weren’t just random, off-the-rack remarks.

Speaking of his father, I wonder what the deal is with Hsin and his dad. He never wanted to talk about him. Shut down anyone who mentioned him. Was he mad at him for dying? Did the thought of him conjure up things better left forgotten? Why did he hate talking about or thinking about his dad?

Hsin and Boyd did not hit it off well. Boyd was clueless and arrogant. And not that it was his intention to dismiss Hsin every step of the way, but he did. Okay, so, Hsin wasn’t really all that receptive to the general idea of a partner, so he was pretty much hanging back waiting for Boyd to die at first. Not that that would have worked out well for him, but it took him some time to not just hate the thought of Boyd even though he was intrigued by him from the start.

Their journey from two unfortunate people who couldn’t stand each other to friends to an undefinable yet undeniable bond was anxiety and anger inducing, confusing, sad, heartbreaking, and so good. Boyd and Hsin had to work so hard just to be friends. Let’s dismiss the attraction simmering below the surface, for a minute. They had zero reciprocative communication skills between them. But they tried. They did, but it’s hard to make something out of nothing. They were so inexperienced and so untrusting and so lost. And they wanted to give up, but that evolving nexus between them wouldn’t let them.

These guys were so inept at interacting with each other, but so intent on trying. Hsin’s birthday gift to Boyd was like a cat bringing their human a dead mouse. It was beautiful and sweet, but downright terrifying. But he was working with what he had. You couldn’t hate him for that.

This story was amazing. Along with the maturation of two socially inept, mentally tortured, and physically abused (usually referred to in past tense or using indirect language) souls, the nation was war-torn and was close to being overrun with insurgents. The Agency existed to, among other (unclear) things, stamp out insurgent groups. One in particular was on a mission to absorb all of the smaller factions and was making great strides towards that goal. That group was called Janus and they were the central bad guys.

Volume one ends with Boyd and Hsin in a strange place in their relationship. More sure of their connection, but still not quite understanding the depths of it and because of that, they may or may not be prepared for the mission they’re set to embark on in volume two.

Things from this volume that I think about often:

  • The writing. It was superb. There was never a point at which I yelled, “People don’t talk like that” or “That makes absolutely no sense.” There were things I questioned, but I never got the feeling that they would go unanswered for long.
  • Ryan Freedman. I didn’t talk about him, but he’s awesome.
  • After Boyd came to fully understand what he’d gotten himself into with Thierry Beauvais in Paris, his “Fuck” was perfect and was only bested my Hsin’s layered “Exactly”. Pure comedy.
  • When Hsin said that Harry must have had a death wish. This said so much about what Hsin thought or assumed other people thought of his relationship/partnership with Boyd and what Boyd meant to him.
  • Hsin shoving his finger in Boyd’s face during the briefing at the beginning of chapter 23, asking Carhart what Boyd was going to be doing on their next mission. That he was comfortable enough with Boyd to do that. In front of people.
  • Santino has a thing for vegetable beef soup and peanut butter sandwiches. It pops up in some of his other stories. What gives?

Up next… Volume Two.


If you’re interested, you can check out the rest of my thoughts on ICoS:

Reviews: Evenfall DC V02

Running Commentary: Afterimage | Interludes | Fade | 1/27

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