Mexico. The intel regarding the movements of Janus that the Agency received from Thierry Beauvais in volume one seemed to be legit, so our dynamic duo was sent undercover to Monterrey to handle business. Filling out the story was Hsin’s undercover gig in the first phase of the mission–an exercise in our favorite assassin trying to function amongst civilians. Boyd’s undercover gig in which he got to be flashy and flirty and managed to befriend a kid named Jorge. And, in equal measure, Hsin and Boyd blindly navigating whatever it is between them and the many conversations that do little to clear things up. This is volume two.
Monterrey. Storytelling-wise, the mission was amazing in its detail and scope. It wasn’t just fluffy spy games; it was immersive. Hsin and Boyd needed to plant some roots so their presence wouldn’t invite suspicion when they started making moves. So they became Jason Alvarez and Kadin Reed. Meanwhile, there was the scouting (primarily Boyd) and the recon, but since most of the time Boyd and Hsin spent in Mexico was for groundwork, Hsin’s efforts in that respect didn’t come into play until the 2nd phase of the mission, but oh, man. It was nice to see his mind working on something other than immediate death.
Hsin. Jason Alvarez had a pretty bad attitude, tattoos, a piercing, and a nicotine habit. He’d worked security in the area and that made him the perfect cover for someone with Hsin’s background and anti-social disposition. More than once Hsin considered how ridiculous it was for a trained assassin to be out pounding the pavement like some regular Joe. And just when he was reaching his limit, he found a job as a bouncer at a night club. He managed, in his own way, to endear himself to the rest of the club staff. Not that he wanted to or even tried, but Hsin was completely unaware of his own charms. It was only to hold him over until the 2nd phase of the mission, but his time at the club was such an eyeopening experience for him. Being treated like a normal person, doing normal things like calling in sick, hanging out with friends, and cracking jokes for the benefit of present company and not just to keep people at bay. Just living.
He went from hating the idea of having meaningless tattoos, to learning how to smoke, to developing a habit of sucking on his lip piercing, and ultimately to living comfortably in Jason’s skin even while still being Hsin. Hsin who may not have the patience for negotiation or the personality and social awareness for a range of undercover work, but who really is a senior agent and for more reasons than his one-man assassination team status. He’s observant, practical, efficient, decisive, knowledgeable and has a number of skills–an array of which aided him in taking down McCall, the philanthropist, in volume one. Killing is easy, but doing so without getting caught takes planning. Marshal Connors, top dog, left the whole thing to him and just gave him carte blanche–tactically, financially, and otherwise–so that he could accomplish his objective. So, regardless of how he was treated publicly, he was trusted to do more than simply embed bullets in people’s brains.
Boyd. Kadin Reed was nothing like Boyd. If it were possible, Boyd would have been invisible or would have stopped existing entirely, but it wasn’t, so he opted for wearing all black–everything full-length–and apathy, but Kadin, a very social guy, wore revealing and flashy clothing. Undercover, Boyd’s blond hair and amber eyes went into hiding and it was a while before he was able to catch his reflection without being momentarily stunned by Kadin’s red locks and baby blues. We don’t get to see a lot of him being Kadin, but when he was, you knew it.
His objective for the first phase of the mission was to get to know the area and the people. Once they accomplished their objective for the second phase, they would need connections to get out of dodge because they wouldn’t be able to go the way they came. One of the people he connected with was Jorge. The kid clued him in on the all the dirt that was being done and who was doing it. Among the doers was a guy called Lo Más Chingón. Hsin translated it as “The Baddest Motherfucker”. Turns out, the name was not for vanity’s sake. He was a mysterious guy that Boyd had the questionable pleasure of running into, not once, but twice and lived to tell the tale.
Boyd had come a long way. He’d gotten physically stronger and he’d taken his inclination for organization and inference and allowed it to grow into an adeptness for strategic planning. But there were some things that hadn’t changed. His actions were still at the root of his arguments with Hsin and that was primarily because he was still pointlessly arrogant, especially when things like procedure and analysis were involved. I mean, he wouldn’t even double check a recipe for something when he’d never even cooked before. Not just not cooked that particular dish, but he’d never cooked anything. He didn’t argue with Hsin about that, but it’s a perfect example of the futility of his attitude. However, the flip side to that was that he was determined, or maybe headstrong is a better description, and more than a little reckless. And there were times when those qualities did more to help than hinder. Times like when he was negotiating with the Snakes, or when he squared-off with Lo Más Chingón, or even when he decided it was time to take a definitive step forward in his relationship with Hsin.
Hsin & Boyd. Their first day in Monterrey was almost as bad as their collective missions before Hsin started to give a damn. And after all they’d been through, their hearts and their minds still battled fiercely over whether they could or should trust the other. Meanwhile, no meaningful words were exchanged. But it was more than that. Hsin, displaying the kind of patience that is reserved only for Boyd, came through and offered a truce. Nevertheless, they continued to get in their own way. Still, it was more than that. Individually, they remained in emotional and psychological disrepair, so it was more than them not being able to communicate with each other. They questioned themselves, their worth, their pasts, all the things they ever thought about themselves and all the things anyone every said about them were swimming in their heads. So it was never– could never just be “I want him” or even “I like him.” The weight of everything influenced every move they made. And regardless of how this volume ended, I don’t think they’ll be free of this mode of contemplation for some time, if ever.
Boyd wanted Hsin, but even when they made progress and, by all appearances, their feelings were mutual, one little thing could easily set him back. But the little things weren’t really little; the gravity of a look, a word, an unexpected intonation, weighed more for Boyd because he was so sure that anything remotely good was too good to be true. And despite the fact that he had loved and been loved before and no matter the advances he and Hsin made, nothing went without at least a second guess. Doubt was with him always.
Hsin wanted Boyd, but he believed that it was something that should never be. He was “not normal”, “a monster”. And what if he gave in and let whatever he was feeling take over? What if it turned out that it was all a joke, that Boyd didn’t actually care? In his experience, people were only nice to him because they wanted something from him, but as soon as he delivered, he was right back to being despised and fear. Hsin knew if that turned out to be the case with Boyd, he’d never recover. Still, against everything that he knew and with everything he never knew he had, he cared.
Conversations. One of the saddest things for me in this volume was when Hsin pleaded with Boyd to be careful when waking him. It was such a difference from the sarcasm and the coldness he met Boyd with. In that moment he at once expressed concern and exhibited vulnerability; being equally afraid of hurting Boyd and himself. A far cry.
One of the most frustrating things that became apparent to me in this volume was the Sisyphean bent of their arguments. Hsin’s standing complaint was that Boyd always took control of the mission without regard for his input and Boyd would either try to explain why he did or have a fit, but neither of them ever went further to agree to plan things together in the future. Not once. Not even after their truce in which they addressed the issue with level heads. Hsin agreed to stop being hostile and Boyd agreed to stop being bossy. But consenting to refrain from something is only that; the application of a countermeasure is not a reflexive consequence of curbing a habit. Yes, they did argue less after that, but there were no significant changes to how they coordinated their missions. Boyd even agreed to ask why Hsin didn’t like something and that’s really sweet, but you have to realize that they could sidestep most of the drama by working in conference from the beginning.
One of the funniest things for me in this volume was the conversation Boyd drew Hsin into after Boyd had decided that it was time for them to kick it up a notch. Hilarious. I almost felt sorry for Hsin. The friendship, the trust, the attraction, being undercover–he was so far out of his element, thus completely unprepared to ward off the seduction Boyd laid on him. It seemed like Boyd did it with a twist of Kadin, but who knows how provocative a libertine Boyd actually is?
One of the best things for me in this volume was the conversation after they tasted each other. Hsin! How can he be so effin’ adorable?! He was annoyed, mildly embarrassed (though he needn’t have been), and rather cagey as Boyd’s inquiries led him to discovering that– Go read it.
With them still being the way they are, making strides, but still unsure and easily discouraged, I can’t help but wonder where, exactly, would they like to lay their confidences? Pushing aside the doubt and all the other things that burden them, what is their ideal? They had a conversation when they were closing in on the end of the second phase of the mission, Hsin made a comment about going steady. He jokingly said that he wasn’t ready, but is that what he really thinks? I know he wants Boyd, but does that desire and the concept of a steady relationship connect in his head? Are he and Boyd exclusive in his mind? I know he would be jealous if Boyd paid the same kind of attention to someone else, but would he think he had the right to do something about it, be angry about it? Also, Boyd told Emilio that Hsin wasn’t his boyfriend, but was that just for that moment or did he think that wasn’t the type of relationship they had? His habit of turning off and berating himself aside, would Boyd feel like he had the right to expect fidelity? As far as they have admitted, they’re just friends. That doesn’t quite cover their relationship in the usual context, but considering the types of relationships they’ve had before, that label has weight and goes beyond the norm for them.
Further along, Boyd told Hsin that he loved him, but Hsin didn’t return the words. I think he does, but hasn’t the first clue about how that feels and what it means, so it doesn’t occur to him that the indescribable feelings he has are love. My heart breaks for how good it could be for them if they only knew, if only they trusted those feelings at the expense of any and all doubts. With their declarations and revelations at the end of this volume, I think it’s reasonable to assume they have something of a traditional relationship, but knowing them, without the words to make it clear, assuming is all I can do.
Good grief. It’s been such a journey. The story begins with two people who couldn’t be more different and patiently and purposefully shows you exactly how much alike they are. Man, I love this story!
Things from this volume that I think about often:
- Hsin’s mission objective has gone from complete the job to complete the job and keep Boyd safe or complete the job and return to Boyd.
- Hsin’s enhancements?
- When did Boyd touch-up his dye job?
- When will Carhart reveal his knowledge about 4FF? Because I know something. Well, I don’t because I’ve only read this far, but I’m pretty sure I’m right and Carhart’s reaction to Boyd mentioning 4FF only confirms it.
- Right before their final mission, Boyd was in Hsin’s shower and Hsin was elsewhere. Did he stay overnight? How often was he in Hsin’s place when he wasn’t there? Are they shacking up? Oh that would be awesome, though not likely.
- They’re practically inseparable, but I wonder how good that is for them as individuals. With just the thought of one of them being unreachable, will the other fall apart? I want to know, but I don’t want to know.
I did it. Thoughts made real. Not all of them of course, but I feel like I can finally move on to the next book. Afterimage. From what Tumblr tells me, I may not survive. I’m looking forward to it. Especially since I’m aces at avoiding spoilers. Wish me luck or meet me there.
[box border=”full”]If you’re interested, you can check out the rest of my thoughts on ICoS:
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