Review of Evenfall Vol. 1 Director’s Cut (In the Company of Shadows #1 part 1), by Ais & Santino Hassell

Evenfall

I downloaded Asis and  Santino Hassel‘s Evenfall (In the Company of Shadows) for free from its website.

Description from Goodreads:
In a post-apocalyptic future, the Agency works behind the scenes to take down opposition groups that threaten the current government. Their goals justify all means, even when it comes to their own agents.

Sin is the Agency’s most efficient killer. His fighting skills and talent at assassination have led to him being described as a living weapon. However, he is also known to go off on unauthorized killing sprees, and his assigned partners have all wound up dead.

Boyd is not afraid to die. When his mother, a high-ranking Agency official, volunteers him to be Sin’s newest partner, he does not refuse. In fact, his life has been such an endless cycle of apathy and despair that he’d welcome death.

In the newly revised Director’s Cut of Evenfall, the first volume follows these two cast-offs as they go from strangers to partners who can only rely on each other while avoiding death, imprisonment, and dehumanization by the Agency that employs them.

Review:
Note: If you want to skip all of my circumstantial psycho-babble just skip down to the ***.

I first encountered Evenfall on Goodreads. A number of reviewers that I follow had read the book, with fairly mixed and extreme reactions. Those who loved it seemed to LOVE it and those who didn’t, really DIDN’T. There were very few mid-level reviews (at least amongst those in my update feed). I ignored it for a while since it’s a work in progress, with no final version yet available (and at almost 1500 pages I was hesitant to commit). But I was curious and since the whole thing is available for free, I decided to give it a go.

I was intrigued from the start. My interest was definitely piqued. (Hey A & S, BTW, for your next editing round you might want to search all your peakeds and change about half of them to piqued. Just a friendly FYI, since the forward said this still isn’t a final version either. Though, I imagine it could be called pretty close.)

So, here I am sitting on my patio, lounging with my Kindle and cuppa when a friendly message from Julio hits my inbox, essentially saying, “Hey you do know a newer version JUST came out, right?” “Wha?” I think. “I just downloaded this sucker.” But he was right and the newer version is no slight variation. Apparently, Book I was has been cut in half and about 100K words dropped! So, yeah, even with my tendency to stubbornly stay a course once started, it was worth updating my version for.

This means I got to read the 25 or so pages of each book and got an idea of how the two compare. (There is a reason I’m outlining all this, BTW.) The original version was much wordier. When imagined stretched over ~1500 pages and then compared to the condensed version I can easily see how 100K words could be carved out without significantly effecting the story. So even though a trick of the mind made the newer, slimed down version momentarily feel too skinny when read back to back with it’s heftier brother, no one need worry that too much was lost in what I imagine must have been a fairly ruthless editing round.

Ok, you’ve got my backstory. You see where I am as a reader—curious, already invested, committed to finishing what I started, my fear that I would be tangibly missing out on something by reading a different version than I sat down with assuaged, but also facing the very real possibility that I would love the book (3% was enough for me to know this was as likely as not), have the remains of the series on my Kindle but knowing I would do best by it to delete them and await their reedits too. Because having read those first few pages of the original version of this book was enough to know the new editions would be worth waiting for.

This is the emotional soup I settled in with as I read this book and I think with a lesser book it would have been enough to ruin it for me. (Yeah, I know I’m an emotional reader. I don’t always separate my reading experience from the value of a book itself. So, sue me. At least I’m honest about it.) Despite all that though, I basically loved the book.

***

I’ll fess up that seeing two broken men prop each-other up (be it romantically or just as, you know, bros) is my absolute favourite plot device. (I could call it a trope, but that feels insulting.) So, I was predisposed to love Hsin and Boyd from the beginning. They are both definitely broken and both definitely becoming the other’s support column. Did my heart just flutter? I think my heart fluttered.

But I also loved their contradictions too. Boyd is presented as the weaker of the two. But while he’s certainly physically weaker and possesses far less skill that Hsin, functionally he shows a surprisingly ability to just get on with things, which is a strength of sorts. It was the outwardly impenetrable Hsin whose occasional fractured fragility peeked through that carried the day for me, though. Loved it. LOVED IT!

I did have a few problems with them though. I didn’t think either age worked well. Boyd acted too old for a 19-year-old and Hsin too young and inexperienced for a 28-year-old. Yes, I see that Boyd needed to be young to have not yet had the years to get over his trauma and Hsin needed to be older to have the years behind him with the agency. So, I see why they are as they are, but neither felt realistic for me.

Nor, did it feel believable that the Agency would take such an untried youth on for such an important role. If these missions were so important, difficult and dangerous as to require skill of Hsin’s level, what competent agency would send a barely trained newbie out? This is especially questionable since there was no reason to believe Boyd could control Hsin, which was ostensibly his sole actual duty. It was a fairly major weakness of the plot, but overlookable for the enjoyment of the story.

Perhaps my skepticism originates in the fact that I never could believe either survived in the social isolation they’re said to have. And this is probably largely because the whole post WWWIII, dystopian America is mentioned but plays so little role as to be forgotten by the reader. More than once I reached a scene in some desolate street and had to remind myself of the temporal setting. If I had a stronger sense of the place, time and environment that created these men (Boyd especially) I might have had a different reaction.

I did really appreciate that the men’s partnership is a bit of a slow burn. You’re able to see and understand the causes of their change of opinion and actions/reaction. This makes the end result so much sweeter. I was especially prone to melt whenever Hsin showed his feelings, as opaque as they often were.

So, my final say? I could take or leave the political intrigue, BUT I fell in love with Hsin and Boyd. I will definitely be finishing the series out. However, I want to give it the most opportunity to shine. So, as difficult as it is, I’m forcing myself to stop here and wait for the newer editions to come out. (How I wish I hadn’t even thought to read the books until later this summer when the second half of Book I was already out!) I can’t speak for the epically long first edition that I almost read and a number of other reviewers have struggled so much with, but this one is most certainly worth picking up.

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