Why hate the sinner... when you can love the Hsin?A month ago I read a great review of Ais and Santino's Afterimage, and blogged about it, but spent most of my post whining about how much of a chickenshit motherfucker I was for not only failing to read the second volume of In the Company of Shadows, but not even reviewing the first one.The results of the poll on that page pretty much vindicated my cowardice.I read Evenfall not long after Special Forces, for one. And winter is a historically bad time in Chateau Joolz, and I was all cried-out—and I'd really appreciate it if you guys could just not give me any shit about the blubbering and the wailing, thanks.So, uh—that's why.Mostly.The other reason I never went on to read the next book? I'm writing about assassins too, and somehow they started looking and acting and talking and even fucking like Hsin Liu Vega.All of them.So. Yeah.Then, two weeks ago, someone asked me in an Evenfall thread what my opinion on the book was, and why hadn't I et cetera, and—also—what the hell was wrong with me, anyway?Nothing is wrong with me, okay—look, just—whatever, leave me alone, it's fine, I'll take care of it, my gosh.So here's me taking care of it.***Halfway through reading it I stopped to write Santino Hassell an email. It was a love letter disguised as fan mail.This email was defined by two (2) costly errors in judgement:1. My email was too long. I wrote about all the things stewing in my fervid little brain, which had been awakened by his and Ais's writez.and2. My email was a love letter disguised as fan mail.I had tried to corral all the epic feelz the book had set loose, as if that were even possible with a book of this size. Never mind the stupidity of trying to make sense out of any of it when I hadn't even finished it. I was too excited.Mr. Hassell forgave me for that.He forgave me for my second mistake too, cuz he is a cool dude, and was kind enough to never speak of either my knicker-moistening passion or my Caribbean indiscretion, ever again. He even declined to call the cops when I broke the terms of the restraining order and said hi to him at Dunkin Donuts that one time.Buuuuut anyway. Evenfall.I learned my lesson. No crazy, all-inclusive review. At over 1,100 words, this still turned out to be the longest review I've ever written—but it's incomplete. No matter how long I make it, my review will always be incomplete, and so I won't even try.These, then, are some of my impressions.***It's long. Half a million words is a lot of words. Some of them don't need to be there. Sometimes the prose is pedantic, or repetitive. Most of the time it's none of those things.It's fascinating. The world this story unfolds in is layered, rich, and intensely compelling. The premise is solid, and so is the setting. As an example of speculative fiction, it delivers.It's hot as fuck. I touched myself in my Special Place many, many times—I mean, yes, obviously I do that all the time, I meant: while reading this—even when there was no actual fucking happening on-screen. There must have been 30 scenes that were so sensuously drawn I sprang a semi-chub. One of them—the scene featuring a dark room, the pretense of sleep, and stolen underwear? I re-read it so many times in the past six months that I could up the book's goodreads metadata read count to 16 and not even feel like I was lying.It has Hsin Liu Vega in it. ...no, I didn't say anything else. That's all. Hsin. Hsin Liu Vega. In it.It needs a vicious editor. I'm pretty sure I'm not just being a jealous twat at how productive Ais and Santino are—pretty sure—when I say an old-timey, chain-smoking, liquid-lunch-having Noo Yawk editor would do wonders for this book. I mean, every author needs an editor. Especially the ones who write 3-million-word Epics of Awesomely Epic Awesomeness™ entirely on their own over the course of seven years, the fancy bastards.It's got great action. SPOILER, SPOILER, another SPOILER, and holy fuck did you see the SPOILER. (Because a shit-ton of stuff goes down, spectacularly, and with an incredibly-high body-count, this seemed an obvious place to cut things out of my review, to get the word-count down.)It features fun secondary characters. With one notable exception, all the second-tier players are wildly entertaining and memorable. Some are so successful I'm told they go on to carry parts of the tale in subsequent volumes—which tells you how well-crafted they were from the beginning. The exception is Vivienne, who remained disappointingly one-dimensional and cartoonish while still being more or less a heinous bitch. I hope her motivations and decisions are a little less inscrutable and a lot less universally appalling in the next book.Mexico. Sweet, sweet Mexico. By the time this part of the tale arrived I was a wreck of angst and bitterness and anxiety. "Wait until Mexico!" my book buddies advised. "It's all worth it once they get to Mexico."And it was.Because for all the darkness in a dystopian novel like this one—with all the hate and despair and soul-crushing tragedy woven into it; with all the characters and all their victories, and their defeats; with all the death, and all the destruction—all the cold-blooded denial of basic humanity; with all of that, in all those memorable scenes—this is still a romance.And a very good one.Because there's one scene that lives in my memory, still, all these months later. The one scene my mind returns to more often than any other.Even more often than the bit with the underwear.It's the scene on that ancient bus to Mexico, with the sun sinking into the desert, when two lonely, fucked-up young men bump sweaty arms in the heat of a dying day, and for a moment their defenses are down, and the connection they spend so much energy denying is allowed to remain.On that long, somber ride toward the disaster waiting for them on the other side of the horizon, they share a secret between them, these two, surrounded by unknowing strangers with hopes and fears of their own.They share a secret, and—for a little while—they are allowed to keep it.Recommended.