Book Review: Evensong by John Love
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Night Shade (January 6, 2015)
Author Information: Website
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
At first I didn’t think this would be my type of book, with its convoluted politics, bio-engineered super killer soldiers, dispassionate violence and casual sex, not to mention at times the narrative seemed more invested in the technicalities of hand-to-hand combat rather than the time it takes to build a convincing world. I know I’m not exactly selling it so far, but hear me out – because now that I’ve finished Evensong, the heavy emotional impact this book had on me is something I just can’t ignore.
Novels like these remind me why it’s important to step out of my comfort zone, for I ended up liking it a lot. Its dark and cynical futuristic cyberpunk-ish style reminded me a little of Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon, mixed in with a bit of that 007 Casino Royale vibe when it comes to the main protagonist. A biologically-enhanced operative, Anwar Abbas is an introspective character as raw and edgy as an unpolished stone, hardened by his life and work, but who nonetheless cares about standing up for what’s right.
Anwar is disgruntled when assigned bodyguard duties for Olivia del Sarto, the archbishop of the fast-growing New Anglican Church, but finds himself both repelled and intrigued by his charge’s abrasive candor. The morally ambiguous Olivia has an aggressive demeanor completely at odds with Anwar’s stubborn and systematic approach, but that doesn’t stop the two from plunging headfirst into a torrid affair – albeit one that is initially all sex and no feeling. Anwar is more than happy to satisfy Olivia’s voracious appetites, but stays by her side out of a sense of duty more than anything else, tasked to protect her from shadowy enemies who have threatened to assassinate her during a high-profile U.N summit on water rights.
Character development isn’t exactly strong, with both Anwar and Olivia’s personalities coming across as rather stunted and flat, causing me to constantly question their motivations especially when it comes to their relationship. And yet, somehow their affair manages to evolve into something much more nuanced. It’s not a love story, but at times it sure felt like one, even in all its twisted and dysfunctional glory. Here you have two characters on opposite sides of the spectrum; the harder they resist each other the more they are drawn together, becoming like one another. It sounds deceptively simple, but there’s a lot of synergy happening between the lines. It makes Evensong the perfect example of a story where the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.
John Love’s writing style also strikes me as a bit eccentric, especially since he utilizes a third person omniscient point of view for this novel, and is quite stark as he goes about his storytelling. For my part, I prefer a more personal touch, but admit that the author’s approach is also well suited for the story and its themes. I enjoyed my fair share of contemplation into the book’s more philosophical subjects – religion, human nature, etc. – but as I’d alluded to in my previous paragraph, I was mostly fascinated with the character dynamics and interactions. The author gradually adds layers to everything, so that the longer you read the novel, the more rewarding the experience gets. Like I said, there’s a combined effect at work here. At some point you’ll definitely get the feel of every piece snapping neatly into place, and suddenly it all makes sense.
I did say the novel had a huge impact on me emotionally. The revelations came at me like an explosion at the end, like one moment you’re traipsing down a sunny country lane and the next you’re blindsided by a Mack truck barreling into you at a hundred miles an hour. As the dust settled, I was left with a numbness, a melancholy that even now I find hard to explain, mixed with shock and disbelief…like, did I just read that?!!! The story definitely touched something deep inside me though, especially in light of the nature of Anwar’s character and the decisions he ultimately decided to make.
Certainly I never expected to be so powerfully affected by Evensong, since it’s such a departure from what I normally read. I can’t believe I almost dismissed this book as “not my thing”, and what a tragic mistake that would have been. I’m profoundly glad that I ended up ignoring my instincts, because against all odds, this book ended up working surprisingly well for me.
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Night Shade Books!