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EVENSONG by John Love is a Boundary Pushing, Smartly Written Future Thriller

REVIEW SUMMARY: A challenging and subtle thriller with a slow burn, Evensong will pull you out of your comfort zone.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Biologically augmented Consultant Anwar Abbas is assigned as the bodyguard for a religious leader who believes her life is at risk. While he’s getting too involved with her private life, something is out there, killing his fellow Consultants.

PROS:Satisfyingly subtle plot complexities; incredibly powerful final reveal; discussion triggering characters.
CONS: Some awkward transitions into and out of flashbacks, odd use of repeated phrases was disconcerting.
BOTTOM LINE: A smartly written thriller that will leave a lasting impact on readers.

Anwar Abbas doesn’t do bodyguard work. A member of an elite group of psychologically and biologically altered United Nations assets, in polite terms he’s known as a Consultant. In 2060, the United Nations has developed itself into an research and development driven force with the economic power of a multi-national corporation. They barter R&D, counsel developing nations, host summits, and generally keep the bullies under control. Consultants are given special, secret missions – assassination and kidnapping, mostly.

The upcoming UN summit will be held in New Brighton, UK, and is being hosted by the New Anglican Church (another organization that has succeeded in developing itself into a growth-driven corporation). Believing her life is in danger, the Church’s Archbishop Olivia del Sarto requests the assistance of a Consultant, convinced no one else can keep her safe. Anwar knows he’s not the most talented Consultant in the group, not by far, but bodyguard work? is this a punishment?

The Consultants don’t see themselves as super soldiers, and they aren’t exactly cyborgs, but thanks to biological upgrades, their reflexes are a hundred times faster, their sight and hearing and smell far better. Colloquially known as The Dead, these men and a few women cut all ties to their old lives and faked their own deaths. Fiercely loyal to the UN Controller General, Laurens Rafiq, The Dead are broken and rebuilt human beings, every one of them. The secret weapons of the UN, the Consultants are unkillable. Until now. There is something out there that can destroy, that has destroyed a Consultant. What the consequences of learning your best weapon has become useless?

When Olivia first entered the picture, I viewed her as the female version of a womanizer. She has relations with any man she finds attractive: sex with no strings attached. Incapable of a non-selfish relationship, she’s not interested in romance, she just wants casual and convenient hook ups on her own terms. Maybe “female version of a womanizer” is the wrong term, but since I couldn’t think of a better one, I asked the twittersphere what the genderflipped version of womanizer was. The kindest response I got was “woman of appetites”. Others included slut, cougar, and man-eater, terms that don’t exactly have positive connotations, and terms that don’t even come close to describing Olivia. What was most fascinating to me is that no one in Evensong judges Olivia for her behavior. It’s accepted in the same fashion as saying someone prefers to have pancakes for breakfast, or doesn’t like flip-flops. Did I mention she’s also the leader of a church? I’m very curious to see how readers will respond to her. And she’s only the first aspect of Evensong that will challenge readers.

Anwar has a fascination with the idea of “container versus contents”, and his obsession is a major part of his persona. Evensong purports to be a Bond-esque political thriller, complete with tough to kill badguys, cars, sex, and damaged and isolated individuals. By the time you realize it is something very different, you’ll have already asphyxiated in the contents of this seemingly harmless container.

The plot, obviously, is much more complicated than Anwar being a bodyguard for Olivia. A cross between origami in reverse and a dense fog lifting, you know eventually the view will clear and you’ll end up with a perfectly square piece of paper covered in creases. But in the meantime, can you trust your eyesight, and what message will the paper’s creases expose?

Did you read Annihilation by Vandermeer? How about an older title, Agyar, by Steven Brust? Evensong reminded me of those titles. In Annihilation, there is a particular cadence to the prose along with nearly symphonic patterns of repetition that almost flirt with the idea of “what I tell you three times is true”. If you’ve ever read Brust’s Agyar, you’ll recall a deft subtlety smoother than glass, with the shattered pieces cutting deeper than the genius of the misdirection. Love is doing something similar with repetition and misdirection, building a pearlescent theater set you can choose to lose yourself in, or attempt to sneakishly peek behind (I had some issue with the repetition, but I’ll get to that in a moment). Whichever you choose, Evensong ends with an exquisite conclusion that isn’t read, or experienced, but physically and emotionally recovered from.

Repetition in prose is a delicate thing, and it can too easily self destruct. It’s got to be done just right. I’m one of those readers who connects with and remembers specific phrases that I enjoy, and coming across something similar feels like a jolt of deja vu. Many times in Evensong did I experience that sense of deja vu, and in three instances it wasn’t that I was coming across a similar phrase, it’s that I was coming across the exact same phrase that had already been used, word for word verbatim, in a previous chapter. Was this lazy editing? There’s a chance it was done on purpose, to point to the eidetic memories of the Consultants. Regardless of the excuses I come up with, the verbatim repetition had the effect of an ugly gash across a priceless piece of art. Evensong would have earned a five star review from me, if not for this. It was that big of a deal for me.

If you enjoyed Love’s debut novel Faith, Evensong has a similar feel. Broken characters, intensely uncomfortable moments, a writing style that projects isolated claustrophobia in wide open spaces, and secrets and final hints that tease at you through a fog that refuses to burn off. It’s really too bad that Love’s titles don’t get more attention, as both Evensong and Faith are smartly written thrillers that push the boundaries of comfort to leave a lasting, if momentarily painful, impression on the reader.

About Andrea Johnson (99 Articles)
Andrea Johnson also blogs over at where she reviews science fiction and fantasy novels and talks about other nerdy stuff. She's also an interviewer at Apex Magazine. Her apartment looks like a library exploded, and that is how it should be.

3 Comments on EVENSONG by John Love is a Boundary Pushing, Smartly Written Future Thriller

  1. Great review, Andrea. I agree completely about the repeated phrases — I’m actually wondering why I forgot to mention it in my own review. The one that sticks out in my mind is the VSTOL planes that are always “politely hovering”. Still, Evensong is a great novel that deserves more attention and a much larger readership.

  2. Even with its faults, I can’t figure out why Evensong (and Faith) didn’t get more publicity.

    now that I think about it, I do remember “politely hovering”. At times though, that phrase felt ironic, as if the VSTOL was actually rather impatient and wanted to say “get your butt over here already!”

  3. OK, you’ve sold me. This intrigues me. I’ll add to my tbr queue.

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