After Midnight - Santino Hassell

*slow clap commences*

Okay, I am going to lay it on thick in this review - because Hassell deserves it! After Midnight is one smart, sexy, gritty, action packed read. With the occasional and expertly placed comedic relief in this dark world, Hassell spins an engaging tale of a street rat hitting rock bottom and realizing that he might deserve more.

Spin-off and Standalone

As an In the Company of Shadows (ICoS) fan girl, After Midnight (AM) clearly read as a well adapted spin-off of it’s parent series. Besides focusing on Gordon and Adam, both brief, minor characters from ICoS, ICoS characters litter minor roles and a favorite makes a couple cameos, as well some popular hang outs and the dystopian world are revived - providing enough nods to an ICoS fan to satisfy. However, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the ICoS series, no worries, After Midnight reads as a standalone and any prior knowledge of the ICoS world is not necessary.

World building.

Crystal clear. Hassell creates a world that is fantastical, but feels real. The depiction of the dystopian world painted vivid pictures in my mind, allowing the visuals in my head to glide easily through the distinct districts in Lexington, Annadale and the wastelands. Hassell’s ability to portray his imagination in the written world is comparative to Frank Miller’s ability to portray his with ink and brush. Surpassing the world building was the “drug building” of Pandora and the criminal underground culture that revolved around it. His conceiving of the Pandora and the culture that would develop and persist around such a super drug compares to Manna Francis’s creation of the Sim in The Administration series - something so real with in it’s literary context that it is hard to imagine that it doesn’t actually exist.

What you get

There is A LOT of story in these 244 pages. A lot of action, a lot of banter, a lot of pondering. Not a lot of romance, but, wow, can he write a UST. We get a kiss (that we are made to wait painfully for), the UST remains. We get panty dripping anger sex, the UST remains. Hassell is one of the few authors that can pen a graphic sex scene with emotional rawness, that spectacularly fails to resolve any of the sexual tension. Frigging kudos to that. The sex is hot, the tension is taut and the reader’s desire is burning to see a working relationship - as impractical and out of character as that would be - for these two lonely, sorry men. Read it for the story - every aspect of it.

What you don’t get

The one thing Hassell doesn’t do is sap. For a romance propelled by angst, don’t expect it to lead to a climax with endearments of love. The closet these boys get to “I love you” is “I want you” and even that moment seemed too sweet for this gritty novel, but it’s awkward admittance fit the tone and satisfied appropriately. The HFN is abrupt, and sealed with a pact rather than any promises. But it suits these characters well and the story probably ends where it should, whether or not a sequel is in the works.

Where Hassell shines

Creation of characters and how they relate. Hassell knows people. He knows angst. He creates seemingly shallow characters that in turn are multi faceted gems with layers that make sense psychologically. Gordon is a shady loser, most would steer clear from in real life, but in AM, you root for him. Maybe even relate to him, at least understand him. You want him to rise above and pull him self out of the ghetto and the despair of his reality to know that life is more than just survival and to know love. With all his pitiable short comings, the reader can see his attraction, as Adam does. To preserve some of his mystery, Adam is not as clearly drawn, but he is a notable Agency zombie, going through his daily motions as indifferent to his fate as Gordon is his. The two connect on a level of hurt, hope and the inclination of being “sick of it all.” And that is where Hassell shines. In his commanding grasp of understanding and portraying how characters relate on a human level. His talent to script interpersonal bantering is either innate or demonstrates he paid attention in sociology class. The secondary characters may not be as engaging, but certainly more than one dimensional. The Samu twins being the most undeveloped of the cast, designed mainly as plot devices.

Read it

Where ICoS is an enthralling series loaded with engaging characters, but packed with potential that requires an editor to excel, After Midnight is a refined power house showcasing Hassell’s true writing abilities. Hassell is able to maintain a rawness to his writing while refining the prose making AM a rough and polished gem at the same time. With a $3.99 price tag, under 300 pages and a perfected balance of actual story to gratuitous kink - After Midnight delivers more than your monies worth. Don’t miss this gem, it sparkles.