Review: Dominant Predator (The Borders War #2) by S.A. McAuley

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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Dominant Predator coverIt’s the year 2558 and the various governments that rose after the last world war (also known as the Borders War) had come together at their first attempt to revive the Olympic Games.  But instead of peace,  a revolution was started. With one bullet Merq Grayson both assassinated the Premier of an opposing nation and ignited the Borders War once more.  Merq was prepared to die in the aftermath of the assassination, instead, to his shock, the one man who has been both his lover and his enemy for 14 years saves him.  Armise Darcan,  the Dark Ops officer from the People’s Republic of Singapore and the only equal Merq has ever known, defects in order to save his lover and enemy from death.

Now on the same side for the first time, Merq and Armise work together at the behest of the President. Their mission? To save Merq’s parents from the forces of the Opposition and assassinate those on the Committee who have defected to the Opposition’s side. But the Revolution is taking extreme losses from the forces of the Opposition and neither man is sure who to trust even within the Revolution itself.

Merq is also seeing first hand the effects of a stratified population, the extreme poor and the extremely wealthy.  Always so focused upon his missions, Merq had never really seen what the years of fighting had done to the people outside the political bunkers and now he is horrified by the blinders he so willingly wore.  Merq is evaluating not only himself but Armise too.  Armise gave up everything for Merq but is Merq prepared for what that means emotionally as well as physically?  Can two dominant predators come together, trusting each other fully in order to survive the Revolution and the resurrection of the Borders War?

What an incredible series and group of characters S.A. McAuley is giving us.  First introduced in the brutal story, One Breathe One Bullet, Merq Greysonand Armise Darcan are two black op snipers who have been going at each other head to head for over fourteen years from two opposing  countries.  Merq Grayson is a Peacemaker from the Continental States and Armise Darcan, a Black Ops from the People’s Republic of Singapore. In a beautiful twist, McAuley also makes them lovers for most of their careers as well as enemies.  Even when slicing each other open, they harbor intense feelings for each other that they are afraid to name.  I love the manner in which the author delivers this intense, intimate battle between Merq and Armise to the reader in scenes so vivid, so animalistic that they almost explode off the page one incendiary line after another.   It’s white hot, elemental and oh so sexy.

In Dominant Predator, S. A. McAuley also starts to flesh out the back histories for Merq and Armise that had been mostly absent in the first novel. Here we learn for the first time that both men have been genetically modified, something that had been only hinted at before.  But now we learn that the modifications are not only extreme but their nature is also unknown to the men they were made on.  Neither Merq or Armise realize the full extent to which their bodies have been modified, they don’t know exactly how they are affected and what all the modifications can and will do to them.  Merq, in fact, was modified while in the womb, an outlawed procedure.  And both men don’t know how and where the modifications were made.  The knowledge raises more questions about the two men than are answered by this installment.  And that is something this author does again and again.  McAuley dishes out information like specialized ammunition, in small increments and only when it will be the most explosive to the narrative, upping the level of anticipation and anxiety at the same time.

Both the plot and the characterizations are each others equal, much like Merq and Armise.  McAuley lays a web of deceit over all that transpires here, leaving the men to navigate a labrynth of intrigue so convoluted that everyone Merq and Armise is working for and against may change sides and loyalties almost instantaneously.  We as well as Merq and Armise are never sure who is the good guy and who is bad or if there is even such a thing anymore.  It is all dissolving before their eyes, all the rationale they were given, the certainty that the answers they had were real, nothing is as it seems.  Really, McAuley has created a world of smoke and mirrors  that will confound all who walk in it, including two “genetmod” snipers who find they only have each other to trust and rely on.

But the true heart of this story (and series) is the bond between Merq and Armise.  It’s a bond so strong, so magnetic that even the men don’t understand it and never have.  Even when the sex between them was as much a weapon as it was a release, the connection between the two continued to grow in strength and depth.  And now they are both on the same side, fighting for the Revolution, because Armise won’t be denied his spot at Merq’s side any longer.  Both men must move forward into the future together if they are to have one.  And that’s powerful stuff, indeed.

S.A. McAuley has promised five books for this series and is currently working on the third.  But will it be enough?  Merq and Armise are mesmerizing, larger than life personalities. In the past both men have also felt invulnerable but that is fading away along with Merq’s certainties about the men who have commanded his loyalties and the missions they sent him on.  Reality is setting in and I can’t wait to see where it takes Merq and Armise.  What a journey it has been already and the promise of much more to come from this amazing author will be worth the wait. Here is a taste of what to expect:

“You’ll never be stronger than I am, Merq,” Armise stated, the movement of his throat causing the blade to cut in farther. I eased the steel just a fraction away from his skin. He pressed his neck into the blade—with each centimetre of movement I was forced to either move the knife with him or to deepen the mark where his blood beaded—until his lips were nearly on mine. I relented, letting the steel fall away from his neck, but I spun the handle and gripped it in my fist.

Armise dipped his head down and rubbed his freshly shaven cheek over my lips and along my jaw. The feeling of it was foreign, his scent familiar, the desire now thrumming through me unavoidable.

“But,” he whispered against my skin, “that is why I’m here. We fight together and the world has no choice but to drop to their knees and beg for mercy.” I arched into him, and inhaled the fading scent of Singaporean balms, of him. I bit at his earlobe and scratched my jaw along his. “Mercy which neither of us is likely to give.” Armise dragged his lips across my neck and down to my collarbone and nipped at the fabric of my T-shirt. “Put the knife down, Merq,” he urged. His hands tugged at the hem of my shirt. “And take this off.”

If you are not familiar with this series, start at the beginning.  That’s a must if you are to understand the universe  McAuley is building and the men that stride across it like giants.  It’s compelling, it’s addictive and a must read on every level.

Cover art by Posh Gosh. This cover is just incredible, including the tattoo that has so much meaning for Merq and Armise.  It will be in my list of Best of 2013 this year.

One Breathe One Bullet (The Borders War #1)
Dominant Predator (The Borders War #2)

Book Details:

ebook, 137 pages
Expected publication: September 20th 2013 by Total-E-Bound
ISBN13 9781781844588
edition language English
series The Border Wars

Review: One Breath One Bullet (The Borders War #1) by S.A. McAuley

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Rating: 5 stars out of  5

One Breathe One BulletThree hundred years of the Borders War has seen the world reduced to five nations.  In the year 2548, a treaty was signed ending the war, and ensuring a peace between countries, at least on the surface.  Now in the year 2558, all nationalities have gathered for the first Olympic games since the war started.  Attention from the world media and citizens are focused on two men and one competition, the Rifle competition which pits soldiers from each army against the other, this time in tournament rather than battle.   And one duel has been raised above them all, that between the Dark Ops officer from the People’s Republic of Singapore, Armise Darcan and  the Continental States Peacemaker Merq Grayson.

Both men were trained from the very youngest of age to be the most highly skilled and dedicated soldier possible, and the most accurate sniper each side produced.  On mission after mission throughout the Borders War Merq and  Armise battled each other as they pursued the goals of their own countries, neither coming out ahead of the other.  And now they face each other once more, only this time on the field of competition.  But while their relationship has always been one of violence and physical brutality, they have also hidden another aspect to their relationship, one neither truly understands but is compelled to continue.

Against the backdrop of peace and the Olympic Games, another conflict is playing out, one that will have consequences not just for Merq and Armise but for the world they live in.  Only their skills and maybe something more will keep both men alive to survive another day.

One Breath One Bullet is only 80 pages long but within its small frame it packs a much larger punch and more powerful story than I could have imagined.  S.A. McAuley has created a world where war has raged for over three hundred years, with devastating results, wiping out half the world populations, reducing the planet’s air to a toxic cloud and numerous environs to desert unfit for human habitation.  McAuley’s descriptions paint a grim and despairing picture of the cost of prolonged warfare on both the planet and it citizens.  It’s a gritty, noxious universe and the author makes it horribly real in every aspect.

This is an intense story and at its heart are the two soldiers from opposing countries and ideologies. Despite being on opposing sides, Merq Grayson and Armise Darcan have much in common.  They are close in age and physique, even closer in their mentalities and emotional makeup.  These are brutal, dangerous predators masquerading as highly skilled soldiers at the top of their professions and yet, they are also something far more. Merq and Armise are also highly complicated personalities with more layers than can be described.  They will dishearten you with their characters and then turn around and astonish you with surprises.  McAuley has created, in Merq and Armise, two characters so real and memorable, that you will be insatiable in your need for more than just these 80 pages and luckily we will get them.

The story is told from Merq’s pov and jumps time periods from mission to mission.  Through Merq’s perspective, we see the world as it has become and watch the past as the two men compete to complete a search for an object both countries desperately want to acquire.  The real measure of each man slowly seeps out like a small blood trail the reader must follow to get to the truth behind the facades erected by man and nation.  Those expecting a romantic love story will be disappointed as the relationship between these men is not for the faint hearted but authentic to the characters we are slowly coming to know.  I don’t think I can adequately describe how compelling these brutal, war hardened men become or how thrilling and suspenseful the plot turns involved.  There are some beautiful twists and turns involved that just make this story and its characters all the more amazing considering the length of the book.

McAuley has created a three page Index at the end of the book detailing time lines, characters, glossary etc.  I am not a fan of this element as readers of my reviews already know.  Happily, I can report it is not necessary to refer to the Index to understand the basics of the world the author has created or some of the war weaponry used in the conflict.  McAuley folds that necessary information into the story just as it should be, making those pages interesting but optional.

One Breath, One Bullet is the opening salvo to a new series, The Borders War and I, for one, can’t wait for more.  The men, their world, and the events to come are deserving of a grand scale series to equal their measure.  I am confident in S.A. McAuley’s ability to deliver it.  Consider this a must have, must read and look for it on the Best of lists at the end of the year.

This is how the sage begins:

I hated the heat of the desert.

The mask on my face was confining, filling with the condensation of each breath I dragged into my lungs and forced back out in shallow gasps. The goggles over my eyes should have protected me from the yellow and grey cloud of Chemsense the Dark Continental Republic Army had unleashed on our battalion, but I could feel my eyes watering, the liquid gathering in pools that threatened to make my skin too damp to maintain the protective seal.

I was on my knees and I couldn’t remember when I’d stopped walking. I wasn’t far enough away yet. The shouts of the DCR soldiers—and the sonicpops of their weapons as they picked off States soldiers—were muffled but still too close. My body tilted, and I planted my hands into the sand without thought. I collapsed into the dune when my right shoulder ground together, bone against bone, tendons ripping. I thought those DCR goons had only managed to dislocate it, but this pain was worse than that—a grinding impact of racking, vision-blackening pain that didn’t ebb even when I flopped onto my back and let my arm lie unmoving in the scorching sand.

My mantra, pounded into me through years of training, repeated in my head as I consciously stilled my body.

One breath.

Inhale.

Hesitation is my enemy.

Solitude my ally.

Death the only real victory.

Exhale.

Cover art by Posh Gosh is disappointing.  Who is that cover model supposed to be?  And that modern shirt?  So many missed opportunities to do justice for such an incredible book.

Book Details:

ebook, 88 pages (includes excerpt from another Total E-Bound book)
Published June 3rd 2013 by Total-E-Bound
ISBN 1781843317 (ISBN13: 9781781843314)
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.total-e-bound.com/product.asp?strParents=&CAT_ID=&P_ID=2133
seriesThe Borders War #1