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

Review: Freedom by Jay Kirkpatrick

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Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

Freedom coverPatrick Henry thought that he had it made.  Patrick was tested by the Empath Center at New Las Vegas and now he was being promoted to Class One Empath.  As a Class One Empath, Patrick will have all the stability and success he has wanted, an apartment, independence and even a chance to partner and have a family.  Patrick has come a long way from being a scavenger on the streets of Neverneverland on the outskirts of New Las Vegas and appreciates everything the Empath Center has done for him.  So he is eager to succeed with his first assignment his Adjudicators give him.

The file reads Case #723, John Doe 439 and it is Patrick’s first solo assignment.  His advisors have warned Patrick that the man has tried to commit suicide several times and is to remain heavily medicated for everyone’s safety, including his own.  John Doe 439 was found tortured, raped and unconscious outside the city and since he was brought inside the Empath Center, he has been mute and unmanageable except with drugs.  Patrick’s assignment is to try and reach inside to see what is anything is left of the man they call 439.

What Patrick finds is a haunted, beaten and abused man that he is not only attracted to but can actually reach.  And the discoveries Patrick makes as he connects with John Doe shatters his notions of the society he lives in and the rules he has lived by.  John Doe 439 is actually  high-level Psychic Talent named Jac.  And Jac’s talents have made him a wanted man.  Soon Patrick must decide between the safe confines and regimented society of his world or help Jac flee to freedom in the outside, fighting the government forces every step of the way.

Freedom by Jay Kirkpatrick was listed as one of the Best M/M Book by a Debut Author of 2013 by Goodreads and it certainly deserves that title and more.  What an astounding debut novel for Jay Kirkpatrick.   I kept returning to the author’s bio, sure to find previous works listed and finding none.  It is rare that an author’s first novel packs the emotional punch this one delivers, along with just terrific world building (I can count those other authors with one hand), but Jay Kirkpatrick’s first novel is just amazing.

First of all, Freedom is set sometime in the post apocalyptic future after some catastrophe has hit Earth.  Whether the “Blast’s”  origin was human or astronomical in nature is never stated but we see how the human societies have restructured themselves, the “civilized society” pulling back from the contaminated “outside”, where touch and the notion of romance is frowned upon and people are elevated by their “gifts” to a level where they are granted education, housing, safety and perhaps even a “partnership”.  A white city peopled with those in white, all seemingly isolated by their very politeness and niceties, a very chilling place to be sure.  Jay Kirkpatrick does a remarkable job in letting us feel how safe and content Patrick is within these regimented walls while still portraying how stark and barren of life the Empath Center and the City really is.  As Patrick meets John Doe 439 and we accompany Patrick through the halls and rooms that house John Doe and others, we start to get an uneasy feeling about the place and the rules Patrick has lived by, just as Patrick does.  The author slowly builds our suspicions and unease with each chapter until we feel like screaming at Patrick to grab Jac and run.  At that point, the reader is completely lost within the story and the plight of Patrick and Jac. A perfect blend of skillful world building, complex storyline and great characterizations.

I can tell you that Jay Kirkpatrick had my stomach was churning with apprehension, because the author had lead me so skillfully to the point that I was so fearful for Patrick and Jac’s future.  I was absolutely invested in these characters and others around them because they were 100 percent real to me at that moment.  We watch Patrick evolve from a citizen complacent in his gilded cage he didn’t even know he was in to one shattered by the truths he uncovers and the person who revealed them to him.  A transformation made all the more believable because of Jac, the wounded, abused psychic Patrick heals and then loves.  Jac is also a beautifully realized character.  His abuse and the events that set off his broken mental state are shown to the reader in flashes, the worst of which occurs “off stage” as it were but the horrors inflicted upon Jac and others is still brought home to the reader and Patrick with skill and sensitivity.  And the villains are made more chilling because of their absolute belief in the rightness of their actions.

This book is divided into two sections.  The first called Confinement, taking place within the Empath Center and focuses on Patrick and Jac’s meeting and slowly building relationship.  The second is called Escape where Patrick realizes his world and work are a sham and has to decide whether to stay or flee with Jac.  That is all I will say but the focus does shift from the personal, intimate stage of Jac and Patrick to a much larger focus, with more characters introduced and a greater reveal of the world outside.  I think Jay Kirkpatrick handles the shift in focus smoothly and realistically. And while I do understand the direction the author took with the narrative,  I might have preferred the focus to have stayed narrowed to Patrick and Jac, but that’s just my preference.  Not all will feel like that.

The only quibble keeping me from a 5 star rating is a power one character demonstrates late in the book that had me wondering why it did not reveal itself before.  Either I missed something or this new power came out of nowhere, giving me a “huh” moment at the end of the story.  But that small quibble aside, the ending was everything I expected from this story and its author.  Heartrending, satisfying, while still leaving room for more to come.

So run, don’t walk to the nearest eBook store and grab this up.  What a remarkable debut, what a marvelous journey Jay Kirkpatrick takes us on.  I can’t wait to see what Kirkpatrick will come up with next.  This will be one of my top books of 2013.

Cover art by Anne Cain, just perfection in every way.

Freedom by Jay Kirkpatrick

Dreamspinner Press, novel length, 232 pages

Buy link: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3618