Rating: 5 stars
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It’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 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 Greyson and 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 is a Peacemaker from the Continental States and Armise, 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, McAuley also starts to flesh out the back histories for Merq and Armise that were 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. 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 are 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.
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.