Merq Grayson is a Peacemaker for the Continental States. He has been trained as a spy and an assassin since he was a young man and now his job is to fight for the Continental States in the 300-year-long Borders War. The world has consolidated into five countries that have been fighting to solidify their control for years. Merq is elite, skilled, and trained to follow orders.
When Merq encounters, Armise Darcan, his counterpart from the People’s Republic of Singapore, he knows he has met his match. The two are pitted against each other time and again, neither one ever quite being able to successfully take the other out. As time passes, Merq finds himself drawn to and intrigued by Armise. But they are bitter enemies and Merq knows full well he will eventually kill Armise or be killed himself.
Slowly the men find a grudging respect for one another, and Merq finds he can’t stop thinking about Armise. When Armise makes a move, Merq can’t help himself, and the two fall into a series of sexual connections that Merq can’t put out of his mind, even as he focuses on his mission and his responsibilities. When a truce finally comes, the guys aren’t officially enemies anymore, but they still know if anyone finds out about them they will be considered traitors.
Ten years after the truce, it is the year 2558 and the world is gathering for the first Olympic Games in over 300 years. Merq and Armise will both represent their countries in the rifle competition. But there is more going on than what it seems and many factions have different goals and motivations than it appears on the surface. Merq finds he can’t stay away from Armise, can’t get him out of his mind. But he also has a job to do, one that will change everything, including his relationship with Armise.
I have heard such wonderful things about this Borders War series, so when I heard S.A. McAuley had revised the first few books and was rereleasing them along with two new ones, I knew it was time to catch up on the series. This is an intense, engrossing, enemies to lovers story about two hard men who somehow manage to find a connection amidst the horrors of their lives.
The story is in Merq’s POV and is told in a series of time jumps, beginning when he is 16 and in training, and continuing on until the Olympics. We get glimpses into the rigorous (and pretty horrible) training he is given in order to become an elite soldier, and follow along on his various missions as he begins to encounter Armise. Merq is a fascinating POV character as he is so single-minded in his focus on his job. He has been trained as a soldier and assassin, prepared for this life since he was a child. Merq is just so completely immersed in his job and his duties and it is hard for him to even think about another life. So it is kind of fascinating as he finds himself drawn to Armise, because he doesn’t really do things like trust and certainly not love and affection. Merq wants Armise, but also accepts that one of them will likely end up dead at some point. So I loved watching him slowly come to the realization that there could actually be something between them, that Armise may be someone he can trust. I particularly liked that we are in Merq’s POV pretty much exclusively (except for a really interesting bit in Armise’s POV at the very end). It helps for us to understand what is going on right along with Merq and so I liked that we don’t know Armise’s goals and motivations until the end of the book, just like Merq.
This story is dark and twisty, and really drew me in. I’ll admit, it took a bit of time, as the start is a little overwhelming with all the world building. McAuley has created a fascinating dystopian future here with politics and history that are really well developed. However, it is a lot of information and it took me a little bit to get into the groove and figure out what was going on. Once I got into the swing of things, though, this one kept me glued to the pages to find out what was going to happen, both with the relationship and with the greater politics.
A couple of notes here. First off, this book has been revised and expanded to almost double its original length with some substantial changes to the story. The author recommends that even if you’ve read or currently own the original version, you get the new version in order to maintain story continuity for the series (and it is currently free for the month of January from Pride Publishing). I haven’t read the original version so I can’t compare them, but if you are thinking about reading this series, I would definitely get the newer version. I also will note that the blurb for the story doesn’t really capture the plot fully. The blurb makes it sound like the focus of the story is on the Olympics, while in fact more than half of the book takes place in the interactions between these guys before that. I am not sure if the blurb is a holdover from the previous version or not, but just be aware that it doesn’t really convey the full story here.
So I really enjoyed One Breath, One Bullet and am fully invested in finding out what the future holds for Merq and Armise. McAuley has created a really fascinating relationship and an interesting dystopian world here and I can’t wait to see where things go from here. I definitely recommend this one and can’t wait for more.
P.S. Melanie reviewed the first two stories when they originally came out in 2013 in case you are curious for a comparison