Title: Falling, One by One and Strength of the Rising Sun (The Borders War: Books Four and Five)
Author: S.A. McAuley
Publisher: Pride Publishing
Pages/Word Count: 152 Pages/198 Pages
At a Glance: Having your heart shredded and put back together over and over again? It was so fucking worth it.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb Falling, One by One: Whether Armise lived or died was never supposed to matter to Merq.
As the fight for the kids of the jacquerie begins and the war between Opposition and Revolution heightens, Merq discovers that he may not have as much control over his actions as he thought he did. Further complicating their tangled relationship, Armise may be just as compromised.
Desperate to learn the truth, Merq and Armise put themselves directly in the path of a powerful enemy. They’ve spent fifteen years of their lives on the knife’s edge of trust and loyalty. What they learn about each other’s pasts—and what it means for their future—will bring them together or definitively tear them apart.
Merq’s life has always been at risk—one bullet away from death in sacrifice of his mission. As his focus begins to shift, Merq may be too late to understand what, and who, is most important in his life.
Reader Advisory: This book contains scenes of graphic violence, forced genetic modification, genetic experimentation, genetic experimentation on children and torture.
Blurb – Strength of the Rising Sun: Merq’s always known there’s only one way Armise and he can end.
The Opposition is losing—both the war and the fight for citizen support—and the Revolution’s victory appears certain. Despite that success, Merq knows his leaders won’t let two of their greatest assets simply walk away. But with Armise fighting for his life, getting out becomes Merq’s primary objective.
Almost two decades of selfishness can’t be alleviated with one right decision, and Merq is faced with the reality of how deeply he has wounded Armise in ways that cannot be seen from the outside. Merq’s world has been upended more times than he can count and he’s always survived, but life without Armise is no longer an option. He just has to prove that to Armise.
Merq believes there are few who are strong enough to challenge them when they stand together. But when the secret Armise has been protecting Merq from is revealed, the truth has consequences neither of them can prepare for.
Reader Advisory: This book contains graphic violence, mention of torture and genetic experimentation.
Review: Anyone who reads books numbering in the triple digits every year knows that sometimes a book and its characters stick with you. And sometimes… well, they don’t. It’s the nature of this beastly addiction we have to fiction. And it’s what keeps us coming back for more—even when it feels like all our emotional boo-boos are being marinated in lemon juice and our guts are being ripped out through our tear ducts.
I first ran across the Borders War series back in June of 2013, when I read the blurb for One Breath, One Bullet and immediately 1-clicked it. Post-apocalyptic dystopia + soldier assassins? Yes, please. Dominant Predator soon followed One Breath, One Bullet (which was much shorter back then), which was followed by Powerless in March of 2014. And then… for reasons, there was a long break before the release of Falling, One by One, but by the end of the third book, I already knew beyond any shadow of a reasonable doubt that I was hopelessly and irrevocably in love with Merq Grayson and Armise Darcan. Honestly, having read the final words of the final book in the series already, I can’t even type their names right now without getting teary eyed. But don’t let that intimidate you or anything…
The Borders War is, inarguably, one of the most sadistically plotted series I’ve ever read. From the moment Merq and Armise appear on the page in book one, the first thing that becomes evident is that theirs is going to be a love story unlike any you’ve ever read before. We talk quite a lot about the enemies-to-lovers trope in genre romance. Some of us would even call it a staple favorite. But this? The difference between this and all those others is the difference between wading with emotional floaties into the shallow end of the angst pool—and tossing yourself into the ocean slathered in chum and wearing a lead-weighted lifejacket. Merq and Armise are bitter enemies, adversaries working on the opposite sides of a political shitstorm. Until they aren’t. They are drawn to each other in ways and for reasons that don’t become clear for many thousands of words and heartbreaks to come, and every single word and every single heartbreak is so worth it.
Where Powerless brings this series to its transitional arc in the tactical schemes of the remaining five countries that exist in this alternate world, Falling, One by One plunges us straight onto the battlefield of the emotional arc in this series. This is the point in the storyline where the tables begin to turn, where the sides in this war have nothing to do with geography or politics and everything to do with protecting the line of demarcation surrounding Merq and Armise themselves—where the only thing worth fighting for is each other. There are so many secrets and lies, so many questions asked and unasked, so many evasions and non-answers among the answers that every other paragraph feels like an “Are you fucking kidding me here?????” You should see my highlights and notes. At one point I think I found religion. The “holy shits!” and “Oh my Gods!” and “Jesus Christs!” … that’s just how these books feel. They make you want to cuss at them. A lot. And as you watch the tangled web of intrigues, betrayals, and deceptions begin to unravel, ever so methodically, you can’t help but ask yourself how much more these two men will have to go through—apart and together—before they find some measure of peace. A peace that may only be found in death. Though really, living and dying by the bullet becomes the least of their worries as the series progresses.
There is a common enemy Merq and Armise must find and eliminate in order to broker for and secure a world governed of the people, by the people, and for the people. And along the way, we watch Merq evolve as he begins to see how integral Armise Darcan is to not only his survival but to his very being. We watch Merq as he begins his own steady immersion into a sea of regrets. We watch him suffer. We watch Armise persevere through Merq’s willful obtuseness and blatant assheadedness (yes, that’s a word now). We watch a crazy bastard who perverts science and technology in his grand scheme to rule the world do his best to tear Merq and Armise apart while he sits back and watches the world burn. We watch as Merq wades through, and damn near drowns in, that regretful sea as the storyline wends its way into Strength of the Rising Sun, one of the single most epic emotional and psychological flagellations I’ve ever experienced between the covers of a book. And it was glorious. And it was painful. And it was a struggle to ask how much more Armise could take before he finally decided Merq wasn’t worth all the agony, because the fear was always thisclose to the surface that with every single moment Merq’s head remained steadfastly up his butt, it was one more moment of risk that Armise would give up and walk away…
I can’t tell you a single damn thing about the final book in this series for fear of spoiling something that’s happened along the way. Even the tiniest of details feels like a significant cog in the machine that grinds our emotions between its greedy teeth. Every single bit of Strength of the Rising Sun is gorgeous. All the characters—Simion, Naveed, Jegs, Exley, Chen, Manny, even Dakra (whose role was significant even though his on-page appearance was brief)… I could go on and on and on about the spectacle that is this superb cast of role players who are there to support and contrast our heroes. Every one of them is integral to the telling of this story, every single one of them essential to bringing Merq and Armise to the ultimate and vital final bid to save the world. And, most important of all, to try to save each other. We watch as these two men—men who have killed and killed again, who have hurt each other in myriad ways—face their ultimate fear… the kind of fear that would cripple weaker men… and they do so with the courage and conviction of love as the blade that balances them and vanquishes any- and everything else.
Intrigue, betrayal, secrets, lies, terror, horror, agony… and love. The greatest of these is the love that grows between Merq and Armise—even though there are times they’d still like to kill each other along the way. That love and the hope it offers is the one bright point of light in the darkness of this violent and unforgiving alt universe S.A. McAuley has crafted. Please trust me when I tell you that every single thing I’ve said to this point is in no way meant to steer you away from reading the Borders War series. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t ruin my head just a little in the end. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read and reread the final three chapters of Strength of the Rising Sun. Nor can I tell you how many times I’ve had to (unsuccessfully) blink back tears while writing this review. That, fellow readers, is phenomenal storytelling. That is what reading is all about. Having your heart shredded and put back together over and over again? It was so fucking worth it.
I love the end of this series beyond all reason. But, let’s be real, I also hate it just a little bit too, in only the best possible way—the way a book makes you feel everything you never want to feel again but also the way a book makes you want to read an entire series over again because you’re insane or a masochist or something. So grab the tissues, your liquor of choice, and a friend. Buddy read this series. I did. And I’m convinced it’s the only way I made it through without vomiting my heart out all over my Kindle. 😉
You can buy Falling, One by One here:
Pre-Order Strength of the Rising Sun here: