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Powerless by S.A. McAuley (The Borders War #3)

I don’t know if any of this group is familiar with S.A. McAuley’s Borders War series.  It has become one of my favorites with wonderful world building, a dystopian society made worse by the manner in which their  guns function.  Plus two main characters whose loyalties  will keep you guessing.Here is my review of the latest in the series.


Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Powerless coverHe was built to be invincible.

Merq Grayson and Armise Darcan return to the States, their mission to assassinate the remaining Committee members unfinished. Why? The President of the Revolution is in need of their services to protect the Revolution’s most important proponent for freedom, the President himself. But all is not stable within the Revolution’s leadership and factions within are looking to supplant the President with another.

When the unthinkable happens and headquarters is breached, relationships, friendships even old rivals are torn asunder. In the wake of the devastation, Merq faces the ultimate of challenges and decisions forced on him by the very people he trusted. Armise, Simion and Neveed. And each with a different and explosive impact on Merq and his future with the Revolution.

When everything and everyone around Merq is falling apart or disappearing, it is only one man, Armise Darcan, that he wants at his side. But Fate or something worse has other plans in store for Merq and Armise. Events are coming that neither man may survive, with or without each other. What happens when the invincible turn out to be anything but invincible?

Powerful, intense and emotionally scorching….these are the words I would use to describe Powerless, the third story in the Borders War series by S.A. McAuley. The complexity of and relationship between these two genetically modified warriors is only exceeded by the intrigue and deceit that McAuley has built into her elaborately layered plot. And it all happens on a world that has been defiled, corrupted by three hundred years of war that has turned its seas into acid and its air into toxic clouds. The author’s powerful world building elements are delivered in slivers of descriptions throughout the stories, that compiled, present a stunning atmosphere of bleakness and despair in which these men live and operate.

With each story, S.A. McAuley offers up more of Merq and Armise’s back history. In Powerless. we enter the story in February, Year 2539 Singapore—The Outposts. Merq Grayson is 15 and in the middle of Lim2—Limitation Elimination training needed to become a Peacekeeper. The trials aren’t just arduous, they are deadly and only the strongest will survive. And although Merq is a teenager in years, he is far older mentally and emotionally. Already he is being stripped of his feelings and his humanity and he is aware of it happening. Powerful stuff indeed because as we watch Merq’s younger self push himself to his physical limits we also see him internalize and hide his conflicting emotions. And as we read we are already aware of what that boy ultimately becomes…an almost invincible dehumanized soldier for the Revolution.

All of McAuley characters are such densely layered constructs, believable and flawed, even with all their genmod strengths and abilities. They don’t know what they are capable of and neither does the reader. It’s a gripping process of continual shocks and revelation that flows through all the stories, especially this one. What new discoveries are uncovered concerning their genmods? What new insights into their pasts will surface with each treacherous twist and turn of McAuley’s intricate plot? Will they be able to keep enough humanity to save each other and the rest of the world? Stellar questions all even as McAuley miserly doles out clues to the answers.

Merq Grayson is such a compelling and contradictory personality. Although he appears so tough, almost superhuman in the first two stories, Powerless, starts the process of breaking him down into a person who is questioning everything about his life and his role in the Revolution. It’s painful and realistic. And the scenes of Merq shattering (emotionally as well as physically) are so vivid that McAuley makes his pain and fall almost visceral in its impact.

Armise Darcan is Merq’s equal in every way and he has to be to hold his own as a character and believable partner to such a warrior as Merq. Armise has had as interesting an upbringing as Merq, although in different ways. Both are genetically modified and yet Armise has held on to more of his humanity and ability to love than Merq. How and why that is possible is also slowly coming to the surface in these stories too.

There will be no excerpts here as even the smallest paragraph might point to spoilers. McAuley’s narrative is as paired down as the men themselves. At times as stark as the landscape, it is fast paced and explosive as the Borders War reignite with horrible implications for the people we have come to know and the world population that still exists. Some aspects of this story are absolutely chilling and the dread they conjure up for Merq and Armise as well as the future for all nations will be hard to dispel.

Some readers will ask if this is a romance and I am not sure how to answer them. The connection and feelings between Merq and Armise are almost cellular in their need for each other. Love, yes, but at a level and intensity that speaks of blood and loss not flowers and hearts. Romance can’t exist in this world and it doesn’t. But a hard fought for love? Even if they can’t say the word or even know if they trust each other? That you will find here at the core of this story and within the men themselves. The only thing powerless about this book is the title.

One Breath, One Bullet (Borders War #1) and Dominant Predator (Borders War #2) were on my Best of 2013 list. Now I add Powerless to this year’s list too. This is an amazing series. And with each new story, S.A. McAuley’s plot and her plans for Merq and Armise intensify and become more convoluted. McAuley plans five books for this series. The fourth book, Falling One by One (Borders War #4), will be out later this year. I, for one, can’t wait to see how where this talented author will take this series and these incredible characters next.

Cover art by Posh Gosh. Strong cover, although I would wish for a little more of a science fiction feel to it.

Books in the Borders War series in the order they were written and should be read to understand the men and the universe building:

One Breathe, One Bullet (Borders War #1)
Dominant Predator (The Borders War, #2)
Powerless (The Borders War #3)
Falling One by One (The Borders War #4) to be released later on this year
Fifth Book as yet unnamed.

Book Details:

ebook, 185 pages
Published March 28th 2014 by Totally Bound
edition languageEnglish
seriesThe Borders War #3


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