Bone Rider, J Fally
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Gay Romance
Tags: Sci-fi, Military, Mafia, Cowboy, Action, Contemporary Setting
Length: 310 pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
Battle armors were symbiotic by design; they couldn’t survive on their own. It was why they’d been dubbed ‘bone riders’ by their designers. Lab humor. He hated it. Fact remained that without bones – or rather a host body – to ride, System Six would shut down bit by bit and eventually disintegrate
When Bone Rider starts, it is on board a spacecraft and System Six, an alien armor and weapons system, has been placed in the host body of Rik. He is not suited to the host, and besides, he doesn’t like his designated host, slimy Rik. The other thing is, System Six has full awareness, he isn’t just Rik’s thoughts and feelings, he has his own, and is completely sentient in all ways. He hears the lab staff talking about dismantling him, ripping him out of the host’s body. Only five have been successful and he’s not one of them – too big, not gelling, unsuccessful, which means bye bye Six –
There had to be a way to make this work. He didn’t want to die. Be dismantled. Didn’t matter what they called it. The result was the same: no more System Six. He didn’t understand how the other systems could be so calm about the threat of extermination, but they were hooked in completely, what little consciousness they’d had dissolved in their host’s. Safe in oblivion, happy in absolute amalgamation.
…but not Six. Six decides to somehow make the Widowmaker – the spaceship he is on – make an emergency stop somewhere so he can leave Rik’s body and find another host. So, Six plays around with the ships on-board computer system. It results in the Widowmaker crashing into earth in the hills somewhere in Texas with disastrous results when there is first contact with military personnel –
Thus ended the first encounter between humans and extraterrestrial life-forms, with twenty-one dead and four injured American soldiers, a total of thirty-nine dead aliens (including six armor hosts and five bone riders) a spaceship blown to smithereens, and a huge hole in the ground. All in all, it could have gone better.
The alien’s bodies/remains are being transported to a government facility in New Mexico, but one of them isn’t dead. System Six escapes, pools into metallic liquid, and drops off the transport.
Riley Cooper is in a hurry. Grabbing a few bare necessities and enough cash to allow a quick get away, again. He’s on the run from his former lover, Misha. Misha hadn’t exactly been honest with Riley about the family business and what he does in it – Mob business. Once he discovered Misha with a sniper rifle discussing the ins and out of a hit he grabbed what he had and ran. He’s been running for months since. Every time he is discovered by Kolya – one of Misha’s mob associates – he manages to slip away. It’s been two months since New Orleans and now he has to leave San Antonio when he spots Kolya again –
Two months of always looking over his shoulder, feeling like a fool, being angry and hurt and missing Misha despite it all, because he was just that stupid. Had been just that much in love.
It’s late, he’s driving and tired. He thinks he sees a puddle on the road, which is odd as there’s been no rain, passes over it, but when he looks in the rear view mirror it isn’t there – must be a trick of the light. Not too much further on and the truck decides to play up on him –
There was silver all over the engine block, and it had nothing to do with the moon. It was moving, shifting, slithering around. Riley stared at it uncomprehendingly for a second, his fatigued mind too sluggish to go from “huh-pretty-what-the-hell” to gah-moving-get-away!” in time to duck when the writhing mass attacked.
System Six enters Riley’s body and there’s plenty of pain involved. So much so he passes out only to come-to later next to his pick-up and I-10 when a trucker pulls over to see what has happened. He feels heavier and a sense of being watched, but apart from that he doesn’t remember what caused the blackout. Remembers nothing about being taken over. He heads off to El Paso where he takes a motel room. Here he dreams of Misha, he’s still in love with him. But the dream is not the usual, it is set in space, something he has never dreamed of before. And Misha is a silver man, or “not-Misha,” even though he looks like him. The dream is deeply intimate and it is actually the Bone Rider’s first contact with Riley –
You’re beautiful,” he said, something close to awe in his unfamiliar voice. “Inside, too. You fit me perfectly. This is amazing. It’s so easy. I never thought I could want to touch. I never realized I could feel so much.”
They have mind-blowing sex – why not go with it, it’s just a dream, right? The following day Riley still has a gnawing feeling that someone is there with him, like he’s being watched. And his body feels well loved. When he questions it out loud in the bathroom his own eyes flash silver in the mirror and System Six makes himself known…and he is NOT leaving Riley’s body. He can’t, he needs a host to survive.
Meanwhile, the army are performing autopsies on the aliens at Camp Jackson when they discover a hole in one of the boxes used to transport the bodies from Texas. From the remains (and interviews with military left from ‘first contact’) they know that the armor systems need a host and have a symbiotic relationship or they will perish. Lt Dr Leandra Butler heads up the forensic team and has her motives for finding the alien. Heading up the overall investigation is General Young from Spec Ops. He is worried that the alien will host-jump, lay eggs in bodies, multiply, go on a rampage posing all kinds of threats to humans. Pretty much anything from Alien to Independence Day goes through his mind.
Misha and his friend and associate Anrej have heard from Kolya. Kolya is on Riley’s trail. Riley loves the desert and he loves rural. With the direction he was heading it’s a pretty good bet that Riley is going to El Paso. Misha is edgy and wants to be there when Kolya finds him. It is supposed to be about a missing flash drive but his two closest associates know it’s because Misha wants Riley back. That he loves him with a burning passion and obsession.
Misha’s father, however, wants Misha back with the family as his mother has organised a wife for him. They know he is gay but they want appearances kept up and as Misha is their only son, they want heirs. Misha isn’t having anything to do with the engagement. He is single minded about getting Riley back. His sister wants the job as the head of the family and she works hard in the business, but she has the wrong chromosome as far as patriarch Vasiliy is concerned. When Vasiliy decides he is going to get Misha his sister is expected to come along to make her brother see sense, she’s glad to go because she has aspirations of her own.
Riley is now resigned to the fact that System Six is inside him, but Six promises it isn’t permanent. After a Die Hard movie, Six decides he would like a name and the name he wants is McClane, in honour of the tough action hero. So, McClane it is. Soon Riley and McClane bond over food, sex, bar fights, and McClane learns you just cant kill people – it’s part of what he is designed for, protection of host and destruction of enemies – on Earth there are ramifications. Besides, Riley doesn’t like violence, it’s why he’s running from someone he’s allowed under his guard in more ways than one and hasn’t been able to shake feelings for since. Before Misha, Riley was happy to be independent, not needing relationships. Not needing love – it only slows you down, lets you down.
Riley knows Misha will be after him, but neither Riley nor MacLane realise that the US Army (and government) is after McClane and by proxy Riley. They have tracked him via satellite. Now everyone is converging on El Paso – Kolya, Misha and Anrej, General Young, who has one agenda, take out the AI – tools should not be more intelligent than the user. And Misha’s father and his entourage are on their way as well.
Pretty soon Riley and McClane grow more of an attachment, or more to the point, Riley gets used to McClane and they become increasingly more attached. What was initially pain and discomfort becomes a familiarity and a comfort. McClane massages Riley from the inside, fixes aches and pains, understands his thoughts and they have an intimate connection –
McClane was always moving somewhere. A flutter here, a tickle there, a painless but insistent humming along bone in between. Those little signs of life had become background sensation like the beating of Riley’s heart, the ebb and flow of his breath.
And when there was stress, either from Riley or McClane, they were in it together. McClane would let himself be known, not only at a conscious level but physically –
McClane was clinging again, nervous little claws stinging and burning under Riley’s skin as they burrowed into his bones, raking against nerve endings as they went.
There were several character’s POV in Bone Rider and they were all interesting and enjoyable to read. They also lead to the climax and the motivations for their behaviour – because some people have changes of heart and a rethink –
Riley turned back to Misha, who was staring at him with something like awe, something like shock, and knew he’d do it again in a heartbeat. Fuck ethics. Anybody who tried to kill Misha was fair game.
I found myself really liking Riley, McClane and Misha. REALLY liking them and I did not know how J Fally would make this book work. Who was going to end up with someone. Who was going to lose out. How? Why? When? Who would survive? What was going to bloody well happen?!
I’ll say one thing, if I was ever in a bind I would want someone with the determination of Misha on my side. Someone who loved me enough to never let me go and fight for me. I would want someone like McClane to bond with me and decide that I was the one they were willing to risk it all for. There is a bit going on here but at the heart of it were these relationships, whether love or friendship, that were multi-layered and passionate. Riley was a sexy cowboy with a trait of not letting anyone fully inside until he was forced to literally let someone inside. McClane could never understand the other armour and weapons systems being prepared to fully merge with a host, giving over to them completely. Misha had family issues (in every sense of the word) but he wasn’t prepared to allow that to get in the way of his true love…and he had some near death epiphany’s. He also had friends that many people only dream about. There are some lovely, romantic thoughts and actions in this book, even if they were, you know, sometimes crazy and OTT. It made the book a real page turner. The army personnel come off as understandable. You aren’t on their side, and yet they are also sympathetic. I can’t say there was any real antagonist in the book, heroes and anti-heroes…maybe? But flawed or not, they were relatable and funny and they were worthy of the time I spent with them all.
If you are looking for a slightly different premise in your M/M reading then Bone Rider offers that. – some sci-fi, Russian Mafia, a cowboy on the run, the military, some survivalists. Humour, tension, terrific action, love, wonderful romance, a really different love triangle/ménage. One of my favourite books this year.
Misha remembered staring at him, completely enthralled by the way the sun turned those changeable eyes more green than gray. He remembered that ever-present hunger for Riley had churned in his belly and clawed up toward his heart, a sweet ache that had consumed everything. Riley had looked up, met his gaze and held it. He’d smirked at whatever he’d seen on Misha’s face, and then slowly, his expression had softened into something else. Something that had crawled into Misha’s bones and heated his belly, had him struggle for breath, still hurt in the best way whenever he let himself think about it.
That was why he hadn’t been able to let Riley go. He knew with icy certainty that nobody had ever looked at him like that before and nobody would ever look at him like that again if he let Riley slip away….
…and he was so far gone he couldn’t even be properly terrified of how completely invested he was in Riley Cooper.
Book supplied by the publisher, Dreamspinner Press, in return for an honest review.