Bone Rider by J. Fally

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Bone Rider is what I think of as a ripping good yarn. The writing is strong, the voice terrific; there are a number of different things going on, all required as the book builds to its conclusion. We start in the point of view of an AI named System Six, an intelligent armor and weapons system that has not successfully bonded with his host. Determined to stay alive—he’ll be destroyed if he’s not functioning properly—he accidentally forces his ship to crash land on Earth where he’s the only alien survivor. I loved this prologue, which begins with: “The fuckers were going to kill him.”

The story takes off from there. I enjoy AIs (see previous review), and this one was a lot of fun. In order to survive, System Six forces himself onto poor Riley, our main hero, who has his own problems. He’s on the run from a Russian-mafia ex, Misha, who is obsessed with him. I found it rather clever how Misha remains on the cusp of being the devoted hero determined to protect and win back his boyfriend, to the obsessive and scary ex no one wants to touch with a ten-foot pole.

My favorite scenes are in the first two-thirds—this book does not rush, but it’s well-paced—especially where Riley and System Six get to know each other. It’s a forced marriage, if you will. There is some great interaction and some wonderful lines as well.

Early on:

I’m an intelligent armor and weapons system, the disembodied voice reminded him in a tone that suggested this was something to be awed by if you weren’t a complete moron. I can and will protect you in return for riding your bones for a bit.

At some point, fairly quickly, Riley decides System Six needs to name himself, and the AI latches on to “McClane”, having been impressed by a Die Hard movie and, presumably, Bruce Willis. They start to work together, Riley moving past his Alien fears and what McClane might be doing inside him, fears that alarm McClane as well.

Food is energy, McClane argued, nudging him into taking that final bite. You need it, I need it. Don’t forget, you gotta eat for two now. Riley almost dropped his fork at that […] Fuel the engine, McClane corrected himself quickly, scrambling to erase the specter of pregnancy he’d evoked. Neither of them was quite over the egg thing yet. Support your buddy. Stop thinking nasty thoughts!

Or later on, when McClane tries to explain his past to Riley.

I wasn’t fully bonded with my host, the alien confessed finally, as if admitting to an awful crime. I couldn’t stand him. I faked it. Remained a separate entity.

That explained…absolutely nothing.

“So?” Riley pushed. “You’re not fully bonded with me, either.”

So I sacrificed him, McClane snapped, voice harsh with tension.

Of course, one of the downsides of having favorite scenes or points of view is that you want to get back to them, and we have more than Riley and McClane on the page. We have the American military determined to either capture or destroy the escaped alien—who they assume has destroyed all but Riley’s husk. And Misha’s point of view. Misha is indeed a hit man, and I’ll admit that’s usually a hard sell for me, but I go easier on this kind of character when we’re in sff and not closer to the “real world”. Plus Riley’s in a pretty tight corner, I want him to survive, and he needs someone like Misha.

The Riley and System Six/McClane relationship is worth the price of admission. A strong second place for me is, Misha and Riley’s relationship, though not so much in the forward motion of it. It’s the thoughts about the relationship in the past, and how strongly affected they both were. Some interesting observations there. 

For example, we come to understand that Misha was very affectionate with Riley who has always protected himself emotionally, and Riley had “gotten to crave those little signs of affection, even more so because he had such a hard time initiating them.” A complex and interesting relationship is sketched out as each man recalls their time together.

Unfortunately I never fully engaged with the other parts: the American military and the Russian mafia machinations. Don’t get me wrong, they were competently done, and I appreciated that the characters were all rounded out to some degree, given their own lives as it were. But I simply didn’t have the same level of interest in those parts of the story.

I also feel like I was so excited about the Misha/Riley reunion (in part because I adored the Riley/McClane getting together on page) that it was a bit of letdown. Again, there was nothing wrong with it—this writer is super competent and I am absolutely looking out for her next book—but I wasn’t quite as invested in the story afterwards. That said, when Riley realizes he is overwhelmingly relieved to wake up and find Misha with him, despite having run from Misha for the past two months, I loved it. It says so much about Riley’s feelings for Misha.

I definitely recommend this book, despite some minor caveats, which may be more a reader/book mismatch than anything else. The writing and voice are compelling, the action keeps coming, and the relationship developments are really well done. Plus I can’t really express how much I adored Riley. I’ve the impression this hasn’t broken out of m/m blogs—apart from the excellent DA review—and I think this could be appreciated by a wider audience. That’s part of why I wanted to talk about it (although honestly I am fully aware I haven’t much reach). I’d love this to be picked up by more readers. I’ve also really enjoyed thinking back to certain scenes in the days following my read, so that says a lot.

Plus: it’s a perfect title and a wonderful cover.

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