Heat Factor: It is a not insubstantial amount of soul-searing lovemaking
Character Chemistry: OMG, I was so invested
Plot: There’s a global conspiracy to burn down the world, and the US president and his secret service detail lead find themselves right in the middle of it
Overall: The three primary books are a total of 52 hours and 48 minutes in audio plus there’s a 200 page holiday interlude story as well, and I devoured them all in 5 days. What even is sleep?
This is the kind of book hangover that makes you go to the author’s website to see if there are any special extras that can keep you in the world just a little longer (there are) (a lot) (plus a series dedicated to Sergey and Sasha) (I’m so happy right now).
Me reading the first book in this series:
Me reading the second book in this series:
Me reading the third book in this series:
Okay, so you know how in a trilogy often the protagonist couple has several ups and downs over the course of the trilogy? So technically that’s what happens here, but as we move along there are two other couples who get introduced, and one is a big sub-plot of book two while the other is a big sub-plot of book three, and I was so invested.
But beyond that, having those other storylines gives the reader an additional romance dopamine hit while 1) Ethan and Jack are more and more solid together (by book three they’re mostly just trying to stay alive) and 2) the entire world is literally falling apart (if falling apart means the breakdown of pretty much all political cooperative agreements of the past fifty+ years plus a global terrorist conspiracy). This series has an exceptional balance of nail-biting stress combined with gut clenching romance. Are they all gonna die? Probably. Several times over. But also they are falling hopelessly in love, and it’s exactly the kind of rip-your-guts-out declarations that I live for as a romance reader.
And you know what? These books have really great moments of male friendship. How often do we get men in macho military-esque roles falling to the ground in tears and being bundled up by their also-macho best friends who curl up and hold them through the crying jag, pick them up off the floor, and take care of them? Not often enough.
If you’re not delighted by OTT action movies where they blow up everything and there’s lots of violence – the more variety, the better! – then this series is probably not for you. It hits just right if that is something you like, but even I bit back a smile when we went full-on OTT action movie.
And I swear I have never heard the word “soul” so much in my life as while I was listening to these books. Everything is happening straight down to their souls. It sounds absurd here, but it is great in context. At least for the first 100 times. And, if you’re reading the books, if you’re like me there will be about 1000% more italics than you like. These books are already over 5 years old, so the non-English words are italicized, but so are numerous other things. And I for one am not a fan of the dialogue of the person on the other end of the phone being in italics. Dear authors, I beg of you, consider what your italics are actually doing. But that is a conversation for another day. If you’re listening to the audiobooks and you speak Russian, I’m sorry. The Russian is not great. If you don’t speak Russian then you probably won’t know any different, just like I had no idea if most of the Arabic was pronounced correctly.
I binged these hard and then was left with kind of a hazy recollection of what happened in each book. My mind definitely focused on the highlights, so when I recommended the first book to a friend who was looking for suspense and then went back and listened to it again, I had to text her back, like, “J/k, it’s got more bodyguard/protectee romance than straight up suspense, so start with that other book.” So I’ll try to summarize what happens in each book so you’re not feeling misled by my collective enthusiasm.
Enemies of the State
- Ethan Reichenbach is the Secret Service detail lead for the Republican president-elect, Jack Spiers. (Ugh, said I, but I shrugged because what was I expecting, it’s political-military suspense, and then as things progress the fact that he’s Republican becomes interesting because the politics become bonkers, but I’m getting ahead of myself.)
- Ethan starts getting close to Jack because Jack needs it for his mental health. It has nothing to do with the fact that Ethan has a crush. There is no crush to see here. Nope, nope, nopety nope.
- What on earth are a Saudi prince and a Chinese military intelligence officer doing analyzing the Americans? They seem like they might be good. Are they good? This is stressful.
- Jack starts flirting with Ethan. Is he flirting? He wouldn’t flirt with his detail lead. Would he?
- Ope, kisses!
- The Russian president sweeps in and plays games. What’s his deal? Doesn’t Jack have enough to deal with?
- Okay, things start to get serious with the Egomaniacal Bad Guy from the prologue or first chapter or whatever. Real serious. Nuclear.
- TWIST! It’s a real gut-lurcher, folks.
- Ooo, the Saudi prince and the Chinese colonel are back! Things are getting juicy!!!
- Action movie resolution in all its glorious intensity with lots of flying bullets.
- Oh wait, what is this political accountability for the actions of the heroes? Repercussions? What?
Interlude: First Noel
- So all those repercussions mean Ethan’s in Iowa while Jack’s in the White House. Everybody at work thinks Ethan is horrible and everybody in the country is gossiping about the status of his relationship. It’s really great for Ethan in the run-up to Christmas. /s
- I should say that this little section is kind of shunted in between paragraphs that exist at the end of Enemies of the State, so you don’t have to read it, but also it’s fun to stay with the characters?
- Aww, Christmas at the White House. Somehow there’s a white Christmas which I honestly do not ever remember happening, and I have lived here for more than 20 years. So.
- Also, counterfeiting-related murders in Des Moines. Who knew Des Moines could be so interesting? (The Secret Service is actually a financial crimes unit in the Department of Homeland Security but prior to DHS’s creation it was in the Department of the Treasury for all y’all non-Americans out there. Or all y’all Americans who I guess missed civics?)
Enemy of my Enemy
- More inexplicable snow. I mean, yeah, we get spring snowstorms, but multiple days of them? What fantasy land is this?
- Oh, but first this book starts with an incredibly gruesome murder as the Egomaniacal Bad Guy breaks another Grotesquely Bad Guy out of prison. So that’s great. And by great I mean super gross.
- Things are looking up for Ethan and Jack! Yay for them!
- J/k, j/k. Shocking no one, the Republican Congressional leadership is super homomisic. The political landscape for Jack is not looking great at home.
- Hey, it’s the Russian president again! Do we like him?
- Things are gonna get interesting with a secret military strike team off to kill the Egomaniacal Bad Guy! I mean, the body count has already started, but now things are really going to get rolling, right?
- We do like the Russian president! It’s a post-Putin 2030s world, and he is just taking Russian politics off the rails! With the help of the American president! What even are global politics?
- Assassination attempts and state dinners and coups, oh my!
- Hey-o! Welcome back to Saudi Arabia! Did you think we wouldn’t hear from our old friends? You were mistaken.
- TWIST! Oh, you did NOT see this one coming. Ethan is having a really bad week.
- Things are coming at us hard and fast now. Prepare for a pretty constant adrenaline rush.
- OH SNAP! Second twist! Ruh roh!
- Of course everybody ends up in Russia. Except for the team in Saudi Arabia. Why wouldn’t they all be trekking through the Siberian wilderness?
- Why can’t the Russian president see the love that’s right under his nose?! Wake up, Sergey!
- Well, I guess I’m going to start the next book immediately, because that’s a cliffhanger right there. For the story, if not for the romance of the protagonists.
- I mean, it’s basically non-stop adrenaline. Everybody almost dies at least three times. Probably more. And there’s a lot of stress from all these people who love each other thinking each other are dead. Each next almost dead time is like, “You thought that was intense? Hold my beer.”
- The team in Russia and the team in Saudi Arabia are trying to meet up to take the fight to the Arctic while Team DC is trying to figure out who the mole is. Needless to say, Team DC is super stressed out, and that’s really impacting everyone’s job satisfaction.
- You know what’s super anxiety-inducing? Ice diving. Ice diving in a submarine that’s got other submarines trying to sink it? I’m not sure we’re even going to make it to the end. Though I will say that one great way to create tension is when literally every character mentioned is clearly super tense about what’s happening. A+ writing there.
- OMG BETRAYAL!
- The Russians who are denying they’re in love bickering in Russian while the POV is one of the Americans is pretty funny.
- Hey, so, if graphic descriptions of torture are not your jam, you’ll want to skip those scenes. But the book on the whole is incredibly violent, so…
- More under the ice stuff. Geez that’s harrowing.
- This poor White House Secret Service team. They just can’t catch a break.
- Climactic moment with everyone trying not to die while also killing all of the Bad Guys loose ends! I really hope they can all find each other after they all somehow miraculously survive all of this extremely intense and violent fighting!
- Congressional hearings, what?! Probably the most DC thing to put in here. But have you ever considered what the fallout is of all the snap decisions those action people make as they’re trying to stop the terrorists and save the president as the White House is exploding? The credits always roll after they’re carried out on a stretcher, blood dripping from head wounds, covered in dust, carrying spent rifles, and, like, a full-on bandolier, but you know that’s not the end of it. It’s like that running joke in Hot Fuzz about paperwork. (If you’ve never seen Hot Fuzz, you really should.)
- Oh, hello sequel bait for Sergey & Sasha (Our fearless Russians) and Adam & Faisal (Our Saudi prince and his forbidden American lover). I wasn’t expecting to see you here at the end of a four-book series.
Okay, so, also, just for full disclosure purposes, Bauer has created a whole world here, and it doesn’t end with Enemy Within. There’s a spin-off series for Sergey and Sasha, and bonus epilogues for all three couples in Interlude: Cavatina.
Anyway, re: Sergey and Sasha, Ascendant is kinda woo-woo, and I have feelings about the representation of the Siberian reindeer herders, but Sasha has a lot of internalized homophobia that he needs to address before he can be with Sergey so that’s where it goes. Stars, which is set three years after Ascendant, is pretty much non-stop adrenaline, like, to the point my husband started asking when I was going to finish the book so I could actually focus on anything else. The persistent almost dying from Enemy Within is NOTHING to the stakes in Stars. Also we get some appearances from Jack and Ethan.
If you’re looking for a wild ride… This definitely is one.
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