The truth is complicated.
On September 11th, 2001, Kris Caldera was a junior member of the CIA's Alec Station, the unit dedicated to finding and stopping Osama Bin Laden.
Ten days later, he was on the ground in Afghanistan with a Special Forces team, driven to avenge the ghosts that haunted him and the nation he'd let down. On the battlefield, he meets Special Forces Sergeant David Haddad. David - Arab American, Muslim, and gay - becomes the man Kris loves, the man he lives for, and the man he kills for, through the long years of the raging wars.
David Haddad thought he'd be an outsider his whole life. Too American for the Middle East, too Arab for America, and too gay to be Muslim. It took Kris to bring the parts of himself together, to make him the man he'd always wanted to be. But the War on Terror wreaks havoc on David's soul, threatening to shatter the fragile peace he's finally found with Kris.
When a botched mission rips David from Kris's life, Kris's world falls into ruin and ash. A shell of the man who once loved with the strength to shake both the CIA and the world, he marks time on the edges of his life. The days bleed together, meaningless after losing the love of his life.
After being captured, tortured to the edge of his life, and left for dead by his comrades, David doesn't know how much of himself is left. He vanished one day in the tribal belt of Pakistan, and the man who walks out almost a decade later is someone new: Al Dakhil Al-Khorasani.
But strange rumblings are whispering through the CIA. Intelligence from multiple sources overseas points to something new. Something deadly, and moving to strike the United States. Intercepts say an army from Khorasan, the land of the dead where the Apocalypse of Islam will rise, is coming.
And, at the head of this army, a shadowy figure the US hasn't seen before: Al Dakhil Al-Khorasani.
This book was fabulous, but it was a hard read for two reasons.
First, it's based on actual events that happened surrounding 9/11. Don't get me wrong: It was interesting as hell. But war is never easy and it was hard to see not just our characters, but the world, go through that. I'll admit that as a Canadian I'm willfully ignorant about events surrounding 9/11 (I find it hard to read about war), so this was an eye-opener.
Second, if you've read Tal Bauer's Hush (you can read my review of Hush here), or if you've read the blurb for Whisper, you know something bad happens to David and I was on the edge of my seat the entire novel just waiting for it to happen, and that made the book, and thus Kris and David's romance, so hard to read.
That being said, this is exceptionally well-written and well-researched. Usually I highlight one or two passages on my Kindle per book I read (if that). This time I had 55. The wording is poetic, the character arcs are fresh and minutely detailed, the romance is heartbreakingly beautiful. I laughed, I wanted to throw my Kindle at the wall, I gritted my teeth, I cried, my hands shook. Tal Bauer really has a way of making the reader feel and question.
Kris and David's romance is something for the ages, something so epic that really resonates. They're so in love, and so devoted to each other, so in sync, that it was like watching a perfectly choreographed dance. I don't remember the couples in every book I've ever read, but this is one that will stick forever.
The secondary characters don't get left behind. They're just as developed and flawed as our mains, with their own personalities. You'll find yourself loving some and hating others and flip flopping between love and hate for a couple.
The descriptions of war, of Afghanistan, of Pakistan, paint a picture in a reader's mind they're so well-detailed. You'll find yourself sympathizing with the characters, questioning the decisions of some, following along on their journeys as if these guys are your best friends and you wish you could help.
If I could give this more than five stars, I would.