Rating: 4.5 stars
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Length: Novellas

The Flesh Cartel is a serial story broken down into seasons.  Season one is complete and includes the stories #1: Capture and #2: Auction. As the title indicates, this series is not for the faint of heart. If you have selected The Flesh Cartel series as your next m/m romance, please close the book and walk away. The subject matter is human trafficking, and it is violent and graphic. If you are not bothered by the subject matter, I think you will find it well-written and compelling.

In Flesh Cartel #1: Capture, we are introduced to brothers Mat and Dougie, who are as different as night and day. Mat is gay, has a much rougher exterior, and has devoted his life to providing for the future of his brother, Dougie, even so far as to support him financially as an MMA fighter. Dougie is straight, has a slighter, more pretty appearance, and is earning his Ph.D. thanks to Mat’s sacrifices. They have a fierce sense of loyalty and love for one another, since they are orphans and only have each other. When Dougie returns home one evening, he is attacked by strange men. His brother arrives home during the abduction, and both are taken to an unknown facility, while being brutally terrorized and assaulted along the way.

In Flesh Cartel #2: Auction, the brutality only intensifies at the facility, where they are beaten and treated as “holes” for whoever wants to use them. They are broken down, processed, and prepared for an auction, where they will be sold for an unknown purpose to the highest bidder. While Mat and Dougie are suffering horrific abuse, they are only able to live through it because they are surviving for one another. When they realize the purpose of their abduction, Dougie becomes desperate to be kept together and sold as a package deal. They are marketed as extreme versions of themselves: Dougie as the sweet, beautiful submissive, and Mat as the hardened, volatile punk.

The future seasons will presumably tell the story of Mat and Dougie as they leave the facility and become property of their new owner. In these first two stories, there was a lot of exposition. The graphic description of the abductors and the abuse helped to set up the abhorrent world of human trafficking. The boys are forced to participate in unimaginable sexual acts and beatings in order to survive. There is barely a shred of hope throughout the two books. The tone is grim, as would be expected of a book of such subject matter.

This is not to say that these books are not worth reading. I’m hooked and will be patiently awaiting the upcoming seasons. The thing that keeps me reading is the writers’ abilities to paint a picture, albeit a graphic one, of a world that exists only in our worst nightmares. As we are taken through each step of Mat and Dougie’s journey, it is explained in such vivid detail, that it almost becomes a sensory experience. It is impossible not to feel sympathy for Mat and Dougie, and to root for them to not only survive, but to be able to avenge these horrible atrocities. I can’t say that I enjoyed these books, but would recommend them to anyone who understands the subject matter and is still compelled to read them.

I rated these two installments 4.5 stars each simply because they only set up the story, and now I have to wait for any hope or redemption. I would’ve been much happier to have read this as a complete novel, or for the seasons to be released at the same time. While I don’t expect every novel I read to be cheerful and upbeat and have a happily ever after, it is difficult to read something that leaves you in such a dark place. I will continue to read and hold on the hope that Mat and Dougie will come out the other end alive and fighting.

The second season of The Flesh Cartel begins in January.  It contains four episodes to be released monthly.  Additional seasons will follow with a short break in between each.

Note: This series comes with some specific warnings of explicit content. For full details, check out the Riptide web site.