Rating: 4 stars
Buy Link: Amazon
Wins and Losses is Episode 5 in The Flesh Cartel serial. Dougie and Mat Carmichael are still being held captive by Nikolai while he trains Mat to be a sex slave for his new owner and figures out what to do with his brother, Dougie. Up until this point, Nikolai has been focusing on physical abuse, torture, and rape. He and an uncountable number of other people have broken the boys physically, and now Nikolai is turning to the psyche to prepare them for their lives as slaves.
This entire episode is about the mind games that Nikolai is playing with each man. He has to maintain a precarious balance with Mat. Mat’s owner wanted him because he’s a fighter, so Nikolai needs to make sure he’s not destroying that part of him, while at the same time making Mat obedient enough to the whims of his master. Nikolai has just finished administering several rounds of medicine that put Mat into the most intense amount of physical pain imaginable for hours at a time. He lives in fear of a repeat. Now that Nikolai has broken him, he has to build him back up before he becomes too submissive.
With Dougie, Nikolai is still trying to get him to accept the pleasure that Nikolai can offer him. Dougie is straight, and while he’s been raped repeatedly and even has found some pleasure in the release, he psychologically cannot accept that sex with a man can be enjoyable. So Nikolai submits him to hours of sexual torture, keeping him on the brink without any possibility of release. He wants him so desperate, he will accept the alternative without argument. It’s proving more difficult than he thought. Dougie still refuses to give in, thinking that, if he does, he’ll disappoint Mat and lose his love forever.
The name of the game here is humiliation and, while the reprieve from the physical torture was a relief, the psychological games are no less traumatic. The most interesting character here is Nikolai, who shows the tiniest bit of a chink in his armor, but mostly continues to “train” his slaves because he thinks he is doing what is best for them. He explains to Dougie:
I know it’s hard, Douglas. I know exactly how very, very hard it is. I was like you once, you know. A young orphaned boy, all alone, afraid, no one to love me but a man I hardly knew, a man who frightened me terribly. But he only ever wanted to help me, to care for me, to love me and teach me and prepare me for the world. All I had to do was trust him. Can you trust me, Douglas? Will you let me take care of you? Let me prepare you for the world? Let me love you?
Nikolai believes with all his heart and mind that what he is doing is the best thing for Mat and Dougie which, in my opinion, makes him all the more terrifying. He is the “after” photo in this process of degradation that Mat and Dougie are experiencing. I’m holding out hope that we see some character development in this man, even though he appears to be beyond redemption at this point. It’s his story that keeps me the most engaged and, while I hate him with a passion, that same passion holds out hope that this doesn’t have to be his fate and the fate of the Carmichaels as well.
Be prepared that the scenes in this episode, while less physically brutal, are sickening. Not only do the men have to perform acts that make you shudder and make you sick to your stomach, the psychological torture is still difficult to read. I didn’t have to put this book down several times while I was reading it, but I found it disturbing, which is the intention of the authors, I’m sure. The part I have the biggest problem with is Dougie’s resistance to sexual acts with a man. My heart goes out to him as he struggles with his body’s biological responses and his mind’s resistance and then acceptance of it.
I’m moving on to Episode 6, but I still hold out hope that Haimowitz and Belleau will give us something to hold onto as we continue along here. We need hope. We need to see there’s a tiny light at the end of the tunnel and that, if we stick with it, we’ll be rewarded. Perhaps this is too naive and optimistic a view for a serial such as this, but I’m only human.