Rating: 4.25 stars
Buy Link: Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Officer Jiao is deep undercover, working as a thug in an underground fighting ring. Jiao is betrayed by the man he was trying to save and wakes up naked in a cage on board a boat, the newest citizen of the mad and evil world of Orta. Orta is worse than anything Jiao’s ever seen before. Even the local mob, with its drugged and abused men, women, and children, is nothing compared to the nightmare of his new life.
Between drugs, despair, and pain, the victims of Orta are brainwashed into service. The young men taken from the streets and schools may end up castrated, sent to work as slaves in the homes of the rich and powerful, or sold as toys. Before that, though, they are put through months of mind-breaking, spirit-breaking torture.
Jiao has two choices: Fight or fail. Only by becoming the monster he needs to be to survive can he save himself, and Kaspar, the young man he’s fallen for.
Sweating Lies is another entry in the Criminal Delights series, a collection of standalone books by different authors with dark themes. The story is darker and more brutal than the other book in this series I reviewed. It involves sex trafficking, rape, castration, beatings, torture, branding, brainwashing, and so much more. This is not a book for anyone sensitive to such matters. However, I will say that all of the horrific and awful moments in this book serve to progress the plot and Jiao and Kaspar’s character development. For all that it’s lushly painted, it’s neither gratuitous nor grotesque.
Jiao is a conflicted man who is far more anti-hero than hero. Yes, he wants to rescue the victims, but almost more than that, he wants to punish the men who hurt them. He can shrug off his own physical humiliations and abuse — though he doesn’t forget them or forgive them — but it infuriates him to watch someone else being hurt. The feeling of helplessness is worse than the rape. He’s a cop and knows his absence will be noticed and that rescue is coming. While waiting in the cells in the bowels of the ship, he clings to that thought, using it to keep him sane. It gives him a reason to hold on and a goal to work for, a reason to endure. One more day of torture brings him that much closer to freedom, and one day closer to getting out of this nightmare.
Kaspar is a severely damaged young man. He isn’t, however, a pure and perfect victim. There is no rescue for Kaspar, and no hope for it. All he has is his master, someone he focuses on and clings to. His master keeps him from being — like the other boys brought on the ship — mutilated, repeatedly raped, beaten, and broken. Instead, he has his master, a stabilizing and protective force. So long as he has his master, he is loved; so long as he has his master’s love, he is valuable. When his master’s attention begins to drift away to other, younger boys, though, Kaspar is left with his own anxieties and fears, caught in a spiral of madness and despair. Lost and afraid (and angry, so very angry) Kaspar turns his attention to Jiao.
At first, Jiao is nothing more than a way to get his master’s attention. It’s a way for Kaspar to earn punishment, attention, affection. It’s a way to reset the world back to the way it should be. But Vladimir — the man in charge of the Orta — isn’t doing his part. He’s not giving Kaspar what he needs. Jiao, with his own dark desires for the creature Kaspar has become, knows how to manipulate the small cracks in that twisted relationship.
I enjoyed this book, despite the unrelenting violence. The characters of Jiao and Kaspar (and others) were sincere and believable, and even clever. The twist wasn’t much of a surprise, but it was well done, and while it may not have been to my particular taste, I both appreciated both what the author did with the story, and how they did it. The writing is very good and the pacing is lively and quick. I appreciated the villains, I felt sorry for the victims, and I am very much looking forward to a sequel. Not just to see what happens with the Orta, but what happens to poor Kaspar and Jiao. This book didn’t end on a happily ever after as much as an optimistic moment wherein anything can happen, including happiness.