By Rachel Haimowitz, Heidi Belleau Editions: ebook Published: January 7th 2013 by Riptide Publishing Genre: Adult MxM Source: NetGalley
The Flesh Cartel returns for a compelling second season with “Choices.” Brothers Mat and Dougie Carmichael thought nothing could be worse than being snatched from their home and brutally dehumanized in preparation for sale as sex slaves. But they learn their suffering has only just begun when they’re shipped to their new master’s home.
Professional trainer Nikolai Petrovic is a master of his trade. His ultra-rich clientele pay him to create perfectly tailored playthings, and Mat and Dougie are the latest in a long line of men who have walked into his remote mountain home as terrified victims and left it permanently altered: subdued and obedient, ready and even eager for a life of service.
To achieve this, Nikolai must take a drastically different tack with each brother. Dougie, manipulated with affection and denial. Mat, controlled by pain and fear. The one thread in common for both men is choice. Nikolai prides himself on never forcing, but will Mat and Dougie submit willingly to his vision, or will they first need to learn the price of disobedience?
This title is part of the The Flesh Cartel, Season 2: Fragmentation serial.
Bomy’s Flutter: violently honest and gripping
World building: Chilling and somewhat disturbing, but less brutal then the one in the previous installment of the series. I liked the vibe of brutal honesty, it’s almost poetic in fact.
Characters: Mat and Dougie kept their voices and I felt the story so far helped build up their consistency, they’re very different personalities but solid types, their reactions make sense considering their previous actions and such. I felt Mat was more realistic, he’s sort of wild but loyal to a fault, he’s my favorite of the brothers. Nikolai Petrovic, whom we see more of, is a fascinating character and I’m itching to learn more about him. He’s sort of evil, but then again I do love villains 😀
Plot: The story developed to the point where it caught my interest as more then horror/thriller mood, the characters and circumstances got my full attention. And I suspect it will get even better with the next installments of the stories.
Writing: Quite powerful, the way the characters react and how events unfold is very strong. The writing is gripping and vivid, unapologetic and transparent when it comes to violence and all feelings. Beautiful, I’d say, though not easy to go through emotionally.
Curb appeal: Strong, the cover is an awesome representation of the story and it got my full attention immediately, and the blurb is intriguing. But I am invested in what happens with these characters so I would have gotten it one way or the other, anyways.
All in all, I felt this was a great sequel to Auction, the characters evolved and we got better acquainted with some intriguing new ones. If you like the master/slave theme, this series is a strong read so far.
1. How does your writing process work? Have any juicy details to give us?
Heidi: Well, we start with brainstorming. We decide what the overall arc of the season is going to be, and then sketch out how many episodes will take us to that point, and then we just throw ideas back and forth until we come up with scenes that fit that arc. So for example, we knew by the end of season 1 that we wanted Dougie to betray Mat in some way, really hurt him and their relationship, so we had to discuss how to mentally get him to that point… and then how to make it happen.
Rachel: Mine begins with a sacrificial virgin and some sex pollen on the third Tuesday of the month under a full moon–the muse is demanding, you see.
2. How did the Flesh Cartel world come about?
Heidi: Well, sexual slavery and human trafficking is a real world issue, and an incredibly dire one. But for the Flesh Cartel specifically we decided to divorce ourselves from that reality and write something a bit more fantasy-based. Me, I really wanted to explore the idea that human bodies could be commodified and processed along an assembly line, just another consumer product to be built and used and disposed of like the latest model of an ipod. So that was what we did.
Rachel: I’ve always been fascinated by the malleability of human will and human perception, and a lot of what I write tends to explore the bending and breaking points of those aspects of us. When Heidi brought up the idea of a commodified sex slave trade, it struck me as the perfect opportunity to explore that psychology in a detailed and meaningful fashion. How exactly do you bring someone from, basically, point A to point Z? What do each of those steps between look like and how do you get the person to keep moving along the scale? Adding in the element of the brotherly bond made it even more interesting to me.
3. Do you think its impact on the reader changes from episode to episode?
Heidi: I think that will depend on the reader, but we have tried to have each episode be a little different in terms of the nature of the abuse and also the psychological impact of that treatment on the characters. I think there’s going to be a very big difference between the unending brutality of season 1 as it shifts to the more complex game Nikolai plays.
Rachel: I don’t think it was so much a conscious decision as a structural one. The impact of the events affect the brothers differently in each chapter, and since they’re viewpoint characters, it would stand to reason that they’d affect the readers differently as well. But just in terms of good storytelling, you can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect people not to get bored.
4. Your stories have a unique air of brutal yet beautiful honesty when it comes to the power dynamics and violence of its world. How important would you say this degree of honesty is when it comes to this kind of story?
Heidi: I think it comes down to a couple of things. This is a pretty common scenario to read about in that non-con spectrum of thrillers and erotica, and one that a lot of readers specifically crave. So we wanted to write something that would do justice to the concept, and something that would satisfy that base readership. So basically if you’re going to do it, just… do it. We don’t pull punches, and we really try to bring our A-game as authors.
Rachel: I think that without that honesty, the whole thing falls apart. If you don’t take the time to study and focus on the psychology of the world, then the whole thing just becomes one long erotic horror wank fantasy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that–I’ve certainly read my share of those :D–but it’s not what we wanted to do here at all.
5. In Choices we get to see more of Nikolai Petrovic and his personality (and I find him entirely fascinating). How would you describe him to someone who hasn’t read about him yet?
Heidi: Nikolai is a schemer, and a plotter, and an egoist. He calls himself a master of men and acts accordingly. Both brothers veer between being in awe of him, finding him repulsive, and finding him kind of tedious and pathetic (even as he proves himself to be incredibly dangerous.)
Rachel: I would describe Nikolai as both a victim and a master of circumstance. He is also a master manipulator–not just of those around him, but of himself. And yet he’s so sure of himself that I don’t know if I could really conceive of any circumstance at all in which Nikolai could be made to doubt his convictions.
6. Some of us (mainly me) would love to ask, can we hope that either Mat or Dougie will find some sort of happiness or contentment?
Heidi: We set out to write a very dark book, but not a snuff story. Somehow, someway, Mat and Dougie will survive this experience… but they’ll be irrevocably changed by it, and I suppose that’s all I want to say just now!
Rachel: I’ll be a little nicer than Heidi 🙂 There is . . . well, if not happiness in their future, there is at least some kind of healing. And I do think the boys will both get to a point where there actually is happiness. Maybe never rainbows and sunshine, and certainly this experience will change them forever in ways that are primarily not positive, but all is not hopeless.
7. How would you envision a happy-ish sort of ending in the world of the Flesh Cartel? Would it allow for that kind of endings?
Heidi: Well, in season 2 you’ll meet a character named Roger, who Nikolai holds up as the happiest ending the brothers can hope to find for themselves. I guess readers will have to decide whether that ending is happy enough or not!
Rachel: Yeah, I’m not willing to say anything else here. Too spoilery.
8. What can we look forward to in the next installments, without spoiling the stories of course?
Heidi: Mind-games. Lots of them.
Rachel: Also a baseball bat.
9. What else can we read by you in the near future?
Heidi: Well, next year I have an M/M contemporary series of novels with Riptide called Rear Entrance Video, all about a seedy porn store and its employees. Starting with an uptight student teacher whose apple-polisher reputation really can’t afford the blow of him shilling dirty videos on the side…
Rachel: The Flesh Cartel may be my only releases this year, but I’m working on a story set in the Belonging universe (with Anchored and Where He Belongs) told from the POV of a young free man named Ben who gets accidentally caught in the crossfires of a political/corporate battle for slave rights. I don’t actually think I’ll finish it quickly enough to release it this year, but I guess we’ll see?
Welcome to the virtual book tour for the second season of the gripping psychosexual thriller The Flesh Cartel! Join authors Rachel Haimowitz and Heidi Belleau all week long as they kick off season 2, Fragmentation, with the release of the third episode in the serialized story: Choices. One lucky winner will win an awesome Flesh Cartel t-shirt—just leave a comment below with your name and email by 1/13/12! Follow the whole tour & comment at each stop to earn additional entries: http://www.riptidepublishing.com/events/tours/flesh-cartel-season-2-virtual-book-tour. The giveaway is open internationally, so don’t be shy!
About the Authors & Links
Rachel Haimowitz is an M/M erotic romance author, a freelance writer and editor, and the Managing Editor of Riptide Publishing. She’s also a sadist with a pesky conscience, shamelessly silly, and quite proudly pervish. Fortunately, all those things make writing a lot more fun for her . . . if not so much for her characters.
When she’s not writing about hot guys getting it on (or just plain getting it; her characters rarely escape a story unscathed), she loves to read, hike, camp, sing, perform in community theater, and glue captions to cats. She also has a particular fondness for her very needy dog, her even needier cat, and shouting at kids to get off her lawn.
You can find Rachel at her website, Tweeting as RachelHaimowitz, chatting in the Goodreads forums, and blogging at Fantasy Unbound. She loves to hear from folks, so feel free to drop her a line anytime at metarachel (at) gmail (dot) com.
Heidi Belleau was born and raised in small town New Brunswick, Canada. She now lives in the rugged oil-patch frontier of Northern BC with her husband, an Irish ex-pat whose long work hours in the trades leave her plenty of quiet time to write. She has a degree in history from Simon Fraser University with a concentration in British and Irish studies; much of her work centred on popular culture, oral folklore, and sexuality, but she was known to perplex her professors with unironic papers on the historical roots of modern romance novel tropes. (Ask her about Highlanders!) When not writing, you might catch her trying to explain British television to her newborn daughter or standing in line at the local coffee shop, waiting on her caramel macchiato.
You can find her tweeting as @HeidiBelleau, email her at heidi.below.zero (at) gmail.com, or visit her blog: http://heidi-below-zero.blogspot.com.