Title: The Island
Author: Lisa Henry
Cover Artist: Anne Cain
Publisher: Loose Id
Buy Link: Second Edition
Genre: M/M contemporary romance
Length: Novel Plus
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
Summary Review: A gripping and, at times, harrowing dramatic thriller.
Keeping his hands off Lee proves harder than he thinks, but Shaw’s not stupid enough to fall for the tortured captive of a dangerous crime boss, is he? If he did, it wouldn’t be just his job he would be risking–it would be his life.
Shaw’s ambition is to get the the inner circle of crime lord, Vornis and he’s found the perfect way to do it. He’s sourced a stolen painting and has been brought to an idyllic Fijian island to sell the painting to Vornis. When he arrives he discovers that Vornis has acquired a ‘pet’ in the form of a young man, Lee, who Vornis regularly beats and sexually tortures. Vornis gives Lee to Shaw as a gift whilst he remains on the island leading to a quandary for Shaw: He’s no rapist but to refuse the gift will put his relationship with Vornis in jeopardy and Shaw has worked for six years to get where he is now. No sexual slave is going to stand in front of his ambitions, but it’s not long before Lee’s plight is tempting Shaw to take risks he should never take.
Let’s start with a warning here: This book is not really for those who may have difficulty with stories containing abuse. Although many of the sexual abuse and torture scenes in this book are glossed over or happen off page, we do see the physical and emotional aftermath of Vornis’ actions. Also, whilst Shaw doesn’t take part in any of those scenes, he is complicit in what is happening to Lee. There is a good reason for this, one I can’t say because it’s a major spoiler, but for a lot of the book Shaw stands back whilst Vornis does what he likes to Lee. These were not easy scenes to read but necessary for us to gain a good understanding of what Lee goes through at the hands of Vornis. Having said that, I never felt that those scenes were used for cheap thrills or were sensationalist in any way. Instead they were harrowing, and added greatly to the dramatic impact of the story. The first two thirds of the story deal with Shaw and Lee on the island, but I was particularly pleased that the last third was focused on the aftermath of Lee’s incarceration and his subsequent recovery. It made the romance part plausible.
Another part which I liked about the story was the realistic way we are shown how torn Shaw is over his part in what’s happening to Lee. Shaw treads a very fine line with Vornis and the slightest mistake could lead to a loss of trust with the man. Loss of trust would lead to Shaw’s death at best, at worst he could suffer Lee’s fate. This means that Shaw has to be seen to be as amoral and sadistic as Vornis, even when it’s tearing him up inside. It was this constant internal debate as Shaw found a balance between trying to help Lee as much as possible, whilst also appearing abusive towards him that made Shaw a sympathetic character. At times his guilt almost overwhelms him, especially when he realises that he might be crossing that line too far.
Despite the scenes of torture, this story is actually lacking in physical action scenes because the focus is more on tense dramatic scenes where the characters have to weigh every word which is spoken – although there were some action scenes, especially during the end, which packed an exciting punch. Much of the time the story shows the developing feelings that Shaw and Lee have and their uncomfortable relationship. The time frame for most of the story is a week, during which Shaw is on an emotional high alert and this shows in the intensity of the writing. I felt every minute of that time and as a piece of character driven drama this was almost flawless. I was grabbed from the start and could hardly put the book down. The reality of the way Lee is treated is not hidden from the reader and this meant that it wasn’t always easy to read but it also doesn’t downplay Lee’s experience. I was very pleased to see that the romance wasn’t in the book to ‘heal’ Lee. Sex was not a cure for abuse. Instead the book showed Lee’s gradual recovery in a way which I found quite heartbreaking at times.
As you may image this is not a light and fluffy books. However, I didn’t feel weighed down by excessive angst. The balance felt right between the heavier scenes and the scenes where Shaw is doing his best to make things better for Lee. I wasn’t overwhelmed emotionally and read quickly through the book to find out the outcome. Those readers who are looking for a tightly written, tense drama, and who are able to read scenes of abuse, will find this book very much to their taste. I highly recommend The Island and I’m now going to check out other books by this new-to-me author.