Shaw traveled to a private island owned by the crime lord, Vornis, to sell the man a stolen painting, intending to transact his business and then leave. However, when Vornis invites him to stay longer to meet some of his associates who will be arriving in a few days, Shaw can't resist the opportunity to make new business contacts. His visit to the island might not have been so bad except that Vornis brings out his new "toy," a captured DEA agent who's been tortured and who's time is running short. Shaw tries to put the guy out of his mind. After all, he's there for one thing, and one thing only, and this is really none of his business. But when Vornis decides to share his "toy," Shaw has no option but to try to play along, while hoping that he isn't quite the monster the young man's captor is. Under any other circumstances, the young man, who's name he learns is Lee, would be the kind of guy he would go for, but allowing himself to fall for Lee or even feel compassion for him, could get them both killed. But when Vornis decides it's time for his captive to die and he and his cronies are going to make it happen in the worst possible way, can Shaw actually go along with it, or will he find a way to save Lee even if it means losing everything in the process?
I seem to recall hearing good things about The Island a while back, and thanks to those favorable reviews, I've had it on my TBR list for some time. I've been looking forward to reading it, and overall, it's a good story, but a very dark one that doesn't lend itself well to actual romanticism. The island of the title is a fictional private one that is part of Fiji and quite beautiful, but its beauty harbors a horrific secret. Lee, one of our heroes, has been imprisoned there for eight weeks, during which time he's been drugged, raped, and tortured almost daily by Vornis, the island's sadistic crime lord owner, until he's a mere shell of his former self. Enter Shaw, our second hero, who is a procurer of illegal items for people on the wrong side of the law. He's come to the island to sell a stolen painting to Vornis, who decides to share his new "toy" with Shaw. Shaw doesn't really want to have anything to do with Lee, but he doesn't really have a choice when Vornis insists that he stick around until the authenticity of the painting can be verified and also to meet some of his associates. Shaw can't resist the lure of making new business contacts, but it means that he must play along with Vornis's sick games. It also means that our two heroes are essentially trapped on the island at the mercy of their "host" and his security forces, which leads to some tense nail-biting moments.
Adam Shaw, who simply goes by Shaw, as I mentioned, came to the island to sell a painting. When Vornis parades his slave in front of Shaw and then sends the young man to Shaw's bungalow as a "gift," Shaw doesn't want to participate in Vornis's debauchery, but with them being watched constantly by the guards and via hidden cameras, he has little choice but to put on a show. He dislikes having to hurt Lee in any way, and I have to give him kudos for being smart about making things look real, while never actually resorting to raping Lee. Shaw's done a lot of unsavory things in his life, but he does have scruples and draws the line at rape and torture. However, he is very tempted by Lee, especially when Lee seems to offer himself willingly, but even then I admired him for maintaining his self-control. He may not actively participate in making Lee's life even more torturous, but neither does he do anything to stop it at first. He spends a lot of time trying to justify his inaction which didn't entirely sit well with me at the time, but when we find out some hidden secrets about Shaw later on (something I can't say anymore about without giving away major spoilers), I was more forgiving. And I did like that he has something of a war going on inside his own mind over whether he's become just as monstrous as the men he deals with. Although he's a little rough around the edges and initially comes off as a bit of an anti-hero, I did end up liking Shaw for his ability to instill hope and trust in Lee in the midst of an untenable situation and for his willingness to give up everything to save him. And I also enjoyed his tenderness later on after the danger had passed.
Lee is definitely at the top of my list for the most tortured heroes I've ever read. This poor young man has been through nothing less than hell on earth. He was a DEA agent sent to Columbia with a small team to do reconnaissance on Vornis's operation, but they were all captured by Vornis's men. Lee was the only one kept alive, but after being subjected to Vornis's twisted games, it didn't take long before he wished he was dead, too. When Shaw comes along, he becomes the only person who's looked Lee in the eye and seen him as a human being and not just a plaything since he was brought to the island. Lee understands the danger to Shaw and the constraints he's under, but at the same time, Shaw gives Lee a reason to hope for the first time that there might be salvation from his torture. Lee just about broke my heart with how broken and tortured he is. Because of this, I couldn't help wishing that Shaw could be more sympathetic. I understood why he couldn't, but it didn't make it any easier to take. I just wanted Lee to have a shoulder to cry on after all he'd been through. Once the danger had passed, I wasn't too sure about Lee jumping right back into having sex with Shaw after all the horrific things that had been done to him, but somehow the author made it make sense so that I was mostly OK with it. Still he had a long recovery process ahead, which I thought was rendered as realistically as one can in a relatively short novel. Lee was simply one of those heroes I wanted to wrap up in my arms to love, protect, and comfort him.
The Island is billed as romance, but as I mentioned before, it's a very dark story that didn't have a lot of what I would call truly romantic moments. For most of the novel, Shaw and Lee are trapped in an extremely dangerous situation, and with eyes and ears all around, they weren't exactly in a position to genuinely get to know one another on a personal level. Once they're out of danger, for the next six months or so, they spend more time apart than together. This is partly because Shaw is Australian, while Lee is American, and also because Lee really needed some time to heal. The final scenes of the book, where they're reunited were very touching and probably the only part that I found genuinely romantic. I couldn't help feeling that their story was finally just beginning for real, but at that point, the book was ending. So while there was a positive conclusion to the relationship pairing, I felt like, in some ways, there was still more to tell, more of an HFN than an HEA. Despite this, it was still a good read. Enjoyed would be far too strong of a word for such a dark tale, but I did like it. At least, the evil Vornis got was coming to him, which made me happy, and I also liked that Shaw turned out to be a much better person than I originally thought. Even though I had a few mild misgivings, I could at least see the potential for Shaw and Lee to have an HEA. The Island was my first read by Lisa Henry, and it has left me open to trying more of her work in the future.
Note: This book contains graphic descriptions of abuse and torture as well as discussion of rape which may distress sensitive readers.
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