Hello all, and welcome to the Oh Thank God It’s Finally Finished last-episode blog tour for the Flesh Cartel! 🙂 Episode #19 has just released, and thus concludes the serial whose first episode released nearly two years past. We’re so excited to be sharing the boys’ happy endings with you, and to be with you here on this last look at the nearly 400,000 word journey into and then out of the darkness of human trafficking. We’ve done our best to make this tour fun and interesting both for folks who haven’t yet read the books but might be considering doing so, and for folks who’ve already begun (or already finished!) the series. Plus, there’s some very cool prizes up for grabs at the end of the post!
I Want to but I’m Afraid: Ten Reasons to Read the Flesh Cartel (And One Very Good Reason Not To)
by Rachel Haimowitz & Heidi Belleau
One of the most frequent comments we’ve heard about the Flesh Cartel is actually from folks who haven’t read it yet. Basically, it’s some version of “This sounds really awesome, but I don’t want to be scarred for life.” Which is actually super humbling and flattering, because that means they’ve heard folks talk about it as a powerful experience, and when you set out to write psychological fiction, that’s pretty much the best response you could ever hope for–that it affected someone. Deeply.
And while there’s no denying that the Flesh Cartel goes to some very, very, very dark places–often in spectacularly graphic detail–a lot of people have grabbed on and gone for the ride and loved it. So here are ten reasons why you might be one of those folks who’d enjoy the rollercoaster too. Beware vague thematic spoilers if you read on.
1. All that suffering serves a purpose. The Flesh Cartel isn’t just dark to darker to darkest. Both brothers, and even some secondary characters, have distinct character arcs and growth–they learn something (or many things) over the course of their trials, and come out the other side stronger and more self-aware.
2. Brotherly love! The kind of love Mat and Dougie have for each other is a kind of love many of us dream of having. Like Sam and Dean from Supernatural, they’d die for each other, and worse, go straight to hell for each other–but also like those two idiots, they have their share of of unhealthy control, communication, and stuck-forever-in-unhealthy-roles issues. Unlike those two idiots, their shared trauma allows them to work through those issues and end up in a much healthier place.
3. Romantic love! This doesn’t start showing up until Season 4, but the relationship that develops between Nate (the FBI agent working the brothers’ missing persons case) and Mat is nuanced, slow-burning, and achingly beautiful. Neither of these men is perfect, and both have their baggage (Mat especially), but what they build together is a love for the ages.
4. Complex, careful, and challenging explorations of the human psyche. Three of our key driving questions at the start of this story were “What does it take to break a man?” “What does it take to not break a man in an inherently breakable situation?” and “What does it take to put a man back together when the nightmare ends?” That last one’s a bit of a trick question, of course, because even when a victim of such horrible crimes is free, the nightmare still isn’t over. But exploring that part of it was important to us too. So if you’re worried that the story won’t take these questions seriously, or that the writers didn’t do their research, or that very serious topics will be handled ineptly or unseriously, have no fear. We’re not psychologists, and I’m sure we’ve made mistakes, but we did the homework to minimize them, and to treat these issues and questions with all the gravity and respect they deserve. Writing this story challenged us, and pushed some of our individual boundaries. Reading it may very likely challenge you and push some of your individual boundaries too. And sometimes that’s exactly what we want in our entertainment.
5. Kink! If you’re into that sort of thing. Which, let’s face it, we are. If you love the dark stuff–all the noncon sex and violence and bondage and servitude and humiliation, belt whippings and object insertion and forced feminization and double penetration and dehumanization–you’re gonna love the Flesh Cartel. The last two seasons might not tickle you quite as hard as the first three, but we hope by then you care so much about the boys you don’t mind if the kink dials down.
6. Horror! If you’re into that sort of thing. If the kink ain’t your cuppa, then you can read the Flesh Cartel for a thrilling, soul-deep scare. Men are the greatest monsters of them all, yeah? And boy do we have some choice pickings in the Flesh Cartel. If you love psychological horror and tense thrills–all the locked rooms and unpredictable violence and near-escapes and red herring moments of hope, followed, of course, by the inevitable victorious rescue (or is it?) and subsequent mental and physical fallout–you’re gonna love the Flesh Cartel. Even if the kink is totally not your thing. Because for all that the kink is there, it’s never gratuitious, and every moment of abuse, every moment of pain, serves the story. (Okay, except a little in Season 1 when we were clearly enjoying ourselves a little too much sometimes ;-p)
7. Healing! We kind of covered this in the first three reasons, but this is important enough to deserve its own. For as dark and awful as the story is, almost 30% of the story–all of Season 5 and a quarter of Season 4–is spent focused entirely on the healing process. (About 110,000 words’ worth of focus, to be specific.) So while there’s a huge dose of hurt, there’s also a significant dose of comfort at the end of it. Just as we made sure to put the boys together again after we broke them, we make the same promise to you the reader: you’ll be whole and happy (hopefully crying happy!) by the end of Season 5.
8. But also suffering! Because who doesn’t love angst? If you need a palate cleanser in between bouts of fluffy romance, an episode of the Flesh Cartel is just the thing to get your hackles rising–and even sometimes the tears flowing (and very definitely not happy tears in the first dozen episodes). It makes for a great change of pace, and even more awesome, it makes the happy stories even happier. You know what they say about not knowing light without dark or happiness without pain? Yeah. We’re here to meet all your dark and painful needs so your light happiness feels even more light and happy when the time comes.
9. Tropes you love, (hopefully) without the cliches you hate. Especially for fandom folks–boy does the Flesh Cartel have things for you 😀 Hurt/comfort, obviously. Angst and abuse too. Abduction (and even sort of abduction as seduction). Master/slave (including an auction). About eight thousand selections from the kink meme. UST (ogod so much UST in Season 5). Antiheroes. Warriors. Houseboys. Training. First times and forced orgasms. Competence (this is a huge kink of Rachel’s). Soooo much discipline. Enemies forced to work together. Multiple mindfucks. Trust issues. Vulnerability. Even a tiny touch of crossover (thank you Abi)! Cliches it doesn’t have? No magical healing cock. No instalove. No insta-breaking. No conveniently forgotten traumas for the sake of sex or romance.
10. Characters and story that will win your heart (we hope!). Mat, Dougie, Nate the FBI agent-slash-love-interest, Nate’s parter Louise, Mat’s MMA coach Darryl, Mike the foster dad, Doug’s friend Corinne, Beth the therapist . . . these are all folks we hope you’ll come to know and love and root for and sympathize with. Even Nikolai’s very first pet, Roger. And Nikolai, of course, is a character you’ll love to hate–and maybe even, to your horror (or delight?), find yourself liking sometimes. As for the story, well, ultimately the Flesh Cartel is about the triumph of good over evil and love over cruelty, and what’s not to like about that?
All that being said, we also promised you One Very Good Reason Not To Read the Flesh Cartel, and here it is:
1. If you’ve read all this and you still don’t think it’s worth weathering the subject matter.
Let us assure you one hundred percent, that is okay. We meet so many readers who apologize to us for not reading Flesh Cartel, or for reading the first episode and then not wanting to continue on. And our response is always: there’s no need to apologize! People who enjoy or can bear the subject matter aren’t better or braver or edgier or wiser, they just have different tolerance or tastes for very specific content. If you don’t have that tolerance or taste, we don’t count that against you, and neither should anyone else. There’s nothing more important than having boundaries, knowing them, and respecting them. Rachel and I had boundaries too on where we took this story and why. If the story doesn’t appeal to you, if it upsets you, if it makes you emotional in a bad way . . . give yourself permission not to read it, and not to feel inadequate because you didn’t. In fact, that applies to everything in life–books, tv shows, movies, even the company you keep. We wrote the Flesh Cartel for a specific subset of readers looking for a specific experience, and if you’re not one of them, we wholeheartedly support that! Read what you love and what satisfies you.
(And if that happens to include the Flesh Cartel, welcome and enjoy the ride!)
Thank you all again so much for sharing the experience of the Flesh Cartel with us, and for being a part of our farewell tour. Thanks also to our host for having us!
About Flesh Cartel 19: Promise
In the exciting final season of the Flesh Cartel . . .
With the help of the FBI, Mat Carmichael has let himself be re-taken by the Flesh Cartel. Objective? Rescue his brother, exact revenge, and destroy the entire organization from the inside.
FBI Special Agent Nate Johnson will be playing backup, of course, but to get Dougie out alive, Mat will need to make sure his brother is out of Allen’s clutches before calling in the troops. Now that Mat’s back in bondage, though, there’s no way he can do it alone. He’ll have to ask for help from the only man within the Cartel who cares about Dougie’s welfare: Nikolai. And even knowing it will destroy him, Nikolai delivers.
Bringing down the Cartel should have been the hardest part, but it doesn’t take long to realize that the real challenge has only just begun. Dougie doesn’t know how to be free anymore, and Mat is forced to admit that he may no longer be strong enough to help himself, let alone his brother. But with loved ones in their corner and their love for each other banked but not extinguished, Mat and Dougie learn that you can come home again, no matter how desperate the circumstances you’ve left behind.
About Heidi Belleau
Heidi Belleau was born and raised in small town New Brunswick, Canada. She now lives in Alberta 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!)
Her writing reflects everything she loves: diverse casts of characters, a sense of history and place, equal parts witty and filthy dialogue, the occasional mythological twist, and most of all, love—in all its weird and wonderful forms.
About Rachel Haimowitz
Rachel Haimowitz is an M/M erotic romance author and the Publisher 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.
If you follow/have been following the tour, you’ll see that one of our tour stops features art by the exceptionally talented Ariaa (y-gallery link). As a special treat for one lucky commenter on our tour, we’re commissioning one more Flesh Cartel-themed image from them . . . and the blog tour grand prize winner gets to pick the scene of their choice! So if you have a favourite scene from the series that you’d like to see brought to life in gorgeous art, now’s your chance! The lucky winner will also receive a $25 gift certificate to Riptide Publishing.
Haven’t read the series yet? We’re also giving away a copy of the first season to five lucky commenters! That’s six fantastic prizes in total! All you have to do to enter is leave a comment on any stop on the tour. Each comment (up to one per tour stop) counts as its own entry, so the more you comment, the more chances you have to win.
Don’t forget to check out JustJen’s review of Flesh Cartel 19: Promise to see what she thought of it!