I'm not sure how to rate this. This was one of the toughest reads for me. Has a truly evil villian. At times, I wanted to stop reading. This is an intense book. You have Shaw, an undercover spy, who is "gifted" by a crime lord with a so called toy, Lee. Lee was captured by the crime lord and has been horrificly abused by the crime lord and his staff over the past 8 weeks. Although most of the abuse takes place off page, we can imagine it by the descriptions of his injuries and what Lee remembers. We see the effects on Lee when he is returned to Shaw each night abused by what happens in present day. We experience Lee's terror has he is taken away and his pain as he is returned. We don't need to be there to know what happened. We learn of how he was drugged and harmed. We are there when the abuse starts when Lee lets his mind float away in order to survive and we see how he survives it. And, we see Shaw struggle as he lets Lee go off to be abused because he has to keep his cover in place. Shaw questions if he is equally a monster for valuing his cover over what happens to Lee.
The book, for me, is Lee's story. It's about the strength of the human spirit. It would have been so easy for Lee to just give up. We see little peaks of his strength when he is with Shaw. He is tightly holding onto his humanity. He makes a leap and trusts Shaw. Shaw can't ignore Lee's trust and it was clear that he couldn't walk away and leave Lee. Shaw remains tormented for not helping Lee sooner.
The abuse Lee is subjected to and his recovery afterward made me cry. However, the beauty of the story is Lee's ability to overcome and heal. He hung on to his sanity and got through it and lived. We feel him survive and we see his spirit. As he starts his recovery, he struggles on how to heal. The last 1/3 of the book is about Lee's recovery and it was a needed balance to the darkness of the rest of the book.
For those who have read the author's other work, Tribute, I found this book to be even more intense. The intensity of this book and Lee's strength is leaning me toward 5 stars. I doubt I'll ever read this book again, though, it's simply too intense and overwhelming but it warrants a high rating. For me, it wasn't a book joyfully enacting abuse with sadistic glee, but rather a book showing the power of a human soul to overcome and survive.
Favorite line: "Lucky for you," Zev said calmly, "there's a boy in your cabin who saw the whole thing and still wants to be in your bunk."