May 10 2012 4:00pm

First Look: Cynthia Justlin’s Edge of Light (May 14, 2012)

Edge of Light by Cynthia JustlinCynthia Justlin
Edge of Light
Carina Press / $5.99 digital / May 14, 2012

Taken prisoner by a ruthless group of anarchists deep in the Cambodian jungle, anthropologist Jocelyn Hewitt is isolated in a dark prison cell. Without chance of rescue. Or hope. Until the man in the next cell reaches out to let her know she’s not as alone as she thinks.

CIA agent Oliver Shaw has been held prisoner for over two years. Forced to witness the brutal torture and slow murder of his entire team, his spirit is not just broken, it’s crushed. He no longer believes in hope. Until he hears Jocelyn through the wall, and suddenly feels like a glimpse of light is trying to reach in... 

After reading the summary of Cynthia Justlin’s Edge of Light, I was curious as to how the author would manage to describe horrible torture and still make the romance appealing and believable. I also wondered how she would depict the villains—would they be cartoonish?

I was pleased to discover that Justlin had gone for a realistic effect, even though I sometimes winced from her descriptions of the suffering her characters had undergone, and the horrors perpetrated by her complex villains. The result is an emotional book that swings from terror to desperation to hope. Hope and its role in our lives is one of the novel’s major themes.

The story opens with former CIA agent Oliver Shaw, who’s lost all desire to live after his capture by anarchists, torture, and the brutal killing of all his fellow agents…but having hit rock bottom, he rediscovers his gift for making art, which becomes a reason for his captor to keep him alive.

He shifted, biting down on his lip and letting the metallic taste of his blood fill his mouth. Cement scraped his bruised stomach. The movement set fire to the hundreds of cuts across his back. He stiffened and pulled a hiss through his teeth, concentrating on the tracks of dirt and dried blood covering his arms while he waited for the burning to dial down to an acute throb. His kidneys throbbed from dehydration and repeated kicks to his lower back. A chunk of his long, matted black hair fell into his eyes. He tried to brush it aside, but his tingling hands refused to work properly.

…he returned to the makeshift palette and scooped up more of the sticky goop. He squeezed guava between his fingers, scooped up eggplant, yams, okra and wet jungle leaves, his frantic movements creating a wash of color. Oranges, reds, browns, greens. Black. A landscape slowly took shape before his eyes. He stepped back to observe what he had done. Sweat coated his face in a clammy film and several of the scabbed-over wounds on his body had reopened. But he ignored the blood trickling down his arms and legs and the shaking in every weak muscle, keeping his focus on the mural in front of him, desperate to remain rooted in an alternate reality. Here, at last, was a place he could survive, a place where freedom didn’t scare him every bit as much as captivity.

Held captive for two years, his willpower becomes seriously depleted, and he sees no chance of escape. He’s stopped remembering his past as much as possible, and lives in the present with no hope of a future. His empty world is shaken, though, when another prisoner is placed in the adjacent cell.

The heroine, Jocelyn Hewitt, is in Cambodia to search for the long-lost remains of her father, in collaboration with the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command, even though she’s actually supposed to be on vacation. She’s captured, and her fellow team-members killed, because of information her father might have possessed about lost treasure. The main villain, a crazed anarchist, is obsessed with the jewels he believes are meant for him, so he is ruthless in trying to extract any knowledge she might have.

Justlin shows how terrifying even a shower can be, when you are held captive and forcibly cleaned:

Jocelyn retched. She coughed, choking, and before she could regain her breath, the guard’s brush slashed at her face, scrubbing her mouth and cheeks with bitter soap. They tugged her head back by her hair until the water hit her square in the face and washed the lather away. Her chest hurt with suppressed sobs and her knees started to buckle.

Edge of Light is not for the faint of heart, but if you like intensely emotional stories, it’s a rewarding read.

Victoria Janssen is the author of three erotic novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen from Harlequin Spice. Follow her on Twitter @victoriajanssen or find out more at

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