I don’t know whether to be quite proud or embarrassed that I finished this trilogy within two days because I don’t think I’ve ever read an entire series that fast. The books started out as an online serial and it took me a little over three hours to complete each one. The vocabulary is complex and very colorful, a rare treat, and it really satisfied my appetite. I can’t remember the last time I consulted my online dictionary multiple times throughout a book. This was probably back in early high school but I found myself highlighting half a dozen words when I read Captive Prince. (I had to look up all these words: catamite, provenance, appurtenances, apothegm, peripatetic, aseptic)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I applaud C.S. Pacat’s skill because she has long surpassed the debut novelist’s amateurity with her level of depth and characterization in Captive Prince. She is very familiar with her worldbuilding and it is obvious that she constructed the plot with the ending very much in mind. There are so many plot twists and revelations that accompanies the two main characters that it awes me completely at every turn. As an m/m romance, the first book only set the foundations of the relationship and it is a full-on hate on first sight. This is reasonably ironic as Damen is in a precarious situation where they are sworn enemies. It’s almost like Romeo and Juliet except there’s a load of history that warrants much hate between the two kingdoms. So color me surprised as I see the author blur the lines of right and wrong and uncover the intricate layers of Prince Laurent. He’s not someone that I can support as a love interest for Damen as their relationship is that of a slave/prince right now. It’s unbalanced and Damen’s identity is shrouded so he can never act as a prince. It’s degrading to stoop to the level of a slave and we suffer through a lot of humiliations with him. And believe me, Laurent is really resentful and he’s actually terrible to Damen.
‘He cares for your pleasure,’ explaiined Erasmus.
It took a moment for those words to attach to their correct meaning, and when they did a breath of helpless laughter was the only possible response. Laurent’s precise instructions and their inevitable result had not been intended as a kindness, but rather the opposite. There was no way to explain Laurent’s cool, intricate mind to the slave, and Damen didn’t try.
Laurent is manipulative, cold, and tightly-controlled. However, nothing is as it seems. We glimpse many reasons that attributed to his current personality and it’s very interesting as Damen discovers the different sides of Laurent. As a prince, he exercises some power over the kingdom but the one who is truly in control is the Regent, Laurent’s uncle. The sheer amount of influence and background dealings that the Regent has makes this novel shine with the plot twists and trickery. Damen is way out of his water (literally and figuratively) and the reader blatantly sees that he cannot handle any court dealings and has a shallow understanding of political intrigue.
‘You can’t go to Delfeur,’ Damen said. ‘It’s a death trap.’
The moment he said it, he understoof that Laurent had always known this…
The words were an unfolding realization. It was clear now why Laurent had worked to exonerate his slave and obfuscate the attack…
‘Why are you doing this? Is it a forced move? You can’t think of a way around it?’ Damen searched Laurent’s face.
In short, Laurent is his foil and whereas Damen is trusting of everyone and gives them the benefit of the doubt, Laurent’s shield is always up and his every move is an act with a distinct purpose behind it. I loved their parallels and the plausible concept of them complementing each other with their different traits. I thought they were an excellent match in that sense because Damen is charismatic and automatically loved by all with his leadership and fighting abilities. His Akielon people adored him and were exceedingly loyal (except for those who betrayed him, of course) but Laurent grew up in a secretive court filled with scheming royals. Vere, on the other hand, is under the rule of the Regent meaning most of the supporters are in Regent’s favor. Laurent may certainly attract several blindly devoted followers but his actions are constantly under watch and his cards are limited. Ironically, he is also trapped like Damen.
Guion had dined on mouth-watering spiced meats wrapped in grape leaves, the noon-day heat fanned away from his reclining form by attentive slaves. He felt generously willing to admit that this barbaric country [Akielos] had its charms. The food was rustic but the slaves were impeccable: faultlessly obedient and trained to efface and anticipate, nothing like the spoiled pets at the court of Vere.
I find the world of Vere and Akielos highly fascinating with the inspiration of Greek/Roman architecture and fashion, and the Akielon slave culture that is compared to the ‘pet’ culture of Veretians. Akielos is pro-slavery and it’s so long established as the norm that Damen doesn’t really question its moralities until he arrives in Vere as a slave himself. But Vere doesn’t own slaves; royals keep ‘pets’ that are dolled up and kept as a trophy by their sides to satisfy their sexual cravings. Rather barbaric, that’s what the readers and Damen think. Unlike the heteronormative Akielos, Veretian culture frown upon heterosexuals as an aberration which causes bastardry and they tout homosexuality as the norm.
Female pets were kept by the ladies, male pets were kept by the lords.
‘You mean that men and women–never–‘
Never. Not among the nobility. Well, sometimes, if they were perverse. It was taboo. Bastards were a blight, Jord said. Even among the guards, if you screwed women, you kept quiet about it. If you got a woman pregnant and didn’t marry her your career was over.
It’s interesting seeing the set-up of this environment as what pushes this towards the M/M genre because Damen is allegedly bisexual and Laurent is homosexual like everyone else in his kingdom. However, these details are not the crux of the plot because fantasy is Pacat’s forte. In many author’s hands, this premise would not have worked but Pacat has forged a memorable story that garners the attention of hardcore fantasy-lovers while catering to romantics, the lgbt genre, and mature readers. The sophisticated vocabulary and sentences are unique and it took me much longer to read this book than when I read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. (By the way, I’ll write a nice review about Simon hehehe) Now that I thought of it, these books are both about lgbt but they polar opposites in so many ways and Simon’s story is really sweet and positive whilst Captive Prince takes a much darker turn into the gritty power struggle between two kingdoms and characters.
So I ended up writing much more than I thought I would for Captive Prince…meaning I’m going to write up a separate review for Prince’s Gambit and Kings Rising.
Review to come for: