Review: Prince’s Gambit by C.S. Pacat

Captive Prince: Volume Two (Captive Prince, #2)Captive Prince: Volume Two by C.S. Pacat

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The alternate title for this book is called Prince’s Gambit and I prefer it much more than the ‘Volume Two’ because it sums up this middle book so well.

Gambit <noun>: (in chess) an opening in which a player makes a sacrifice, typically of a pawn, for the sake of some compensating advantage.
A device, action, or opening remark, typically one entailing a degree of risk, that is calculated to gain an advantage.


 

Minor spoilers for Captive Prince: Book One

So who do you think is the gambit? Too bad, you won’t find out unless you read the book.
Laurent, hands down, dominates the game with the crazy tactics and strategies that he comes up with to subvert his enemies and stay three steps ahead of his uncle. The risk to his life is much more apparent as the Regent makes more indirect, daring attempts on Laurent. You thought Laurent was clever? WATCH THIS. He begins revealing just how deep his deceptions can go and readers see exactly how intelligent he is. Damen is also a warmonger and he’s very charismatic alongside Laurent. As a duo, they are a force to be reckoned with. They are very capable individuals that have commanding presences to capture the respect of an army.

Laurent said it as though producing from the depths the answer to a painstakingly weighed question. ‘I can do this alone. I know I can. It’s only that right now I can’t seem to…think, and I can’t…trust anyone else to stand up to me when I’m…like this. If you could give me three days, I–‘ He forcibly cut himself off.

Damen has always chafed under his shackles so it was eye-opening to see what he can do if Laurent gave him the keys. With a semblance of freedom, Damen shows his prowess…on the battlefield. HAAA, did you think I was going to say something else? Anyways, there’s a lot of sexual tension throughout the book and Pacat does it so well. The characters continue to develop and show a resilience in how they deal with tricky situations. The duo hit many problems along their travels but they stick together through them all. Although Laurent is secretive and holds many of his underhanded tactics close to heart, he still confides the most in Damen. Their slow buildup of trust was a wondrous thing to witness and in tough times, they really came to rely on each other’s strengths. I loved seeing Laurent push his army to their limits with drills and combat practices. Dealt with a rather lackluster set of cards, Laurent is showing his hidden sides that can transform even a rotten soldier into something respectable.

So then comes the huge elephant in the room. How can Damen tell Laurent that he is Prince Damien, the one he loathes for killing his brother?

He thought of Laurent’s delicate, needling talk that froze into icy rebuff if Damen pushed at it, but if he didn’t–if he matched himself to its subtle pulses and undercurrents–continued, sweetly deepening, until he could only wonder if he knew, if they both knew, what they were doing.

The story becomes much more centered on Damen on Laurent’s story; it’s really sweet to see that a relationship can blossom in the face of the tribulations that they face. In the fight for a king’s seat, they are both determined to ensure success. Damen is an asset to Laurent, a collaboration that many could not see taking place. The dynamics of their relationship is explored more deeply in this book because there’s just so much going on. Their interactions are always anticipatory for me because they’re polar opposites in many ways. Laurent is the icy, lean prince and Damen is the brutish, forceful one. How can  they deal with each other when they’re so different. I guess it’s true that opposites attract because chapter 19

Laurent’s fingers had tightened around the towel. There was a self-consciousness in him now, as though he had become aware of the strangeness of what he was doing: a prince serving a slave. Damen looked again at the cup of water, which Laurent had brought–for him, he realised.
Laurent’s flush deepened. Damen shifted to regard him better. He saw the angle of Laurent’s jaw, the tension in Laurent’s shoulders.

Laurent has a lot of tricks up his sleeves and he reminds me so much of a sterner, serious version of Eugenides from The Queen’s Thief by MWT.

Following the pattern of Captive Prince: Book One, here are more words that I had to look up: verisimilitude, immanence, percipient, abstemious

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Review: Captive Prince by C. S. Pacat

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)


Captive Prince: Volume One (Captive Prince, #1)Captive Prince: Volume One by C.S. Pacat

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:

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