READ: February 2016
GENRES: Romance, Fantasy.
AVERAGE RATING: ★★★★★
I put off reading these books for the longest time. I first heard about them a few years ago, and for whatever reason I was never tempted enough to pick them up. With the release of the third and final book a couple of months ago, it started popping up on my Tumblr dash again, so I impulse bought the first book. To be honest, when I started reading Captive Prince I really wasn’t sure that I was going to like it. I didn’t read the synopsis when I bought it, so I’d forgotten that the books were going to deal quite so closely with slavery. Despite that, I ended up staying awake until 3AM reading Captive Prince, and when I finished it up the next day, I began hunting down copies of the second and third book. It’s a really enjoyable, really interesting series. They are kind of “guilty pleasure” books, but I enjoyed them so much that I’m past whatever “guilt” I felt .
Here’s the synopsis:
Damen is a warrior hero to his people, and the truthful heir to the throne of Akielos, but when his half brother seizes power, Damen is captured, stripped of his identity and sent to serve the prince of an enemy nation as a pleasure slave.
Beautiful, manipulative and deadly, his new master Prince Laurent epitomizes the worst of the court at Vere. But in the lethal political web of the Veretian court, nothing is as it seems, and when Damen finds himself caught up in a play for the throne, he must work together with Laurent to survive and save his country.
For Damen, there is just one rule: never, ever reveal his true identity. Because the one man Damen needs is the one man who has more reason to hate him than anyone else.
Before I really get into it, I need to warn you for discussions of slavery, sex slavery, sexual abuse, rape, threat of rape, threat of violence, actual violence, and paedophilia. These issues feature or are discussed in the books at varying levels of intensity, but I’d rather overstate them than understate them. So if any of those things makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s worth seriously thinking about whether you want to read the books.
With that mentioned, let’s get on into my review.
In my opinion, the books are best read directly after each other. Captive Prince in particular feels more like a precursor to Prince’s Gambit and Kings Rising than it does a novel that stands up on its own. Each book picks up directly where the previous left off, meaning that they felt more like instalments in one lengthy novel than they did distinct instalments in a trilogy. Personally, I didn’t have a problem with this, I found that it maintained a good, steady pace and held my interest more than if the books had been drawn out. It’s just worth considering this if you were thinking of reading them and intending to space out buying or reading the books.
Another thing that I think I should clarify is this series does contain explicit sex scenes, and does discuss sex openly throughout. This was one of the things that I found most interesting. Both Laurent’s culture of Vere and Damen’s culture of Akielos have very different attitudes to sex. Most noticeably, there’s no homophobia. I found Vere’s attitudes to sex the most interesting, as in their culture, an illegitimate child is the ultimate taboo. As such, the Veretians almost always sleep with members of their own sex, and only marry the opposite sex in order to produce an heir. It’s seen as unusual to prefer the same sex. Reading about these different attitudes to sex made me realise just how often the fantasy novels I read just take our general attitudes towards sex, i.e. heterosexual relationships as the norm, and simply transplant them into the fantasy universe. I’d be really interested to read more novels wherein the attitudes are different.
The series is predominantly character focused, and all the characters are well-developed and intriguing. There is, of course, the wider plot concerning Damen and Laurent’s struggle for their respective thrones, and this is compelling and certainly holds your interest, but for me the series really shone in the relationship between Laurent and Damen. Their changing relationship is ultimately the focus of the series, taking them from enemies, to tentative trust, to friends, to lovers. It’s an incredibly slow burn romance; by the end of Captive Prince they only barely trust each other. The push and pull between them is brilliantly depicted, especially the tension during Prince’s Gambit. While the slow burn can be frustrating for some, I’m not one for instant gratification romances, and I found it all the more satisfying because of the wait. To be honest, I don’t think anything other than a slow burn romance would have worked for these characters, owing to the fact that they have a lot of issues to overcome within themselves and with each other, namely the fact that — and this isn’t a spoiler, since you find out about it very early on — Damen killed Laurent’s brother.
Everyone has a favourite character in any series, and in Captive Prince, mine is absolutely Laurent. Laurent is vicious, incredibly intelligent, and cunning. He’s always one step ahead of everyone else. He is, put simply, a cast iron bitch. I love him. He’s at his worst in the first book, where he is genuinely quite terrible, and easy to dislike, but I actually kind of enjoyed how absolutely awful he was. Revelations in the later books work to explain, or give a better understanding of his actions and behaviour in the first book. He does let his guard down as the series goes on, and while he appears quite cold, he reveals himself to be compassionate and caring. Laurent’s character arc was probably my favourite thing about this series, second only to his relationship with Damen. Damen, by contrast, is an absolute sweetheart. He’s more open and honest than Laurent. Their differences are part of what makes their developing relationship so interesting. In addition to the stellar main characters, the books also contain some incredible secondary characters, such as the loyal and lovable Jord, a member of Laurent’s personal guard, and the long-suffering, probably severely underpaid Nikandros, Damen’s right hand man.
As with any series, I was anxious to see how huge issues, such as Damen killing Laurent’s brother, would be resolved. In this, the series did not disappoint. Everything is wrapped up and addressed very neatly. Perhaps a little too neatly, but realistically, I’m not going to complain about the happy ending that puts all other happy endings to shame. Overall, I highly recommend this series. Captive Prince is probably the weaker of the three books, but necessary to provide the background for the other two books. This is definitely a series I’ll be rereading, even if only to just reread my favourite parts. It was such a welcome surprise, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what C.S. Pacat will write in the future.