Captive Prince by C.S. PacatCaptive Prince by C.S. Pacat
Series: Captive Prince #1
Published by Berkley on April 7th, 2015
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 289

From global phenomenon C. S. Pacat comes the first in her critically acclaimed trilogy—with a bonus story.

Damen is a warrior hero to his people, and the rightful 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…

Captive Prince was first published in 2012 as an ebook.

3.5 Stars

“Is there anyone at this court who isn’t my enemy?”
“Not if I can help it,” Laurent said.

Captive Prince is dark, gritty, brutal, and utterly addictive. This is no bedtime reading material, especially if you have a vivid imagination that likes to lead a life of its own, like mine. There’s predominantly rape followed closely by mistreatment, torture and sadism, nicely underpinned by a stinging form of psychological degradation. I’d certainly recommend this to a mature audience only.

Graphic violence is usually not an issue for me. Blood and goriness leave me as impassive as can be. But this form of violence shook me, perhaps because of its particular degrading quality, which disallowed me to separate myself from the reading experience. And, of course, I made the mistake of reading it before bedtime. (With the result that my lovely friends Chantal and Simona got panicked texts past midnight. Seriously, people, watch a nice comedy before you go to sleep instead of reading this). But this was not the reason why the violence in Captive Prince bothered me so much.

➼ Throughout the book, I kept asking myself why the depiction of this amount of brutality was necessary. The whipping and the allusion to rape would’ve been sufficient to emphasize the merciless nature of the world. In my opinion, it did not add to the efficiency of the world-building nor did it contribute to the plot. To me, it seemed like shock value.

➼ I knew this story involved a prince-turned-slave and an enemy prince falling in love. I had no problem with that. Its premise is similar to The Winner’s Curse, now that I come to think of it. However, the severe mistreatment inflicted by Laurent in the first half of the book cast a shadow over the relationship development between the two men. I think I will love this romance, as the characters have chemistry and are absolutely engaging, but I do have an issue with it: It reminds me a lot of
Stockholm Syndrome
(also referred to as captor-bonding, I believe) where victims start sympathizing and co-operating with their captors/rapists, sometimes even defending them in police investigations. No matter how beautiful their love will be, I will not be able to get over Laurent’s initial behaviour, I think.

Now, let’s move on to more positive aspects of the book.

Damen as a main character was a delight. Subject to his half-brother’s power-hungry grab for the throne in the kingdom of Akielos, Damen is stripped of his identity and rank, and sent to Vere to serve as a pleasure slave for the Veretian crown prince, Laurent. Damen’s narrative evoked a lot of sympathy in me. He endures the most horrible things, yet manages to maintain a level of human decency towards others. He is a worthy rightful heir to the Akiellon throne, as he cares deeply for his country and, even though he’s in a foreign court and in shackles, is devoted to protecting his fellow Akiellon slaves. There’s also a nice amount of sass coming from him, which, of course, gets him in trouble repeatedly.

Damen’s understanding of Laurent rearranged itself, in order that he might despise him more accurately.

Laurent is a sadistic, cunning, egocentric asshole. He’s a fucking piece of work. Even though he has reason to hate every single Akiellon on the planet, his hostility is uncalled for, at times. What makes Laurent so incredibly dangerous to his surroundings is the combination of relentless brutality with snake-like intelligence. Rhetoric is his native tongue, unpredictability is his kingdom, scheming is his life.

Laurent could inspire homicidal tendencies simply by breathing.

Nobody knows what wheels are turning in his maze of a mind. From the two men, Laurent is probably the one who undergoes the most character growth, as the person hiding behind the mask of silky impassiveness is slowly revealed. In spite of his vicious behaviour, I respect Laurent – he pulls off an impressive show at court as he weaves his way through a rotten nest of snakes. The fact that I was not able to whole-heartedly hate Laurent is evidence to the high quality of the author’s work, how she turns the tide within a few chapters.

The world-building was well done. The different cultures of Akielos and Vere were really brought to life (I’m guessing Greek-based vs. French-based cultures). The politics and the play for power were fascinating. Reluctant allies, hidden enemies, unexpected plot twists. Surprisingly, there was very little romance. As you might’ve guessed, I approve of that since I don’t think Damen should just let Laurent’s initial mistreatments slide. There is, however, a sizzling tension to their interactions, which I highly enjoyed. The m/m romance was handled in a natural way, as it is often the case in fantasy as opposed to contemporary. There was no discrimination or questioning or scrutiny. It just… existed, which was refreshing. The book held on to my attention with iron determination. At times, the pacing was a bit off, though. The balance between adrenaline-evoking action and character-driven scenes was not always given. The writing was good and serviceable. It did not excite me on a level as Laini Taylor’s or Renée Ahdieh’s does but it was certainly worthy of a fantasy novel.

This place sickened him. Anywhere else, you simply killed your enemy with a sword. Or poisoned him, if you had the honourless instincts of an assassin. Here, it was layer upon layer of constructed double-dealing, dark, polished and unpleasant.

Despite my concerns, I liked this book. Captive Prince is political court intrigue at its finest with a touch of Gladiator. Though I found myself sometimes wanting to close my eyes to the brutality of the world, the characters and the plot hooked me from the first page and seized to let me go until the end.