Good Things Come To Those Who Wait (and wait and wait): A Review of the Captive Prince Trilogy

kings rising artSPOILER ALERT: There are possible spoilers for all three books in the review below.

On February 2nd  this year the third book in the Captive Prince trilogy, Kings Rising was published.For a lot of readers it had been a long wait for what started out as a free on line serial back in 2008 to finally come to completion, others started to read it when the first two books were published for payment. Either way it was probably one of the most hotly anticipated releases I have ever witnessed.

For a while it seemed it was all people talked about, they were re-reading the first two books, reading them for the first time, in discussion threads, chats you name it. So the burning question is did Kings Rising live up to the hype ?

Karen : I first read the first two book in the trilogy last year, and honestly I was put off by the idea of what I thought was basically slave fic with a strong dash of rape culture. Now, as the premise

of the books is that a prince from a feuding country (Aklion)  is given as a slave to the prince from the other feuding country (Vere)  clearly there is slavery, and there is a rape – but the rape is used to illustrate control over the slaves, and is strongly contrasted with the relationship that Laurent and Damen have from the outset

Fra: I  read Captive Prince and Prince Gambit towards the end of 2012. Recommended by one of the YA authors I follow, it opened a whole word of fiction which I had not known existed before; it always will have a place in my reader’s heart as the book that started it all: after reading the first two books I craved for more of the same and stumbled into In The Company of Shadows and the rest, like they say is history. If I am here today writing this blog is all due to reading these two incredible C.S Pacat books.

To say that I was craving for King Rising is a huge understatement: surely I read other amazing stuff in the meantime, and was absolutely delighted that C.S Pacat got picked by Penguin but the wait: oh gods the wait killed me! I think I danced around the laptop when the date was announced! When Amazon wrote to say there was a delay in delivering the paperback, I bought the ebook because I could not absolutely wait another minute to have Kings Rising in my hands.

The buzz around  Kings Rising was an amazing thing to see: from the brilliant buddy re reads to all the new readers discovering the first two books, the weeks preceding the release of the book were just a wonderful thing to witness.

Not many stories which are internet famous get picked by one of the big publishing houses and I think that Penguin picking Captive Prince not only brought a beautiful written story to a larger audience but is going to be a game changer when it comes to bringing more diverse stories to print.

Karen : For me what CP did, and it’s not alone here by any means, was take a relatively common premise of star crossed lovers, and insert it into a hot-bed of political and sexual intrigue on a Caligulaesque scale with a healthy dose of subversion, what you ‘see’ isn’t really what you get with these books, and no matter what genre I’m reading, that’s always a pleasure.

We’ve continued to use the title of Captive Prince for this trilogy, because for me it really describes the essence of the story: both men are captive, one literally but both captive and controlled by circumstance and family.

The first book, Captive Prince, sets the scene in several ways with the culture clash, the characters, the families, and the suggestion that there is anything more than tolerance between Laurent and Damen. And that’s all there is, a suggestion.

But the machinations with Laurent’s Uncle, the Regent, and Laurent; how this 20 year old has learnt to control himself and turn from a book loving boy into a man who calculates all the angles and is seemingly two steps ahead of everyone else – this I loved, and honestly I didn’t stop to realise that there was no romance in Captive Prince until I had read the whole book in practically one sitting.

Fra: Funny you should say that Karen. When I first read Captive Prince I had absolutely no idea that m/m romance was a thing and I read this as a fantasy book: I found it elegantly written and  incredibly well thought out in terms of the politics sustaining the characters’ agency.

I think it took around two sentences to get me hooked to Captive Prince: Damen’s capture sets a series of events in motion that got me hanging from every word just to see what happens next.

There are layers and layers of unfolding plot to this story: told exclusively from Damen’s perspective, as readers we are thrown into it in the same frantic manner Damen is.

A prince, betrayed, violently captured and delivered to the enemy with an urgent need to keep his identity secret and to adapt to a situation which he only just about grasps;  his observations of Vere and his inhabitants are  all we have at our disposal to navigate the story at this point.

The introduction of Laurent provides a key focal point for both Damen and the readers. From this moment on all of Damen’s narrative is centred on Laurent who is snot only the enemy prince but also becomes the embodiment of Vere and of customs that are alien to and the complete opposite of Damen.

Damen is a straightforward narrator: his attitude to life simple and firmly set within the very solid boundaries of his culture: honor, courage, family, loyalty. Thrown into the viper pit that is Vere and its court, all of Damen’s observations are the result of sharp contrasts between what he knows of himself and Aklion and what he sees of Vere, Laurent and the Regent; all built on the ultimate lie.

In this context it is impossible to warm to Laurent at the beginning of this story: as we observe the Prince with Damen’s eyes all we see is a spoiled, calculating brat who in turns exasperates or pleases his Regent uncle.

And this is the first layer: on the surface we have a straightforward and honourable Prince who has been betrayed and sold down the enemy court, another Prince who is young and arrogant and self absorbed and a benign Regent with the interest of his country at the heart of everything he does. At the same time we also know that Damen’s slave story is a lie; and that makes us doubt everything we read and makes us pay attention to every detail, every layer of the narrative.

To take a very poignant example of what I mean by multilayered narrative: Damen’s whipping is an example of how deep the layers run in this book:

is Laurent a spoiled brat who defies his wise and sympathetic uncle? Or is it a way for Laurent to exercise power in a court that does not belong to him yet? Or is Laurent  a righteous Prince taking his revenge on the  slave as an embodiment of the enemy responsible for the deaths of his father and brother or does Laurent know who Damen is even this earlier on in the story?

This is elegant, economical writing, where you get one action and as many readings as possible.

kings rising hugKaren : The second book Prince’s Gambit, what a book!

The first time I read it I thought it was good, the second time I noticed (or thought I did) all the small details, the way that CP was built on and how the politics were expanded, the third time read I really immersed myself in the relationship between Laurent and Damen.  I can’t remember the last time I was on such tenterhooks over a book , not knowing if Laurent knew who Damen really was. And in PG, there really was some sexual tension. But it was the continued political and military battles that captured my imagination as well, this was also the book where I felt that Damen became something more than a foil for Laurent’s brilliance, and Laurent himself became more than cold and calculating. As they navigate through a relationship that is based on a lie, they find a harmony and connection that they both need, and Laurent starts to open up. But this relationship doesn’t overwhelm, because how could it ? And all the time you are thinking to yourself, what will happen when ‘the truth’ comes out ? All this multi layered cleverness.

Fra: Right on Karen. Book 2 of series are notoriously difficult to pull off well. In this case? This is a splendid example of how to keep the tension and how to do book 2 right.

In fairness I also think that much of the elegant and continuously sustained tension is partly due to the fact that both books were serialised. With each instalment having to carry the story on in its own right.

As the relationship between Laurent and Damen grows; both characters start to change and gravitate towards the other; there’s attraction and growing trust and shifting power balance. All the while the reader is sitting at the edge of her seat, biting her nail down to the quick thinking oh no they are getting on so well, what will happen when Damen’s identity is revealed?

It is also one of those books which takes on a completely different meaning with a re read: all of a sudden a myriad details start making more sense; there are hints and gestures that speak volumes.

From my point of view what I loved most about Prince’s Gambit is the way Laurent and Damen affect one another: Damen starts to question his black and white views of the world and Laurent thaws out a bit and concedes some trust where none had been before as the plot unfolds.

Here also the plot is sustained by elegant, layered and economical writing which is a real pleasure to read.

Karen: As we said in the introduction, the build up to the release of Kings Rising was intense. At the back of my mind was the feeling of ‘how can this possibly be resolved’ especially given the tone and complexity of the first two books. And for me the answer is to see the books as one, because if you look at KR in isolation then it is more about individual relationships than the politics, but the books were written as a trilogy, and to bring about a conclusion was always going to be a balancing act; one which I think was carried off as satisfactorily as you can possibly do. With hope for all the elements of the story.

There was a lovely sense of rightness about events leading up to the final chapters, a circle being closed.

Fra: I think you are right Karen plus I think that the series could have actually done with one more book. Let me explain this.

I loved Kings’ Rising. I think it was a great conclusion to a story I loved for a long time; however I do think that compared to the complexities of Prince’S Gambit the denouement of the plot was a bit rushed. An additional book – or even chapters – would have allowed Pacat to explore the consequences of Laurent’s abuse in more depth together with, perhaps, the opportunity to resolve all plot points in a less hurried way.

That said, this was still a splendid book and I loved it.

Up to the very end of Prince’s Gambit – Damen was our only narrator; also his narration was confined by his position as a slave and his need to keep his identity secret. In Kings Rising Damen has lost all constraints to his narrative voice: changed by his experience in Vere, loyal to Laurent and to their mission to keep the Regent off the Aklion throne, Damen steps up to his full potential both as king and as narrator.

If the previous two books were – in my opinion – Laurent’s books; that is the books in which we discover and get to know Laurent; Kings Rising is definitely Damen’s book. Finally free, Damen really is an outstanding protagonist. Even the addition of Laurent’s point of view does not take away from Damen’s growth as a character and a person in this book.

Laurent finally opens up, not before some heartbreaking revelations, and he also grows as a character. Gosh but I wish there were at least three more books in the series to describe how Damen and Laurent get on when free to be together and while they conquer all known world!

captive prince endKaren: I rarely re-read books, and in our digital age I have a handful of books in both ebook and paper format, this trilogy joined their ranks, I thoroughly enjoyed every part of it.

Fra: This is hands down one of my favourite series – it makes my top 5. It is exquisite in the writing; it is complex without ever becoming complicated, the world building is intricate without becoming overwhelming and its greco-roman echoes resonated with me in a very personal way.

The relationship between Damen and Laurent is one of the most satisfying Fantasy relationship I have ever read and pretty much one of the cornerstones of how I measure characters’ agency and interactions.

The fact that Captive Prince was picked by one of the big 5 heralds a massive shift in bringing diversity into mainstream publishing; it might have meant a slightly harried ending but nothing that I cannot live with and quite contently at that.

Last but not least, C.S. Pacat extraordinary acknowledgement of her support base while Captive Prince was a fledgeling on line serial is something to behold. I recognised so many names in that list! Some I call my friends now and it all started there: a supportive community, an amazing story and it was the incredible interactions between readers and writers which ultimately convinced me to come out of the lurking/anon space and reach out to the incredible ICoS friendom.

We highly recommend the Captive Prince series to all lovers of excellent writing and stories spectacularly told.

And to all our buddy readers: guys that was one hell of a buddy read! And thanks to the wonderful artists for letting us use their fan art as well x

 

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