REVIEW: Captive Prince, Volumes 1 and 2, by S.U. Pacat
Dear Ms. Pacat,
I thought about reviewing the two volumes of Captive Prince separately, but came to the conclusion that since they are two parts of the same story and absolutely must be read in order, this made no sense. I understand that there will be a third volume out in 2014, and I will wait with bated breath until then, because I’m dying for more of these characters and their story.
Captive Prince has an interesting provenance. It began as a serial on the web. It is not fanfiction in the sense that it’s not based off of any other author’s characters, but it was written for an online community. The online version has some differences from the published version, but it is still available here for free.
Volume 1 is disturbing, but good, and must be read before Volume 2. But Volume 2 is where it’s really at, because there the story gets mind-blowing.
On to that story.
Here’s the author’s blurb for Volume 1:
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 . . .
And the blurb for Volume 2:
With their countries on the brink of war, Damen and his new master Prince Laurent must exchange the intrigues of the palace for the sweeping might of the battlefield as they travel to the border to avert a lethal plot.
Forced to hide his identity, Damen finds himself increasingly drawn to the dangerous, charismatic Laurent. But as the fledgling trust between the two men deepens, the truth of secrets from both their pasts is poised to deal them the crowning death blow . . .
Lest all this master/pleasure slave stuff mislead anyone, I hasten to add that this is not, in the main, a BDSM or D/s story. At first, it appears to have the trappings of erotica, but then it veers off in a totally unexpected direction and what it really becomes is a story of political intrigue and machinations in the vein of Dorothy Dunnett, with an epic, towering, impossible romance at its center.
I’m typically not keen on romances involving slavery — I could not enjoy Justine Davis’ Skypirate books, or Song of Scarabeus, which so many readers loved a few years back, because I found the slavery too disturbing.
And it was disturbing as hell for me in Volume 1 of Captive Prince, too, I don’t want to imply otherwise. But the great plotting and the characters kept me glued to the pages.
The book starts out a bit like a car accident that you can’t look away from. The hero, Prince Damianos of Akielos (known as Damen) and heir to the throne of his country, is attacked unexpectedly thanks to a coup by his older, illegitimate half-brother Kastor. There are too many attackers for him to fight off and he is bound, gagged, put in a gold slave collar and wrist cuffs and shipped to the enemy country of Vere.
When Damen arrives in Vere, he realizes he is believed to be dead and no one in Vere knows his true identity. He is presented as a gift to the Crown Prince of Vere, Laurent, from the new King of Akielos, Kastor. Laurent takes the gift as insult, since Damen, who hates all Veretians, is deliberately insulting, and also since Laurent is told the slave’s name is Damen.
You see, Prince Damianos of Akielos, whom Laurent assumes Damen is named for, killed Laurent’s beloved older brother Auguste in battle several years earlier. Laurent, now twenty but thirteen at the time, was left orphaned in the same war, and under the care of his uncle the regent, since by Veretian law, he can’t ascend to the throne until age twenty one. And Laurent and his uncle have bad blood between them.
The regent forces Laurent to accept Kastor’s personal gift of Damen for his bed slave, but Laurent has no interest in bedding Damen (for a long time, it appears — outwardly at least — that Laurent has no interest in bedding anyone). Instead, he sets out to torment Damen and make his life difficult because of Damen’s insolence and even more because Laurent hates all Akielons for the death of his brother.
If only he knew that Damen is the one Akielon who actually killed his brother… but he doesn’t, and Damen realizes his survival depends on his ability to conceal this.
For the longest time, Damen thinks Laurent is a spoiled, cruel, decadent young man and his uncle the Regent is wise and worthy of Laurent’s respect. But things aren’t what they appear to be in Vere. There are all sort of machinations going on behind the scenes, and no one is the same as the front they present to the world.
Damen is in over his head, but eventually he realizes that to help his countrymen, he must join forces with Laurent, of all people.
The romance is very, very slow to develop and the sexual tension is through the roof. The balance of power, which at first glance seems lopsided, is actually a lot less so than initial appearances suggest. And once these two fall in love — wow.
It is such an impossible conflict because (A) their countries are sworn enemies, (B) Damen killed Laurent’s beloved older brother, and if Laurent knew! And (C) they are both the rightful heirs to their thrones and doesn’t that mean marriage to produce legitimate heirs?
However, you have promised a HEA in Volume 3 and the strength of your writing is such that I believe you can deliver. Your prose has clarity and simplicity but is also poetic at times because the words have a way of gathering power. With the exception of a brief prologue, the book is written in Damen’s third person POV alone, and yet you manage to make Laurent at least as compelling. Both characters are real and complex and they grow.
Damien is strong, honorable and straightforward, but at first glance too naive for a 25 year old crown prince. Gradually he grows out of that and catches on to more and more of what’s going on around him. His strength of will shows in the ways he finds to be more than simply a pawn. At the same time a more complete picture of him slowly emerges.
Laurent is reminiscent of Dunnett’s Lymond, a character who is usually three steps ahead of everyone else, and whose interior does not match his exterior. At first we think he’s an out and out villain, and then we realize that is not exactly the case. His cleverness and scheming can be infuriating, but as more and more of the truth emerges, it becomes impossible not to fall in love with him bit by bit.
But one of the most wonderful things about this book is the plotting — it’s full of surprising twists, secret political maneuvers, and devious stratagems. There will be some little detail in the middle of the book, and later in the story the reader suddenly discovers just how important that small detail was, and that things aren’t what they appeared in any way, shape or form.
While the romance develops with exquisite slowness, as is fitting to these characters’ backgrounds and personalities, the pacing of the plot is fast and the book is hard to put down.
I love this kind of story. As for my criticisms, I have a few. Female characters are few and far between in Captive Prince. On occasion, I hit a line of contemporary-sounding dialogue, such as “No kidding,” that was jarring in the historical setting. The writing is less polished in the beginning, with some stylistic cliches and an overuse of adverbs, but this improves.
Also, while the worldbuiding was very good in terms of its internal consistency, and in terms of developing the cultural differences between Akielos and Vere (there is a very good portrayal of what it’s like to be displaced into an unfamiliar culture), I wished the world was fleshed out a bit more. For example I would have loved to know about the religions of these countries, the monetary system, the roles of regular people and of women.
Volume 1 does not make for comfortable reading. Rape and abuse take place in the first half of that volume. This is the kind of book where the price of admission may mean putting up with squick factors and triggers but there is a huge reward in return for that in Volume 2. By the time I finished the end of the second volume, I realized none of the upsetting/disturbing/triggering things had been gratuitous.
There will be a third volume, as I said before, but it won’t be out until 2014. I’ll be obsessively checking for news of it in that year, that’s how much I want to read it. Volume 2 ends on a huge cliffhanger, but one that comes after rewarding payoffs, so the ending managed to leave me salivating for the next book yet deeply satisfied at the same time.
If I were to grade Volume 1 by itself, I would give it a B, mainly because it’s so disturbing and not everything makes sense yet, even by the end. But Volume 1 is not meant to be read on its own. When I got to Volume 2 (which must be read after volume 1), I realized that a lot of things in Volume 1 were setups for payoffs that occur in Volume 2. Therefore I would advise everyone who wants to try Captive Prince to read both volumes, in order.
Despite the imperfections, my grade for Volume 2 is easily an A and for both together, an A as well, because the cumulative effect of reading them back to back is mind blowing.
PS While at this time the electronic editions are only available at Amazon, or serially on the author’s livejournal page (link here), an ebook edition will be available at Barnes and Noble in a few weeks, and there will be one at iTunes as well. There are also paper editions at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
ETA: Captive Prince is now available on Kobo as well.
I am still undecided. Political intrigue: yay! But Rape and abuse: boo!
I completely understand and I expect there will be many readers who share your feelings. The first half of Vol. 1 is a very tough read in that regard. I have friends who wanted to quit at that point but were glad they persisted.
For me, the payoffs in Vol. 2 were huge, but I can’t explain why without divulging spoilers. And this is a book that depends so much on surprising readers, on setting us to expect something and then turning those expectations upside down, that I would rather not share the spoilers here.
However, if you decide you’re not going to read it, there is a spoiler-filled discussion on Sunita’s blog, Vacuous Minx. Sunita hasn’t finished reading Vol. 2, but I know she disliked Vol. 1. The discussion at VM is really worthwhile, with people weighing in on different aspects of Captive Prince. But it does contain spoilers, so read at your own risk.
This sounds interesting. I just purchased – thanks for the review!
Excellent review, Janine. This book is not easy to talk about without spoilers.
And it’s true that, to enjoy it properly, you need to extend the author a little bit of credit. Credit that she’s smart enough to surprise you, that she’s not handling her themes lightly, that she can reveal the layers of a character slowly, in meaningful ways. She is not, for example, just crafting characters who get personality transplants — it’s important to point out how WRONG the initial impressions of Laurent and Damen are, but equally important to point out how RIGHT they are.
Laurent IS infuriating. He really is spoiled and sulky and childish….and a lot of other things, so that eventually, you fall in love with the whole character. Not just his good qualities but his flaws as well. And Damen, even as we grow to understand his faults, his thoughtlessness, his unfortunate ignorance, remains a strong, straightforward man who aims to do good.
I adored CAPTIVE PRINCE as well, obviously. I found it so utterly absorbing, so real, so beautifully done. One of my favorite books last year, when I read it online.
This sounds a lot like the Swordspoint books of Ellen Kushner, with all the political intrigue. I think I may have to give these a try!
And then I purchased Song of Scarabeus and Skypirate too. This is why I have to stop checking this blog…
@Ann F.: You’re welcome. I hope you enjoy it!
@Erin Satie: Thanks so much for weighing in. You’re right, it’s so hard to discuss it without spoilers.
@tangodiva: I haven’t read Swordspoint but I was reminded, in different ways, of the one book I read in Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, of Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia, and even, though the tone couldn’t be more different, reminded a little bit of Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. That said, we start the story as clueless as Damen, and the first half of Vol. 1 reads like Anne Rice’s Beauty too. This is one of the reasons I recommend reading both volumes.
Can you email me, Tangodiva? I have a question I would like to ask you. My email is janineballard at gmail dot com.
The writing is beautiful, this author puts so many people to shame it isn’t even funny. However, I found it really simple. Painfully so. I did pefer Vol. 2 and I though the ending was great.
Yes to this. We were told there was a difference but there was never enough detailing as to what. Most of the time they were busy using slurs against each other as an indication but it wasn’t enough.
Overall beautiful writing – just stunning.
Ah, I just bought Volume 1 because Brie’s review @ Romance around the Corner convinced me! I obviously need to buy Vol 2 as well… definitely moving this up my to-read list.
@cs: Without mentioning spoilers, did you see all the twists and turns coming, then? Because I was taken by surprise by many of them.
I too want to read this, but am unsure because of the rape/abuse. Is Damen the one who is abused? I guess I could handle it if it was just the two main characters involved in the non-con (maybe shades of Luke & Laura), but if it is Damen/multiple others, I will have to pass no matter how good the writing.
@Lasha: Damen is the one who is abused and raped, but as to by whom, it would require a spoiler to fully explain. If you email me (and this also goes for anyone else who wants to know), I’ll tell you the answer. I’m at janineballard at gmail dot com.
@Lasha: If you’re also asking whether any other characters besides the MCs are abused or raped, then yes, they are. Some of it is off-page and most of it is not graphic.
@Sunita: True. Not by Laurent, though.
@Janine: I thought Lasha was asking if in addition to whatever went on between the MCs, was there rape and/or abuse of other characters more generally. Sorry if I misunderstood you, Lasha.
I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about The Captive Prince, but slavery is really not my thing so I haven’t picked it up yet. I think you’ve convinced me to go for it, though. The only only slavery themed story I’ve really liked is another free m/m one, The Violet and the Tom by Eve Ocotillo, which also treated slavery seriously and took things in an unexpected direction.
@Geri: I have a very tough time reading slavery themed books and I’m honestly not sure why I kept reading Captive Prince in the first half, because for a long time it appeared to be insensitive to the issue. After finishing Vol. 2, I felt very differently, but I can’t guarantee that you will.
I do know that one of my friends who is extremely sensitive to the slavery theme, disliked Vol. 1 but loved Vol. 2 and was glad of my recommendation. She said she would not have kept reading had it not been for my encouragement, but she thought Vol. 2 was great.
I loved these books so much!!! There were so many points where I just had to stop and put them down so I could freak out for a couple minutes. The plots twists are crazy.
BUT: I’d like to add a warning about another potential trigger. Along with rape and physical abuse, there is also implied pedophilia, with (vague spoiler!) one major character being a pedophile and another being his victim.
EDIT: just to clarify, neither of those characters are Laurent or Damen.
@Shy: So glad you loved them too!
Oh, I totally think Laurent was another of his victims.[/spoiler]
If Damen is raped by bad guy(s), then yeah, I’ll have to skip Volume 1. How much abuse/non-con is in Volume 2? Thanks for answering all my questions.
@Lasha: Okay, I’ll reply to both of your comments, but this also gets into MASSIVE SPOILERS for Vol. 1, even more so than the above comment.
First, all the sex in Vol. 2 read as consensual to me.
Second, (Vol. 1 spoilers below — please read it though, as I think it will help you decide):
[spoiler]Laurent is chaste and ascetic, and believed by many to be frigid. I think the reason for this (though it hasn’t been stated outright, there are many hints) is that after Laurent’s older brother Auguste was killed by Damen in battle (through treachery and deceit, Laurent believes) when Laurent was 13, the villain who is a pedophile got his hands on Laurent.
Laurent may not know that Damen is Damaianos, the warrior prince who killed Auguste, but he knows Damen was a soldier in the Akielon army, and that Damen was given to him by the brother of Damianos, after Damianos death. And that Damen is named after Damianos.
Also, Laurent has no choice about accepting Damen as his slave. Damen and twenty other Akielon slaves are given to Laurent (Damen) and his uncle the Regent (the other slaves), by Kastor (Damen’s treacherous half-brother, now king of Akielos) as part of a peace treaty between their two countries.
So Laurent has a big reason to feel insulted that Damen is specifically given to him as a bed slave, and to despise Damen. To add salt into Laurent’s wounds, Damen is insolent to Laurent in front of everyone. And Laurent also cannot kill Damen, since Damen is a diplomatic gift. Laurent transfers all the hatred he feels for Damianos, Kastor and Akielos onto Damen, and initially does everything he can to hurt and humiliate him.
To repay Damen for the pedophile’s rape of 13 year old Laurent, Laurent tries to set up Damen to be raped, but Damen defeats the would-be rapist before this can happen. Then, there is a scene in which Laurent has Damen assist him in the baths (perhaps trying to provoke Damen on purpose — I’m not sure), and Damen starts to touch Laurent’s back in a way that feels sexual. (Remember Laurent does not allow anyone to touch him sexually).
Damen admits as much when Laurent confronts him, and grabs Laurent’s arm to prevent a retaliatory slap, and then he ogles Laurent from head to toe, and Laurent more or less accuses Damen of wanting to rape him. That chills Damen and he drops Laurent’s arm, at which point Laurent has Damen flogged. When the flogging stops, Damen insults Laurent again, calling him honorless, and Laurent, who believes Auguste was killed by Damianos’ honorless treachery, has Damen flogged some more, within an inch of his life.
Later on there is a scene that requires some background. The Veretian aristocrats (excepting Laurent) keep “pets”, which, with the exception of the pet of one of the villains, are consenting adults that enter into contracts trading sexual favors for money (Damen at first mistakes them for slaves, so we readers think of them that way at first too, but they are not). There is a scene in which one of these pets offers to have public sex with Damen.
Laurent refuses until it’s suggested to him that Damen needs to learn his place. Oral sex then takes place, but with Laurent’s detailed instructions. So in a sense, it is Laurent doing this to Damen — by proxy, since he never allows anyone to touch him sexually. Damen, who is reluctantly attracted to Laurent, responds against his will.
This (at the halfway point of the book) is the last time Laurent does anything sexual or violent to Damen against his will. I would venture to guess that Laurent is repelled by non-con sex, but makes an exception for Damen to avenge himself and his brother.
Besides this, there is also a brief, non-graphic rape of one of the other Akielon slaves by one of the villains, and allusions to pedophilia by another villain, but any pedophilia take place offstage.
At the midway point, Laurent and Damen join forces to protect the Akielon slaves, and soon after that one of the villains becomes a threat to both of them, which makes them begin to work together despite their intense enmity. They are still enemies at the end of Vol. 1, and the romance in Vol. 2 develops very, very slowly. I was astonished that Pacat was able to make me believe it, but she completely sold me on it.
Janine: yeeeeaaahh… I figured I shouldn’t put that. (That moment where it’s first implied — that was one of my freak-out moments!)
Lasha: I’m going list everything I can think of, and do my best not to spoil anything.
In Volume 1:
Damen is whipped (in a non-sexual way).
Damen receives oral (unwillingly) from another slave (who is willing).
Another slave attempts to force penetrative sex on Damen, but fails.
Laurent offers to let Damen have sex with another slave (who is underage but claims to be willing), and Damen refuses.
Another character is raped off-screen.
There is implied rape between a pedophile and his current victim. (Implied in the sense that it’s stated they sleep in the same bed.)
In Volume 2:
Laurent is threatened (implicitly) with rape.
Another character is threatened with gang-rape. His captor prevents the rape from taking place.
To my memory, Damen is not, in any way, forced into any non-consensual sexual situation in Volume 2. (Other readers, correct me if I’m wrong.)
I wouldn’t recommend reading Volume 2 without reading Volume 1. The plot might not make sense if you do. What you could do is read the free version Pacat has up on her livejournal, then quit reading whenever you feel uncomfortable.
I put your comments in spoiler tags but I’d like to add some corrections to them.
Damen receives oral (unwillingly) from another slave (who is willing) — I don’t think Ancel is a slave, there’s specific talk about him having signed a contract giving sexual favors for money. Also, I read this as being something Laurent does to Damen — his way of touching Damen without touching him, since he doesn’t touch anyone sexually. I agree Ancel was willing.
Another slave attempts to force penetrative sex on Damen, but fails — this was not a slave. It was a thug / villain, but Laurent set this up as well.
Laurent offers to let Damen have sex with another slave (who is underage but claims to be willing), and Damen refuses — If it’s the scene I’m thinking of, Laurent never offered this. One of the other Veretian aristocrats did. Laurent actually keeps offering the underage character his protection from rape by anyone.
Another character is raped off-screen – this starts out on-screen, but is taken offscreen pretty quickly.
To my memory, Damen is not, in any way, forced into any non-consensual sexual situation in Volume 2. (Other readers, correct me if I’m wrong.) — I agree. It all read as consensual to me.
I really enjoyed The Violet and the Tom as well, but I’d say it’s much closer to being slavefic than The Captive Prince.
I’m pretty sure I read Violet and Tom in the wake of Captive Prince, when I was looking for anything that might replicate the experience a little.
I LOVED these two volumes. I only wish volume 3 were closer to sale, but I got the impression she wasn’t even going to start writing it until after the recent publication of these two volumes. When that’s published, I’ll look forward to reading these two books again, then proceeding straight to volume 3.
The story blew me away. I loved the ending of volume 2 – it is a cliffhanger, but you’re right – very satisfying. I would highly recommend them to anyone.
[Janine: Possible Volume 3 BIG SPOILER below]
[spoiler]I actually think Laurent recognized Damen immediately upon seeing him the first time. I’ll be curious to see if that’s the case in volume 3.[/spoiler]
Thanks for the review.
I will come back and read after I’ve read and written my own review. Thx Janine :)
Everyone, please use spoiler tags for Volume 3 speculation as well as for Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 spoilers. The spoiler tags look like this, but without the spaces within the brackets: [ spoiler ] and [ /spoiler ]. The brackets do need to be square.
Possible Volume 3 BIG SPOIlER below
Possible Vol. 3 SPOILER
.I think you’re very likely correct, but I want readers to have the experience of figuring it out in due course, as they read. The first time I read Captive Prince, I was pretty sure Laurent was in ignorance, and it heightened the vulnerability in his character and raised the romantic tension and angst. [/spoiler]
@Kaetrin: I’m really looking forward to your thoughts.
Thank you, Janine. My apologies.
@jessP: No worries!
Oh, these books! UNF! I’d heard about CP for a few years but didn’t put two and two together until about a month ago when the books were available.
I picked them up because I do enjoy the slave trope (even though it often crosses paths with non-con/rape and that’s a trigger.) Still, the back button exists for a reason so, armed with that reassuring thought, I started reading it. FWIW, I picked the books totally unspoiled (except for the blurb) and spent the next four days devouring the books way past midnight.
In truth, I thought I was ready for the pining and UST…and I’ve never been so happy to be wrong! I loved the prose, the set-up and the characters. The worldbuilding was something I was a bit wary of (there were hints that the story had a slightly fantasy setting and I’m not the biggest fan of fantasy to begin with?). However, I ate up the story and loved the intrigue as well as Laurent and Damen’s one step forward/ten steps back relationship.
FTR, I like Damen OK as a character and hero. Laurent, though, I love. Pacat did a wonderful job in peeling the layers to Laurent and making the reader understand the ins and outs of his personality. The two of them made me clutch my bosom (metaphorically speaking) whenever they snarked at each other.
Volume 1 is pretty hard in some aspects. I got so caught up with the story that I was able to keep going past any of the darker scenes. It also helped that the author didn’t put gratuitous or extremely graphic scenes for the sake of making the story ‘shocking’.
Volume 2 was SUCH a great payoff! I’ve got to admit that I did wondered if the second book was going to be as meaty and intense as the first. It was such a happy surprise to find out that it knocked the story out of the park. That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there is a point halfway through Volume 2 where the plot seems to slow down. I read on, waiting for the narrative to pick up. Of course, it turns out that the slow pace was there for a REASON: because everything after that particular chapter was like going downhill on a rollercoaster.
My sole consolation in having to wait for Vol 3 to get released next year is that my BFF as well as other friends are waiting along with me. :D
Also, I consider mentioning Damen’s actions during that fateful battle many years before a major spoiler. YMMV, of course.
Oh, one thing I didn’t see mentioned in the review is that the print books have maps. I bought the ebook versions because of the extras. Volume 1 includes a short (about 3k words) story about a character. Meanwhile, Volume 2 has an extended version of a really great chapter. AFAIK, neither extra is included in the free online version.
Wow – this sounds like some cross between two favourite fantasy books: Ellen Kushner’s SWORDPOINT and Carol Berg’s TRANSFORMATION. But with, you know, sex.
This website is terrible for my bank balance…
@Janine: Oh, I’ll have fun playing with the spoiler tag, [spoiler]so thanks for explaining that ^^. I’ve been admiring it for ages.[/spoiler]
I started Volume One last night around 7 thanks to all the buzz here, and finished it at 11:30 desperate to start the second book. I had to make myself go to sleep instead of finding out what happens next — but I’m looking forward to tonight!
This has been pretty great on its own, I was worried that parts would bother me (and some made me squirm a bit) but it was far less graphic than I was expecting and treated with the weight and seriousness it deserves.
I like Damen, and I especially like the way Pacat uses his unreliable POV to reveal things to readers. But you’re right, Laurent is the unforgettable character in Captive Prince. It’s amazing that even though we never get Laurent’s POV, the author very slowly peels him back layer by layer to a point where it becomes hard not to love him, in spite of his ruthlessness.
There is some terrific dialogue in Captive Prince, with a lot of undercurrents below the surface of the words. That is especially true in Vol. 2.
Oh, I figured that out pretty early on, at the 13% mark in Vol. 1, I think. There were a lot of clues, although it is not stated outright until 31% in. My spoiler policy is that anything in the first third of a book is fair game to mention. It is hard to do a plot summary or give readers a clear idea of what the book is about if I can only describe 10% of the story.
Thanks for mentioning that. I loved this book so much that I purchased both the ebooks and the paperbacks.
@CD: I hope you enjoy it. The first 45% of Captive Prince is tough to read, but the payoff in Vol. 2 is so great that it’s totally worth it. Enough people have mentioned Swordpoint to me in connection with this book (including Tangodiva earlier in this thread) that I’m going to have to read it.
@Sunny: I’m glad you enjoyed Vol. 1. I did too (especially the second half), but I think Vol. 2 is one that more people will love.
I would love it if you returned to post your opinion of Vol. 2 after you finish it.
I discovered CP last year. I never read online fiction before and I was skeptic, but when I started I couldn’t stop until I finished. I was baffled this story isn’t picked by any publisher before-it’s unputdownable!
Vol. 1 has more slave-fic parts for my taste, but vol. 2 is amazing. Sexual tension is off the chart and Laurent is one of the most interesting characters to read. He really has poison tongue ;)…. I also liked Nicaise, he was very intriguing character…Twists, betrayals, and other court schemes are unpredictable, I was surprised several times. I bought both volumes as a support for author and I hope we’ll get some news about Vol.3.
@ Janine I’m planning on getting started with Captive vol 1 this evening and very much looking forward to it – if only to start opening up all these spoiler tags…
Do try SWORDPOINT – there’s a review by Mrs Giggles (http://www.mrsgiggles.com/books/kushner_swordspoint.html) which more or less says everything I wanted to say. This is a cult classic written 25 years ago but still feels so fresh and original – for one thing, I haven’t read another book that has quite that contrast between such elegant prose and the brutal actions of its characters.
I can’t believe the next is going to be published 2014! I have been following the free online publication for years and it was always a pleasant surprise to be noted of a new chapter. I guess a year is not so different from a few months. I really love these books. The author is so good at making you think you know what is going on, when you really, really don’t. I love both Damen and Laurent. They are both so flawed and have so much to learn about being a prince, and I think that is the most wonderful thing about their relationship, watching them learn from each other, watching them grow to understand and respect each other. I keep meaning to buy these but I know I’ll end up reading them and I just cannot face that cliffhanger for the …third time? I’m fairly sure I read the last few chapters of the last book multiple times….
@Lege Artis: I’m also baffled that it hasn’t been jumped on by New York publishers. It’s not perfect, and I think a good editor could have made it sublime, but it’s outstanding even without editing.
@CD: I hope you like it! Please come back and post your thoughts; I’d love to hear them.
That review you linked to makes Swordpoint sound intriguing. I actually have the book in my paperback TBR pile, and I will give it another try (I started it once and didn’t get far because the prose style seemed affected. I kept it anyway because so many people had recommended it to me).
@C: Glad you loved it too!
I don’t get this. What do you mean by the prose seeming affected. You often point to prose being the kicker for you but I never really understand what you mean by it.
@Jane: I mean that in Swordpoint the writing style had an artifice to it and felt overwrought. There’s a fine line between a prose style that is lovely, beautiful, but still feels natural, and a prose style that pushes the boundaries of that and ends up feeling showy and artificial. But these are always matters of personal taste and not something there will ever be a consensus on. One reader’s plain is another’s spare and striking, one reader’s showy is another’s beautiful writing.
And there are writers whose styles seemed affected or overwrought to me, but I learned to get used to them because other aspects of their books made it worthwhile.
@Janine – Okay. It is a very personal thing. I think when people use the word prose, it has some sort of objective standard to it. However, your qualifications (awkward, artificial) are based on your own perceptions. (for instance, I tried to read an excerpt of Captive Prince and it read dull to me).
I am afraid this series will scupper all my looming deadlines, but you invoke Dunnett so I don’t think I can resist…
@Jane: I don’t think of prose as having a purely objective standard. Grammar and spelling, which are aspects of prose, have an objective standard, but style, which is what I was talking about, is more subjective.
I can see that about the Captive Prince sample/ excerpt too, because it starts out rougher writing-wise, and because at that point in the story Damen and the reader are so much in ignorance about what is really going on. I wasn’t sure about CP in the early chapters myself.
@Donna Thorland: I hope you enjoy it. The Dunnett similarities don’t start to become apparent until Chapter 8 or so of Vol. 1, and only come into full fruition in Vol. 2. There are machinations going on in the earlier chapters of Vol. 1 but it takes Damen a long time to catch on.
@Janine: Yup. I just didn’t find anything very surprising because the story wasn’t very complex. Not to me anyway. Though I didn’t see the ending of vol. 2 though – then again it was probably high time that happened anyway. That’s just me though, I know for many readers this was an intriguing story and it was in parts but the politics was pretty sub-standard. I’m totally in the minority though ;)
@cs: Thanks for weighing in. It is good for readers to hear a variety of opinions.
@Jane: Sorry to comment jump but I can I comment on your word “dull” in response to Captive Prince. Personally I think the author writes beautifully. However, I found her storytelling (it sounds harsh) dull and in some respects her characters. I’m not sure if that makes sense but yeah to use your word I found it to be dull too.
@cs: You’re in the minority but you’re not alone. ;) It’s good to see politics at all in a romance-driven story (and to me the central focus on the relationship clearly makes this a romance). But I agree with you, the depiction is not particularly unusual or deep especially if you compare it to what we see in historical fiction.
Of the part I read (Vol. 1 and a few chapters of Vol. 2), the twists and turns seem designed as much to provide a path for the relationship to develop as to stand on their own. Which is fine, but I felt as if the Veretian court was a real lost opportunity. Lots of decadence but not enough court intrigue; it seems all focused on two characters within Vere. Courts with regents are ripe for complex infighting. But perhaps it shows up in Vol. 2.
@Sunita: I felt there was more in the way of intrigue and plot twists in Vol. 2 than in Vol 1, but Vol. 2 is set outside the court, so it’s not court intrigue.
@Sunita: You explained my feelings perfectly. I very rarely read historical fiction or fantasy. However, when I do I’m use to the world building and the characters being extensive. The genre lends you to use so much unlike contemporary which is restrictive. I personally found it too simple and not very deep. The politics was weak and the characters were very expected in their roles in this genre. Nothing was surprising and you are right the setting was secondary to the romance. It was very character-driven which was great, but I felt the author didn’t utilize her idea to (imo) full capacity.
I’m also going to stop raining on everyone’s parade now. I genuinely haven’t ‘met’ anyone who hasn’t loved this book to pieces. The author is a great writer though and I think she’s gained so much respect from readers in the mm genre (and historical/fantasy).
I’ll join the discussion with my own impressions, if you don’t mind.
I agree it’s a basic story with few elements in play. It has a few mysteries going on about who did what waiting to be resolved in book 3, but certainly the best developed part is the romance. I definitely believe the storyline could have had more threads and it would have benefitted from a more complex worldbuilding.
However, I feel that one of the main issues that affects contemporary fantasy is many authors go for these huge stories with dozens of characters, multiple overarching plots and subplots, big themes, immense worldbuilding, etc. That’s not bad in itself and it can definitely be pulled off well (so amazingly well, in fact), but I’ve been disappointed in too many occasions when the author tries to do too much and it seems like all these a priori great elements pile one upon each other with no real control or purpose.
So in a way, I found it refreshing that that this was the story of two people, simply told, no frills, but also no stray elements that could get out of the author’s control and lead the story to a dead end the author can’t pull out off. The writing style is one I enjoyed very much, apart from a few distracting instances, and while the characters might not be a paragon of originality, I liked the way emotions ran mostly in the background instead of being openly stated (over-emotional POVs and writing are something that bothers me in general, and this could have easily gone the uber-drama route from page one). I also found the story touched many of my emotional buttons just the right way, particularly in the second book, so that its simplicity didn’t dampen my enjoyment of it.
However, I think that if I hadn’t connected emotionally and the writing hadn’t been a style I like so much, the other aspects might not have convinced me to keep reading. I have been known to stick to books that leave me emotionally cold just because the worldbuilding or a particular character are amazingly done, but I’d rather have the opposite (it goes without saying that a combination of both things is my favourite). I think a lot of it is a matter of which aspects we care more about as readers, and what makes us tick, and there are not two readers who are the same!
@Neri: Thanks for weighing in. The story got to me emotionally too.
I find it so interesting that three of you see the story as simple. I agree that the romance is front and center here. And I can see what you mean, Neri, with regard to the number of characters and subplots, and what Sunita means with regard to court intrigue, and what CS means with regard to the setting. And as I said in the review, I wish the worldbuilding had been more thorough.
But I still see this novel as quite complex and rich, partly because Pacat is exploring so many issues here. Among them are power vs. vulnerability, displacement in a foreign culture vs. acclimation to that society, loyalty to country vs. loyalty to other people, betrayal/distrust vs. loyalty/trust, war vs. peace, the differences between people’s exteriors and their interiors, and perhaps most of all, moral ambiguity.
The other thing I think is quite complex is what Erin Satie alluded to in her post above — and I’ll hide it as I think it’s a spoiler:
[spoiler]The way Damen’s blindness is used to hide truths about Laurent and Vere from the reader. It is only as Damen very gradually lets go of his prejudices that he starts to glimpse who Laurent is, and that Vere isn’t what he thought it was, either.
Damen believes he is a hero and Laurent is a villain so we start out thinking so as well. Damen believes Akielos is superior to Vere and has the right to conquer it, but by the end of Vol. 2, he starts to view his father’s expansionism differently.
Also, the way Pacat explores the balance of power between Laurent and Damen is fascinating to me. We start out thinking Laurent has enormous power, and later come to realize that that is not so. As Merrian said on Twitter, Laurent is aware of the limits of his power, while Damen has to learn that his power has limits. [/spoiler]
I also, personally, found the external plot (outside the romance) twisty, esp. in Vol. 2. Many things happened that I did not anticipate. CS feels differently about this, though.
Thanks for replying, Janine!
I’d like to clarify that I think the story is simple, though not simplistic. Most of the tropes and character types it includes are not exactly new, but Pacat doesn’t deal with them cheaply or carelessly, so they didn’t bother me. In fact, I enjoyed all those themes you mention quite a bit, and the understated way they’re presented and developed is one of the main reasons why Captive Prince pushes a lot of my buttons and I kept reading. Unstable power balance, unreliable POV and character perception, all the unsaid things that matter more than what is said, scenes that mirror each other but not quite, etc. are all dealt with in a way that appeals to me. I agree on moral ambiguity too. One of my favourite things is how blame cannot easily be allocated and moral superiority shifts more than once throughout the story.
Now, I see Captive Prince as “simple” in comparison to many historical/fantasy-themed stories in that worldbuilding and setting development are kept to a minimum (perhaps too much, as discussed) and there are few elements, such as storylines and characters, that actually matter and have meat to them. Mainly, we’ve got: Damen and Laurent’s adventure to defeat those who intend to deprive them of their rights, their developing enmity/relationship (where almost all the interesting themes we’ve been mentioning are concentrated), and the mysteries that, once solved, will explain what’s exactly going on in both the villains and Laurent’s heads. Add to that one or two extra subplots featuring other soldiers in Laurent’s company (to strengthen the main themes and draw parallels). That’s a very basic plot structure when compared with all those huge sprawling stories we’ve grown used to, where there’s usually a substantially bigger main cast and more themes, subplots and secrets interacting with each other. Readers who prefer that type of complexity, which I can understand, will probably find Captive Prince a bit lacking.
But the few elements it does have are treated carefully and done justice (maybe because all of Pacat’s energy is focused on those few?), and because of that I actually like Captive Prince better than some stories who are objectively a lot more complex as far as cast, setting and plot go. As for planning and writing technique, I trust Pacat. She seems to know well where she wants to take things, what the pacing should be, etc. In the second volume I had the sudden feeling she knows what she’s doing with her story, which is not something every author out there can say. That’s something I respect a lot.
Yes. I loved all these things too, and I especially like your point about how the things that go unsaid provide a subtext for so much. The shifts in moral superiority are one of the things I loved most of all, too.
I agree with you about the small number of plot threads and the relative lack of setting development. It may be a question of whether one approaches Captive Prince as a fantasy novel with romantic elements, or as a romance novel in a fantasy setting. I very much saw it as a romance novel, so for me, the absence of a lot of plot threads and subplots was a strength. If I had been expecting a fantasy novel, I might not have loved it so much.
I also see it basically as a romance story, more than pure fantasy or anything else, but I’m aware not everyone comes to it with that perception and that other readers might care more about other aspects, and thus be unsatisfied.
My own expectations when reading Captive Prince have shifted over time, which derives from the fact that I started reading it a few years ago when it only existed as an online serial. This was when it was universally presented as a prime example of “slavefic” (which it is, but at the same time isn’t!). For the longest time, I hesitated to read it despite the reviews because I thought it would fall victim to the worst dangers of that genre, one of which is, in my opinion, that some authors (not all) treat relationships that are disturbing/abusive as if they were romantic. The story summaries that were available at the time strengthened my impression that CP might go down that feared line, and I believe they did it a great disservice because, although they did summarize the beginning, they were in a way misleading about what the story actually is about. Later, I gave in to the recommendations and I began reading with low expectations and lots of suspicion and, sure enough, the beginning made me worried with all the torture and non-con aspects. Only after it took off in a completely different –and utterly satisfying for me– direction did I change my expectations to “romance novel featuring some slavery themes.” A re-reading of the beginning, now fully aware it was not the specific type of “slavefic” I find disturbing, improved my appreciation of it and made me raise my general expectations. As far as I’ve learned, many of the earlier readers underwent a similar type of opinion shift of what CP’s genre is as they read on.
I assume expectations for readers who have come to the book in published form might be different, especially for those who haven’t been involved in lengthy discussions about it. It’s not presented as “slavefic” anymore, or even as a regular m/m romance (e.g. the covers don’t feature one of those ubiquitous bare torsos that inundate the genre). For that matter, the blurbs don’t really indicate UST-y romance is the main feature, unlike many romance books do, but focus on talking of a decadent court full of intrigue. It makes sense that casual readers would come expecting extensive worldbuilding of a fantasy setting and “lots of court intrigue with maybe some romance” instead of “romance with some intrigue.” In any case, I find Captive Prince surprisingly difficult to catalogue, for some reason.
I think the first half of Vol. 1 is misleading whether you read a summary or read the actual text.
That happened to me too.
Yes and no. Your points about the covers and blurbs are good ones, but the initial impression the book makes also determines what readers think. And when one starts reading Captive Prince, it is hard not to make the assumption that what one is reading is some kind of disturbing, even creepy, erotica. It is not until the story turns and after reading Vol 2. that we realize it’s intended to be something very different.
If you read this spoiler-filled discussion on Vacuous Minx, you will see that new readers of the ebooks also make the assumption that it is disturbing slavefic, and not without reason. It is hard to convince some of them that continuing to read is worthwhile.
I think one of the reasons for this is that Captive Prince is published in volumes. I see Vol. 1 as the first act of a long novel, and Vol. 2 as the second act. But if one approaches Vol. 1 as a novel, it is a problematic one in some ways. (Again I refer you to the Vacuous Minx discussion I linked to above). Vol. 1 by itself does not read like a romance, or like the thoughtful novel Captive Prince becomes if you read both volumes. For this reason I really wish Pacat had published everything in one volume.
I read part of that conversation at VacuousMinx a couple days ago, though I didn’t participate. Many interesting new opinions have been posted since I last read it. Thanks for reminding me of it!
I agree with your points, although I was thinking more of readers’ expectations before they even start reading, taken from the promotional materials and/or more or less arbitrary assumptions, which might also shape the way they react to the way it begins.
While it’s likely many readers will be disturbed by the first few chapters no matter what, earlier expectations might factor in their decision to give it a chance. If I had arrived expecting a good-quality, fascinating romance, I might have decided to stop right when certain events happen that seem to cancel out the possibility of a good non-disturbing romance ever developing between Damen and Laurent. I kept going because my expectations were low to begin with due to factors that are in good part external and unrelated to the novel itself (i.e. a few bad experiences with the genre it was advertised as). I must admit that for a while I kept reading just to have and informed confirmation of my low expectations. Then it turned out my negative assumptions were wrong, which prompted me to re-read with a more positive mindset. If I had arrived with high expectations to begin with, I might not have had the patience/trust in the author to persevere until the point they’re met.
This probably says more about me as a reader than anything else, as other readers might have more patience than I do, or know beforehand that Things Are Not as They Seem, or have trusted friends that insist they should give it a chance (coincidentally, a circumstance many fans mention as the one reason they didn’t give up).
Couldn’t agree more.
I believe the decision to have two volumes was in part due to the inexperience that comes with a first self-publishing, and in part due to practical matters, mainly the fear readers wouldn’t want to dish out the price for a bigger and more expensive Part1+2 Volume. That was, as a matter of fact, the reason the extras weren’t included in the printed version. I had a very brief exchange with Pacat on her blog, where we agreed the extra 19 ½ chapter in Volume 2 contains enough interesting characterization to make it more than an ebook-only filler. Erasmus’ backstory is also quite elucidating, no matter how disturbing, as was discussed in VacuousMinx’s thread. I believe the printed edition might have benefitted from having it included, so as to not leave any readers with an incomplete picture. It seems price concerns had a great part in these publishing decisions that, while understandable, are not the best from a narrative point of view.
EDIT: Managed to add italics to quotes. It kept eating the tags up for some reason.
I’ve written another even longer, even more spoiler-filled post about the book, this time about the slavery and slavefic issues specifically. I don’t think it’s doing this book’s potential audience any favors to keep arguing to the book isn’t slavefic and doesn’t have slavery as a major component. Some people are not going to want to read that and they deserve the information.
Saying the book falls within the larger category of slavefic is a description, not a pejorative dismissal. Sure, there’s bad slavefic out there, and sure, this book is about more than slavery. But it has slavery as a key component. The central romantic relationship begins that way. A supporting character rejects the idea of freedom because he thinks he is more suited to be a slave. The author has described the story that way, and her inclusion of the Erasmus short extra in the Vol. 1 ebook suggests that she’s not trying to pretend that it isn’t there.
@Sunita: That’s a fair and valid statement. IMO it’s probably accurate to say that it is a slavefic (though that’s not a genre I’m very familiar with), but also something more.
The slavery is definitely there, you’re right, and the way it’s presented right at the beginning is potentially very disturbing (especially Erasmus). That’s something that comes up in most discussions, so I believe potential readers will easily come accross it and a variety of opinions too.
However, I found in Volume 2 the slavery factor goes into the background and turns into something that is only slavery in name and very little in the spirit things are. Also I had the feeling the romance only becomes a factor after slavery has turned into that something else. Volume 1, where the explicit slave themes are mostly located, has absolutely nothing I call romantic in it. So I don’t think it’s fully accurate to say the romance starts with the slavery, even though the slavery is certainly part of its context.
In time that may be true. At the moment, however, there are very few mixed or negative reviews at either Amazon or Goodreads, and at Amazon the two negative reviews (out of a total of 83 for both volumes) are getting hammered in comments. So at the moment, the new reader is going to get an overwhelmingly positive picture. Yes, some of the reviews talk about the brutal aspects of the early chapters of Vol. 1, but some are frankly misleading, however unintentionally.
I agree that there is nothing romantic in Vol. 1. But there is growing UST in Vol. 1, and the vicarious blowjob scene (which I consider noncon) has been described as “hot” by any number of GR commentators. And given that the scene has also been described as really being between Laurent and Damen, I would say that if not their romance, their sexual attraction clearly starts when Damen is enslaved and resisting it.
For me, slavery in name is still slavery. Slavery in the background is still slavery. I understand that it’s different for you with respect to this story.
I agree 100%. I would ask that everyone mark or hide spoilers. I also want to add this:
[spoiler]To me it was evident that Damen was unwillingly attracted to Laurent almost from the moment they met. And the scene where he touches Laurent at the baths (which comes well before the vicarious blowjob) makes this crystal clear. When Damen is taken to the flogging post, he has this thought:
I wonder if length was another concern. I expect that all 3 volumes may well add up to 800 pages in length, and that is a daunting length for many readers, including myself. I might not have picked it up had the whole thing been published in one volume, and yet, I agree with you that it would have been best to include everything in one place. Dividing the book into sections is a problem in more than one regard.
I’ve been following this drama along with very little to say, but now I do!
From having been through this dilemma with a book that could have been broken into three parts (and some readers who still believe I should have), that DID add up to over 800 pages (with tiny type), that DOES intimidate people because of its length…
I chose to go with one big volume specifically BECAUSE I didn’t want to have the issues of “Well, you really have to read the second volume to get it.” And then after that’s done, “Well, you really have to read the third to get it.” This refrain is annoying even to me, who never had any intention of reading it anyway.
@Moriah Jovan: A wise decision. I think that refrain is annoying to all of us, even those of us who keep repeating it.
Physical attraction started earlier (at least on one side). It did not bother me it happened in a slavery context, as I thought it wasn’t meant to be appealing in the slightest. It would have creeped me out greatly, though, if there had been actual romantic feelings during that part of the story. I personally don’t put willingly paying lip service to the master/slave roles (especially in a case where power differences have blurred dramatically) in the same category as actual slavery (where the slave is ultimately in a state of absolute indefension, e.g. Erasmus, whose personality is one of the parts that make me uncomfortable). However, I can understand how others have different standards and limits of what is acceptable in such a sensitive theme, and how it might be a deal-breaker for some.
I don’t know if this point has been made but as an outsider looking in, and having read many, many articles on rape culture and Robin’s wonderful essays on the captivity narrative, it’s got me wondering: If this was a m/f, with the female being the rapee/slave, would the people who like/love this book like/love it as much?
Thank you. I was wondering the exact same thing.
@Moriah Jovan & @Dhympna: : I will reply but it requires a hiding of spoilers.
[spoiler] I’ve given that thought and I think it would be very hard to write a successful m/f story with a female character in either role. This is not solely because of the rape, but rather because both Laurent and Damen have crossed moral lines that most writers don’t allow women to cross due to a double standard.
I very much see Laurent and Damen as having wronged each other equally, and having wronged other people equally. That almost never happens in m/f romance.
If I try to picture a heroine in Damen’s role, she would have to be a better swordwoman than the hero, as Damen is better than Laurent, as well as a better tactician in battle. She would have to be 5 years older than the hero, as well as physically stronger and taller.
Moreover, she would have to have killed the hero’s beloved older brother and only protector when the hero was only 13, as Damen did to Laurent. And she’d have to have in this way rendered the hero vulnerable to the predatory villain, who sexually abused and raped him on a regular basis for two years.
I just cannot see a heroine like Damen flying in m/f romance.
Nor can I see a heroine like Laurent, whose long term strategies are brilliant enough to leave the hero dumbfounded several times, who keeps her plans to herself and trusts almost no one, who manipulates everyone, who brutally punishes anyone who dares to touch her non-consensually, who has no compunction about playing chess with other people as pawns in order to defeat the villain who sexually abused her and is trying to kill her, and who, on top of all that, has orchestrated the hero’s rape as a revenge for what happened to her, and exploited his slave status in the service of her larger goals.
It doesn’t work in either direction because Laurent and Damen are so close to equally matched in their moral failings as well as in their strengths. Laurent is ruthless but Damen has actually hurt him more. Damen felt no regret whatsoever about killing Laurent’s brother/protector, and IMO would have cheerfully killed Laurent as well, when they first met, even before Laurent abused him. [/spoiler]
After reading your spoilers, I, for one, would sell my soul to read a heroine in either role.
The way I’m looking at this discussion, the constellation of issues is a constellation of double-standards and touches on Da Rulez. Heroine can’t do this. Heroine can’t do that. Heroine has to be immediately identifiable. Heroine has to be likable.
Seems to me women get the shaft on all sorts of different levels (simultaneously) whether they’re included or not.
@Moriah Jovan:Agreed. I wish these double standards didn’t exist. If you write it, I will read it!
Hmmm. I did. :) Try this.
@Moriah Jovan: Cool! When will it be pubbed?
@Janine: July 4. I didn’t mean to make it about me.
I am making it about the fact that if either male in this series was a female, there would be torches and pitchforks, if anyone bothered to read it at all.
@Moriah Jovan: Probably. And it would be harder to pull off, that’s for sure, esp. with the unreliable POV.
ETA: I’ll look forward to July 4.
I agree with Janine that a female character would hardly fit in Damen’s role, although not so much because of the things she could or couldn’t do as opposed to a man, but because the story depends a lot on the specific traits of the main characters’ personalities and decision-making style, some of which would feel forced in a female character.
Now, assuming we got it all to work with a female Damen, there would probably be pitchforks, yes, though I don’t think I would raise mine if that was the only change.
I’m simplifying a lot, but generally much less agression is needed before we see the character as a victim when she’s a woman, basically because women tend to be presented as weaker characters in general and in a perpetual need to be defended (another problem worth its own separate discussion). But, to me, if said woman was like Damen (a.k.a strong, self-possessed, capable, Laurent’s equal in everything but current status, etc., all things a female character could certainly be), I don’t think I would be more disturbed by what happened. Or perhaps it would be a little harder to read, but only because, being a woman myself, I might feel identified with her more easily. In any case, as long as the rape/abuse were still not presented under a romantic light and her feminity wasn’t shown in an insulting, demeaning way (the same way Damen’s masculinity is not), I would probably keep the torches for another occasion. This is a touchy subject, so I can’t vouch for any other readers, though.
@CD: I was going to recommend Carol Berg’s Transformation to people who like this. I think it is actually a better book, but I did like Captive Prince quite a lot. On the other hand, I didn’t think Captive Prince was much like Swordspoint. (For what it’s worth, I only liked Swordspoint when I re-read it after reading The Privilege of the Sword.)
@etv13: Glad you liked Captive Prince. I haven’t read Transformation, but have you looked at Jorrie Spencer’s thread (linked to in the comment just above yours)? She is asking for recommendations of books similar to Captive Prince, so I thought it might interest you.
@Moriah Jovan, Janine: The comments at Jorrie Spencer’s site reminded me that perhaps the closest thing to a male/female relationship like the one in Captive Prince is Gen and Irene in Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen of Attolia.
[spoiler]You really think Damen has wronged Laurent? Laurent certainly thinks so, but I don’t think the POV is so uncertain that it isn’t clear that Damen killed Auguste in a fair fight in the course of a war. Whether the war is a just one is a different question, I guess.[/spoiler]
Agreed re Gen and Irene! I thought of them too, when Moriah made her comment, but didn’t want to post a spoiler for the Turner series.
Re. Damen and Laurent:
[spoiler]I think the war was not a just one (late in Vol. 2 Damen’s thoughts refer to his father’s “expansionist victories”), and Damen was quick to rush into it without considering consequences. It’s clear that he was motivated by bigotry against Veretians, as well as by an unquestioning acceptance of his father’s views.
Beyond that, I don’t know if “wronged” was the best word to use, but I’d certainly say that Damen has done more harm to Laurent than Laurent has done to Damen. It is fair to say that Damen’s actions were ignorant and thoughtless, whereas Laurent knew what he was doing. I agree with Neri that moral superiority has shifted more than once, though.[/spoiler]
@Janine: I don’t see how you can draw a moral equivalence between the effects of Damen’s actions on Laurent and Laurent’s actions toward Damen. I’ll put the rest under a spoiler tag.
[spoiler] Unless the author has introduced evidence to the contrary in this text, she is working within a framework in which offensive (expansionist) wars were not per se immoral. They certainly weren’t in the real, historical, classical and/or medieval worlds in which CP is apparently set. Damen was the crown prince of Akielos, and to have refrained from joining his father the king in the battle would have been at best disloyal and at worst treasonous. It is true that given the imperfect perspective the reader gets from Damen’s depiction of events, it’s hard to know exactly what was going on. But at this point, it appears that the war and the battle were waged according to the rules and norms of the time. That means they were not unjust.
More importantly, the effects on Laurent were a by-product of the death of Auguste, which Damen could not reasonably be expected to know about. He did not intentionally set out to place Laurent in a position of danger. In contrast, Laurent accepted Damen as a slave, intentionally had him flogged almost to death, put him in danger of rape, sexually humiliated him, and facilitated sexually coerced acts. And it is an open question whether he knows who Damen is, so if he doesn’t, he did this out of generalized hatred of Akielons, not as revenge on the specific person who killed his brother.
What happened to Laurent was a tragedy inadvertently set in motion by a battle in which Damen was presumably an honorable participant. What happened to Damen was the intentional infliction of severe harm and humiliation by Laurent.
@etv13: Putting it on my TBR now. Thanks!
This will include MASSIVE SPOILERS for Vol. 2
Also, this comment is long, so get comfortable!
Yes, but CP is a work written today, for today’s readers, so we also have to consider our own mores with regard to expansionism. Pacat certainly considers them. I’ll quote from a few scenes. These are from Chapter 11 in Vol. 2:
This one is an exchange with the doctor, Paschal. It comes after Damen assists with injured Veretians from a village that had done nothing to warrant an attack from Aikelos. The attack was triggered by a Vaskian raid orchestrated by the Regent. While Damen assists, a few people come to collect their dead. Then Damen opens his mouth and says something with his Akielon accent. A woman whose loved one was killed attacks Damen and then a man who is with her spits on the ground in front of Damen. Then comes this:
He looked at Paschal. He knew this about Veretians.
‘They hate us.’
‘What did you expect?’ said Paschal. ‘The raids are constant. And it was only six years ago that Akielons drove these men out of their homes, out of their fields. They have seen friends, family killed, children taken as slaves.’
‘They kill us too,’ said Damen. ‘Delpha was taken from Akielos in the days of King Euandros. It was right that she revert to Akielon rule.’
There’s also this, later, when Damen accompanies Laurent and his men to the Veretian village that was attacked:
Laurent’s men gave the respect of quiet hard work, clearing methodically, a little gentler when the body was that of a child. They didn’t seem to remember who and what Damen was. They gave him all the same tasks and worked alongside him. He felt awkward, conscious of the obtrusiveness, the disrespect of his presence. He saw Lazar draw a cloak over a woman’s body and make a small gesture of farewell, such as was used in the south. He felt all the way down to his bones how unprotected this place had been.
He told himself that this was an eye for an eye retaliation for a raid on Akielos. He even understood how and why it might have happened. An attack on an Aikelon village demanded retribution […]
And yet, it would have been the right thing to do, and that is what Pacat is slowly bringing to Damen’s consciousness.
Here is Damen interrogating a dying Akielon prisoner on Laurent’s behalf, also in Chapter 11:
[…]’A raid on Akielos provoked this attack?’
Another breath, in and out. ‘Did your Veretian master send you to ask that?’
‘Tell him– his coward’s attack on Akielos killed less than we did.’ Proudly.
Anger was not useful. It came over him in a wave, and so for a long time he didn’t speak, just stared at the dying man, flatly.
And later in the same scene:
‘Kastor,” said Naos. ‘the false king. Damianos– should have been our leader. He was the prince-killer. He understood what Veretians are. Liars. Deceivers. He would never have– climbed into their– beds as Kastor has done.’
‘You’re right,’ said Damen, after a long moment. “Well, Naos. Vere is rousing its troops. There is very little to stop the war you want.’
‘Let them come–Veretian cowards hide in their forts–afraid of an honest fight– let them step outside– and we will cut them down–as they deserve.’
Damen said nothing, he just thought of an unprotected village now turned to stillness and silence outside. He stayed by Naos until the rattle was quiet. Then he rose and went out of the hut, though the village, and back to the Veretian camp.
And here is a conversation between Laurent and Damen, in Chapter 18:
‘My father,’ he said, ‘hated Veretians. He called them cowards, deceivers. It’s what he taught me to believe. He would have been just like these border lords, Touars and Makedon. War hungry. I can only imagine what he would have thought of you.’
He looked over at Laurent. He knew his father’s nature his beliefs. He knew exactly the reaction that Laurent would have provoked, if he’d ever stood before Themodes at Ios. If Damen had argues for him, had tried to make him see Laurent as… he would not have understood. You fight them, you don’t trust them. He’d never stood against his father for anything. He’d never needed to, so closely had their values aligned.
And here’s more from later in the same scene:
His own father had ruled by the sword. He had forged Aikelos into one nation, and used the new might of that country to expand its borders, fiercely proud. He had launched his northern campaign to return Delpha to his kingdom after ninety years of Veretian rule. But it was not his kingdom any longer. His father, who would never stand inside Ravenel, was dead.
‘I never questioned the way my father saw the world. It was enough for me to be the kind of son he was proud of. I could never bring shame to his memory, but for the first time I realize I don’t want to be…’
His kind of King.
It would have felt like dishonour to say it. And yet he had seen the village of Breteau, innocent of aggression, cut down by Akielon swords.
Father, I can beat him, he’d said, and he’d ridden out and returned to a hero’s welcome, to have his armour stripped by servants, to have his father greet him with pride. He remembered that night, all those nights, the galvanising power of his father’s expansionist victories, the approbation, as success flowed from success. He had not thought about the way it had played out on the other side of the field. When this game began, I was younger.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Damen.
Laurent gave him a strange look. ‘Why would you apologise to me?’
He couldn’t answer. Not with the truth. He said, ‘I didn’t understand what being King meant to you.’
‘An end to fighting.’
Actually I think there are hints that there was treachery on both sides, and each side thought the other orchestrated it. I’m betting that when we get to the bottom of things in Vol. 3, we’ll discover that the Regent and his allies in Akielos were behind it. Damen certainly isn’t to blame for that, but it explains why Laurent initially blames him.
I don’t dispute any of that. I think Pacat is contrasting intentional harm (as well as intentional good) vs. thoughtless or convenient harm and an automatic sense of honor. It’s clear to me that at first, Damen feels a hatred of all Veretians, but I’m much less clear on whether Laurent does. It also seems (at the end of Vol. 2) like Laurent’s ultimate goal is peace, while Damen never held such a goal. But their story isn’t finished, so we can’t know this for sure.
It is evident though that Pacat wants to take Damen from his initial view of Veretians as untrustworthy and treacherous to a more complex view of them, and therefore to also take his view of himself as a hero to a place where he questions his unthinking acceptance of his father’s views, and sees his own heroic victories in a much different light.
In this, the book was very effective for me (the scenes I just quoted are some of my favorites), but I understand that it won’t be so for everyone.
Yes, but was the battle itself honorable? Damen’s last thoughts on the topic in Vol. 2 are these (they come in Chapter 21, shortly after Damen has figured out the Regent has had him deliberately given to Laurent).
The Regent had done this, and yet he had done this too, he was also responsible. Jord was right. He had owed Laurent the truth, and he hadn’t give it to him. And now he knew what the consequences of that choice might be. Yet he couldn’t bring himself to regret what they had done: last night had been bright in a way that resisted tarnishing.
It had been right. His heart beat with the feeling that the other truth must somehow change to make it right, and he knew that it wouldn’t.
He imagined himself nineteen again, knowing then what he knew now, and he wondered if he would have let that long-ago battle fall to the Veretians– let Auguste live. If he would have ignored his father’s call to arms altogether, and instead found his way to the Veretian tents and sought out Auguste to find some common ground.
I think Pacat is deliberately contrasting intentional harm with harm that results from thoughtlessness and bigotry. You’re absolutely right that it would have been very, very difficult and possibly dangerous, for Damen to stand up to his father. But the possibility of doing so didn’t even occur to Damen. I’m betting that if positions were reversed, it would have at least occurred to Laurent.
@Moriah Jovan: Start with book 2, The Queen of Attolia, and then go to book 3, The King of Attolia. That’s where the romance begins.
@Janine: Nothing you have written provides convincing evidence to me that I should change my position.
I agree to disagree.
@Sunita: Fair enough.
Of course not :)
That’s my jist of it. The author is a wonderful writer but didn’t use the genre to her full potential. In my eyes she used a sparse amount that was beyond basic. The story was more character-driven but for me if this was a contemporary book I’d probably have loved it.
Is this considered a contemporary fantasy? Is that a genre? See this is where I have to disagree fantasy is complex and not simple. That’s why it is such a beautiful genre in my eyes. Complex doesn’t mean going around in circles and not making sense, but it also doesn’t mean using the usual tropes and not expanding which I believe happened here. I personally can’t understand wanting a simple fantasy story, but I understand it obviously worked for a lot of people.
I think you were much more emotionally connected with the characters, and that is what I lacked whilst reading this book too. I just didn’t find them interesting nor original – they suffered the same way the story did to – it was basic. Too basic. They were simple in their emotions and their intent and it was just too typical for me. I needed more originality which I personally didn’t find.
You are indeed right, but alas for me it just comes down to this – too simple. The story and the characters, the ideas and the message. It wasn’t a romance not in vol. 1 so I went into this hoping for a fantasy book and didn’t get that. Even with vol. 2 when the characters start easing “into” each other it still isn’t a romance, and tbh I didn’t really buy into their emotions for each other in vol. 2. As I said, I did prefer Vol. 2 over Vol.1 but it lacked everything for me (except the actual writing). I’m not sure if that even makes sense to anyone, but alas it isn’t as good as I thought it’d be and unfortunately I got into the hype and was left a little disappointed. I know a few people have come out and said ‘no’ to this book, but I definitely don’t think I’m missing something here – it just wasn’t as good as I thought it’d be and it did have potential.
Just finished CAPTIVE PRINCE and, like most people who commented here, I loved it.
I probably wasn’t as impressed by the plot itself or the worldbuilding as Janine – I found the plot fairly predictable and the worldbuilding rather generic, but then I am a fantasy geek so am used to a bit more sophistication in those areas. And there’s nothing wrong with predictable if it’s done well – I read romance afterall… However, like another poster here, what you get in compensation is the increased laser-focus on the relationship between the two protagonists and that’s what made me burn through the pages like rubber.
[spoiler] I think that Laurent would have had to be galactically stupid not to realise who Damen actually is – my thought is that he had suspicions early in book 1 which would then been confirmed in book 2 [/spoiler]
If you are looking for something to feed your fix until 2014, I would highly recommend Turner’s THE QUEEN’S THIEF series as well as Kushner’s SWORDPOINT where the central relationships have a number of similarities. If you are willing to go (a lot) darker and forgo a romantic HEA, then I would recommend Monette’s DOCTRINE OF THE LABYRINTH and Pinto’s STONE DANCE OF THE CHAMELEON. Berg’s TRANSFORMATION also has a central focus on the developing relationship also between a prince and a slave, although the relationship is non-romantic.
@cs: I’m sorry my recommendation didn’t work out for you. I totally bought into the protagonists’ feelings and for me, in Vol. 2 it turned into one of the most romantic books I’ve read, but tastes differ and I can tell you were very disappointed. I am sorry for that. I hope you find a book you like better to cleanse your palate!
@CD: So glad you loved the book. I wasn’t actually impressed by the worldbuilding, As I said in the review that I would have loved to see the world fleshed out more — and I expounded on that in the discussion on Sunita’s blog.
The plotting blew me away though — the red herrings and misdirections tricked me, and I was completely surprised at several points in Vol. 2 (In the second half of Vol. 1, what was going on was much clearer to me). The twist at the end of Vol. 2 was, for me, one of those freak out moment someone mentioned above.
I would love to hear more of your thoughts about the Laurent/Damen relationship. Did you find Vol. 2 romantic?
Agreed he would have to be a lot stupider than he is. But personally my theory is that he knew from the very beginning. There are subtle signs. For example his eyes widen and his face then goes pale when he first sees Damen, and then he shutters his expression (revealing his reactions like that is out of character for Laurent). And the night Damen is given to him, Laurent shows up drunk in the middle of the night. We know from Vol. 2 that Laurent, for whom self-control is paramount, only drinks water.
There’s mention early in Vol. 1 that sound travels though the corridors of the Veretian palace, so it’s possible Laurent overheard something. It’s also possible that he saw Damen kill Auguste at the battle of Marlas. He says he wasn’t allowed near the front lines, but we know misleading statements are part of his M.O. and just because he wasn’t allowed near the front lines, doesn’t mean he wasn’t there.
I think the planned rape by Govart was intended as payback for his own rape which resulted from Damen’s actions. The whipping was partly payback for Auguste, IMO.
Thanks so much for the recommendations. Agree completely with the Queen’s Thief series, but I have not read the others. I don’t know if I’d risk forgoing a happy ending. Jorrie Spencer is collecting recommendations of books similar to Captive Thief here, so you might check that out for more suggestions, or to offer your own, if you’d like.
“I just didn’t find them interesting nor original – they suffered the same way the story did to – it was basic. Too basic. They were simple in their emotions and their intent and it was just too typical for me. I needed more originality which I personally didn’t find.”
I agree that the characters weren’t particularly original – damaged machiavellian chessmaster paired with straight-talking soldier is a well worn trope. As is the unknown enemies becoming lovers/friends and the prince forced down to the level of a slave and then working his way back up. However, there’s a reason why these plot tropes and character archetypes are still around – because they work.
I would never say that CAPTIVE PRINCE is the best book I’ve ever read – but it’s an effective one and it’s definitely rare to find such a focus on the central relationship, which the romance reader in me definitely appreciated.
I think the similarity with Kushner’s SWORDPOINT is probably more with the central relationships. There are lots of differences as well: Richard and Alec are a lot more dysfunctional and anti-heroic than Damen and Laurent – but they have a similar dynamic. I actually thought THE PRIVILEGE OF THE SWORD was rather bland – I only read the Richard/Alec bits to be honest: “I brought us some fish” [sigh] ;-)… I can see that it is more accessible though as the main characters are more conventionally sympathetic and it is a good coming of age story.
Berg’s TRANSFORMATION is definitely a more original book than CAPTIVE PRINCE. Also, the slavery part of it is a lot more painful although not as graphic – Seyonne has been a slave for 16 years so has already been beaten down by abuse and rape from the start so a large part of the book, and his relationship with Aleksander, is about him rediscovering his worth as a man and not a slave. There are definitely flaws – I found the second half not to be as strong as the first – but the ending definitely redeemed itself. And the fact that it was a self-contained fantasy – very rare, that.
Regarding your spoiler – I would probably agree with you upon reflection. Certainly, I don’t believe there would have been any doubt by volume 2.
And yes, I did find volume 2 to be romantic and in the best way. If I had to find fault, then the progression from enmity to wary friendship was a little rushed at the beginning, but I absolutely loved the love scene. And in terms of the plotting, the last twist in volume 2 actually did surprise me. I found the rest of the plotting a bit blah and same old same old but I just focused on the relationship. However, I’ve read so many fantasies small band of protagonists fighting an enemy against the odds etc etc that not much surprises me anymore.
But I’m not saying anything about the trope in itself, I am talking about actually being original with that trope. Taking the basic and pushing it’s limits. I know this is subjective and I’m not implying my way is the right way. For me I didn’t feel the story even attempted even a little in doing something with that trope. I need one or the other (if I can’t get both). I either need that connection with the characters or the story. I got neither unfortunately.
I’m confused that people see this as a romance personally. I think this the road block I have with fans of this book. Everyone talks about the romance and whilst it was obvious these two would end up together someway or another, I definitely don’t look at this as a romance. Not in vol. 1 and not until later in vol. 2 when Damen and Laurent progress. Personally I think a lot is forgiven because we’re told they hate each other (their cultures hate each other and for good reason). So maybe that’s why (and I’m not implying yourself here) don’t hold either man’s distaste (or Laurent’s hate) for each other. Personally I just don’t buy it – and it probably seems like I dislike this book, nope I enjoy it for what it is really a simple and no fuss read. I personally wanted the story more than the romance – and a better build up to the romance which made me believe in it. I didn’t get that so I was disconnected with every element in the books.
Oh no, really? I can’t say that is rarity for me. I definitely come across badly drawn characters but I have more experiences with a lack of story than I do a lack of relationship.
@Janine: Oh no, I bought this book awhile ago (before your review) – and I was interested in reading your opinion. I’m glad you loved it and I definitely didn’t hate this book at all. In some ways I was disappointed in it but I just didn’t go into reading it as a romance, which seems to be the actual crux of the matter. I’m looking forward to vol. 3 because I liked the way vol. 2 ended. I just didn’t have the big “feels” for it. Tastes do differ and I’m sorry if my comments brought the party down. I know it isn’t cool to have some come wading in saying well it wasn’t really that great ;)
@cs: No, no, don’t apologize! It is always a good thing for readers to have more than one perspective, and I’m glad you are sharing yours!
I’m not CD but I’ve been thinking about how I would answer this. I agree that the relationship is not romantic in Vol. 1, but I also feel that Pacat draws on set up from Vol. 1 to build the romance in Vol. 2. For me the turning point toward romantic feelings in Damen happens in Chapters 5-8 of Vol. 2 (20%-36% of the way into Vol. 2).
To boil it down, it has to do with shared danger, shared laughter, the sexy role reversal at the inn table in Ch. 6, Laurent’s clever tricks with the earring, the roof tile, and the hat, and Damen’s catching on to all this, Damen’s superior hearing, Damen’s desperate fear for Laurent’s life, Laurent’s realization that Damen didn’t desert him as he thought, Damen saving the day with the ambush, and then, finally, Laurent ordering Damen to go to sleep.
I would especially pinpoint as turning points:
The moment they go upstairs to the inn room where the messenger awaits. Due to the role reversal and all the earlier banter and foreplay in the guise of “verisimilitude,” I completely bought that when it turned out they weren’t going there to have sex, Damen was more disappointed than relieved.
The talk by the fire in the inn room. That whole convo, every line in it, turns and turns and turns their relationship, so that toward the end we get:
As he gazed at Laurent, the words moved through him in unexpected ways, and he felt them touch something jagged-edged within him, felt it shift a first, tiny fraction, something lodged hard and deep, that he had thought immovable.
The hiding on the balcony (hilarious) and the chase on the roof (exhiliarating) . The capper to that was this moment:
“Wait. It’s too exposed. You stand out, in this light. Your mousy hair’s like a beacon.”
Wordlessly Laurent pulled Volo’s woollen cap from his belt.
Damen felt it then, the first dizzy edge of new emotion, and he let go his hold of Laurent like a man fearing a precipice; and yet he was helpless.
Damen’s desperation to reach Laurent before the attempt on his life in Ch. 7, and his relief when he discovers Laurent is alive.
And in Ch. 8, this bit, which comes after Laurent tells him his uncle expected Damen to be another Govart and would not have let him out of a palace had he known what an asset he’d be to Laurent. Damen tries to evade by saying he should see to repairs, Laurent tells him to leave the repairs and get sleep (Damen hasn’t slept for over 48 hours at this point). But it’s not until Laurent says “It’s an order,” that Damen accedes.
He was fine, but he had no choice but to do as he was told; and when he tumbled onto his slave pallet and closed his eyes for the first time in two long days and nights, sleep was there, heavy and immediate, drawing him down past the strange new feeling in his chest into oblivion.[/spoiler]
I loved the books but that’s because those tropes work for me and I don’t necessarily need originality for me to be emotionally engaged with the characters. Maybe it’s because I went into the books expecting the central focus to be the relationship/romance, as opposed to highly intricate and original plotting/world building, and that’s what I got. Cue satisfaction. Yes, I didn’t find the characters to be Robin Hobb/George r r Martin levels of complexity, but the were interesting enough for me to keep me emotionally engaged. And I love the tropes they are based on, well-worn as they may be.
When I mentioned the “rare” focus, I meant as compared to normal fantasy. I read romance because of that laser focus – and that’s why to me, this is a romance. My impression is that the plotting and the setting has been set up to propel that central relationship – that the author started with that relationship and then built the plot and setting to facilitate it. That’s something that’s only really done in a romance, and what makes it different from other genres where that relationship, if it even exists, is secondary. And that’s why I love romance.
[spoiler]I work hard as a reader to let surprises be surprises and not second-guess while reading, so Laurent’s excessive machinations were surprises in the course of the story. It’s after the last page is read, while enjoying reveling in those surprises, that the surprises start falling apart.
So we’ve got a guy who’s thinking eighty-seven steps ahead on the chess board, but the longer the time span between setting a plan in action and the payoff, the bigger the chances that something (anything) will go wrong. I can’t recall a point where something went wrong. Much of Laurent’s machinations require that for him to move quickly, everyone else must be at effectively a stand-still. Outside events (skirmishes, shifts in alliance) don’t make others waver (ie previous allies change their minds), and on hindsight, that makes a lot of the story fall apart. It’s not just coincidence, it’s making everyone else stationary so Laurent can seem twice as fast in comparison. He’s not. He’s just got the benefit of the author maneuvering to make him look like that.
Corollary to that is the news that (in Laurent’s opinion) he has never, even once, won this kind of political chessmatch. Not once. What has he been doing all this time, knitting? All I saw on the page was someone of staggering genius, and then suddenly I’m told he’s never done this successfully before. Erm. It wasn’t just telling, it was an eleven o’clock telling, reminding me that I couldn’t recall ever being shown Laurent’s failure or near-failure. I never saw him truly caught off-guard and forced to gamble, or at least improvise. I get that the narrator’s unreliable, but there’s a difference between unreliable and downright stupidly-naive, to not even notice when someone’s going by the seat of their pants and pulling it off through sheer bravado. I needed more hints of that inexperienced gambling, and a lot less of “oh, I knew it all along.”
This overlaps with the issue about Damen’s true identity. Laurent’s M.O. is to know everything ahead of time, even if he didn’t let on to anyone else. If that characterization continues, I can easily see the story turning on a dime that Laurent knew Damen’s identity all along, and at that point I will throw the book across the room. Then I will stomp over, pick it up, and throw it again.
The entire premise, all the stakes, revolve around Damen’s identity, and if it’s revealed to be a farce, then it doesn’t just make our POV protag look like a moron for not realizing it (or even considering it as possible), it also guts the entire emotional heart, and would rip away the payoff that the author spent two books promising: what happens if Laurent finds out who Damen really is? We sat on a knife-point between “kill him slowly and painfully”, and then — as they started to build some kind of a working relationship and trust — the alternate was “hate him forever for the betrayal”. But if Laurent already knew, that’s one seriously large rug to pull out from under us.
Now, it’s possible Laurent doesn’t know. I’m just saying that after twenty-something chapters of Laurent always, always, “oh, I knew that back at the beginning,” the cards are certainly set up for that kind of a play on the author’s part. And since I would find that the height of a cheap stunt, I won’t be purchasing nor reading the third part. Which sucks, since I otherwise like the story, but I see the warning signs and I’ve got better things to do than fall for a jade’s trick.[/spoiler]
@leela: [spoiler]It’s interesting how differently a book can hit people. For me, I’ll throw the book across the room if Laurent *doesn’t* know, because it will destroy his Vol 1 characterization for me and make him irredeemable. What I’m hoping for from Vol 3 is a narrative and emotional climax that makes use of Lauren’t knowledge in a way I wasn’t expecting, but which will make perfect sense in retrospect. No pressure, Pacat, that’s just the kind of plotting I’ve come to expect from you.
I think the difference in our reading is that Damen’s rigid thinking and obliviousness are a very interesting narrative tool, to me, and one I don’t see as unrealistic like some do, so I’m kind of invested in seeing them played out. (Which is different from being invested in Laurent’s omniscience.)
That said, I don’t think I can agree that Laurent is flawless or that everybody else is stationary, either. He’s fighting for his life and throne with minimal support from his own people, certainly not the position of advantage. We’ve seen his uncle confiscate his lands and provoke him repeatedly into mistakes. He’s had his victories, but they were smaller, and weren’t part of the endgame — which, as Laurent himself pointed out, is only now beginning, and for which he was not entirely prepared.[/spoiler]
@leela & @bx — I hope you guys don’t mind that I hid the spoilers in your posts. Please keep posting if you’re so inclined, I’ll just bury spoilers if I see them.
[spoiler]Re the machinations and Laurent’s vulnerability, it worked for me. I think the Regent is every bit as brilliant as Laurent (evident from the way he maneuvered Laurent to be stripped of his lands in Varenne and Marche and also, to have to accept border duty). And the Regent was an adult when their chess match started, whereas Laurent was still a teen.
It is said in Vol. 1 that more couriers were in the Regent’s faction than in Laurent’s. And in Vol. 2, I don’t think Laurent anticipates the ambush — he says Damen saved his life. He also confesses that he didn’t anticipate the Regent’s first assassination attempt during the boar hunt.
So I don’t think Laurent is omniscient, but I think he does make backup plans all the time, so that when one of his plans goes awry, he has another he can implement. The battle at Ravenel was an example of that. He brought back the Vaskian raiders but when the Regent (via Guion) turned that plan upside down, Laurent still had the Patran troops in reserve.
I, on the other hand, am okay with either option! I will be delighted if Laurent doesn’t know, because, the angst! And I will be delighted if he does know, because of how vulnerable he makes himself to Damen in the love scene. If he knows before then, it is so romantic.
I agree that there has been a lot of build up and anticipation of the moment Laurent finds out that will be deflated if it turns out he didn’t know, but I think Pacat has enough emotional material to make for an angsty and satisfying story even without that.
I would not think of Damen as stupid for not thinking of it. To me it would be a sign of how much guilt Damen feels at having killed Auguste, and also of Damen’s Akielon values, that it would never occur to him that Laurent, of all people, could forgive him for such a thing. Laurent is not a forgiving sort.
To me too. But I can understand why for those who see it as stupidity, the books don’t work.
@ Janine: I think The Queen of Attolia is plenty romantic, actually, while most of the stuff you refer to in Captive Prince strikes me as more Sabatini-esque action/adventure than romance. They’re the parts of Captive Prince that I really enjoyed, though — the humor, the sense that Laurent and Damen are, in fact, equally matched, the derring-do. It’s not just angsty, it’ also fun.
@CD: Transformation’s title is even more multi-valenced than Captive Prince’s. Both Seyonne and Aleksander are transformed, and in more than one sense. One of the great things about the book is that even when Seyonne is really beaten down by his experiences, he still has this very dry wit. I suppose we ought to warn those strange people who don’t like first-person narratives that Transformation is one; to me Seyonne’s voice is part of its greatness.
@Janine: I started off thinking that but I think it *could* have worked if Laurent were female. I don’t think it could have worked if Damen were the female. I only think this because Laurent is full of surprises and a female Laurent doing those things would have been quite surprising in context. I’m not sure whether in the Veretian society a woman can even inherit however. Because Laurent is so captive to his situation, he is forced to be very controlled and scheming and I think that kind of harks back to the idea of feminine manipulation. Personally I dislike the idea that it is inherently “female” to be so (in my experience it is not the case in any event) and I do not see Laurent as at all female. But, given that historically, in our society, women have often been in positions where they could not fight openly and *had* to be subversive, I *could* potentially see Laurent’s character as female.
But I can’t see it being easily accepted by a reading audience for a male to suffer the physical abuses Damen suffers at the hands of Laurent and still believe in the romance. And it is difficult for me to see a female Damen being accepted as a leader of men in battle, particularly in the Veretian society as I understand it (which may ultimately be the main reason that Laurent would not work as a female).
@leela: See, I’d feel exactly the opposite of you in that situation. Were it the reverse, I’d feel betrayed.
[spoiler] I think Laurent always knew. I can’t imagine he wouldn’t know the “face of his enemy”. I think after his brother was killed by Damen, he would have made it his business to know what Damen looked like if he didn’t know already. I think Laurent had to keep the knowledge secret because Damen was part of the Regent’s machinations and to reveal that would have been to tip his hand too soon. I think the knowledge would explain and make understandable (not necessarily palatable, but understandable) the flogging and the set up with Govart – these things happened very early on and we know that sometimes Laurent loses control and does not think. He started thinking more clearly after the Regent stripped him of his lands because he HAD to. Like Laurent says late in Vol 2, neither he nor the Regent could anticipate the effect on the “game” that Damen had. If it turns out that Laurent didn’t know, I would struggle. Yes it would be angsty but it would somehow diminish Laurent for me. I think the angst of Damen’s identity has been revealed already throughout the books. That’s my take! :)[/spoiler]
The other thing I wanted to mention is that, while Laurent is *extremely* clever, he is only 20. He’s a very young man. Damen compares him with Aimeric at one point and realises there is less than 6 months difference in their ages. Laurent has had to be controlled and grown up but he is still, nevertheless, very young. Sometimes, it shows. I think this is a very clever thing the author has done, myself.
Can I talk a bit about Erasmus?
[spoiler] I’ve seen other comments above and elsewhere regarding the short “the Training of Erasmus”. My takeaway from that story (which maybe shows that I am a bit weird, or possibly insensitive?), was that Erasmus’ friend, set him up so that he would be safe, so that he would get his wish to travel. So that he would not be killed with all the rest of Damen’s personal slaves. I saw a parallel in terms of planning with Laurent’s general style and I saw, in the short story, the “twist in the tail” I saw time and time again within CP. The slavery aspect didn’t really register. My white privilege is no doubt showing here. [/spoiler]
Also, can I just say that before today, I’d never heard of “slavefic”?
[spoiler]The other thing about Erasmus is that I noted that Torveld was actively encouraging him to speak his mind and speak out about things he does not like. It was only a glimpse, but it seemed to me that Torveld wanted more than merely a willing body to shag; that he wanted Erasmus to have (at least some) agency of his own. Perhaps that’s me being overly romantic. Perhaps we will see Erasmus in Vol 3 and get more information about what’s going on there.[/spoiler]
Okay, I’ll stop for a while now! :D
@etv13: Did I say The Queen of Attolia wasn’t romantic? I don’t recall saying that. I agree The Queen of Attolia is plenty romantic, but I think I am unusual in that I actually found The King of Attolia more romantic.
While I agree that Captive Prince has a lot of action adventure, I found it incredibly romantic. Partly because of Damen’s slow discovery of Laurent, partly because the enmity was so great, partly because the two characters were so vulnerable to one another, and partly because it explores a plethora of themes that I love. I listed them earlier in the thread but I will list again.
They are: power vs. vulnerability, displacement in a foreign culture vs. acclimation to that society, loyalty to country vs. loyalty to other people, betrayal/distrust vs. loyalty/trust, war vs. peace, the differences between people’s exteriors and their interiors, and moral ambiguity.
Most of these are conflicts that, if well handled, on their own can make a romance more romantic to me, but to find them all in one book makes me swoon.
@Kaetrin: Interesting re. Laurent and gender. The main reason I don’t agree is:
[spoiler] The fact that the attempted rape by Govart and the Ancel rape are both done by proxy. I cannot see a heroine directing a man to give the unwilling hero a blowjob, or drugging the hero and encouraging the villain’s henchman to try to rape him. Esp. since due to Damen’s blind/unreliable narration, it initially looks like the proxies are there purely to humiliate, and for no other purpose.
Nor can I see a heroine giving Damen the opportunity to have consensual sex with the Vaskians. or ordering a prostitute to unlace his jacket — all those by proxy advances would not fly, but they are integral to Laurent’s characterization.
And due to the faultiness of Damen’s POV, the initial picture we get of Laurent in Vol. 1 is that he is nothing but spoiled and sadistic — there is even a metaphor that refers to him pulling the wings off of flies. If readers got that kind of picture of the heroine for half the first book, I think many would throw it against the wall.
I will reply to your other comments later.
So many interesting comments! I fell hard for this book, and was a bit surprised that I did, because I balked at the premise, as presented at the beginning of volume 1.
Regarding gender, I don’t think you can just swap out a woman’s body for a man’s (either Damen or Laurent) and have the same story, no. But, I would have absolutely enjoyed a story which was built on this kind of dynamic and one was a woman. I guess I don’t believe this being m/m was essential for my reading of it. At least that’s my take.
I really have to reread TRANSFORMATION – it’s really a great book. And yes, it is both Aleksander and Seyonne who are transformed, at times literally… I thought the later books were not as strong but they do move the plot in interesting ways.
Another master-slave relationship that I remember reading years and years ago was Feist and Wurts’ EMPIRE trilogy beginning with DAUGHTER OF THE EMPIRE. It’s set in a pseudo-ancient Japan with the protagonist being a Ruling Lady who has to survive and thrive in the poisonous and ruthless Game of the Council, and basically gives as good as she takes doing quite a lot of what we would consider morally reprehensible things but which work as part of the setting. In the second book, she acquires and then falls in love with a captured slave who is a soldier from a more conventional “Western” fantasy world. If I remember correctly, I think she initially uses him to introduce her to good sex so that her enemies would not be able to use her body against her.
I remember getting irritated by the developing romance when I was teenager – seeing it as weakening her, which was even more of an issue given that it was both a man and a “Westerner” doing so. However, I could have been rather too sensitive to those things at that time. The trilogy isn’t exactly high art and there’s more than a hint of orientalism there, but it’s fun and probably at the same level as CAPTIVE PRINCE but with rather better worldbuilding and plotting.
Well, I felt that Laurent’s scheming was more of an informed ability – something that was told to us by the author/unreliable narrator rather than shown. The main reason is that the worldbuilding lacked detail and resonance and there wasn’t that much development of any other characters apart from the two protagonists. Therefore, you don’t get a sense of the political and military environment, or understand the difficulty that needed to be overcome. It’s a bit like reading a murder mystery where the master sleuth suddenly pulls out the whodunnit from thin air without the narration giving the necessary clues beforehand ie OK but not particularly impressive.
In terms of gender – I don’t see why you you couldn’t have a women in either/both of those roles. That’s the great thing about fantasy is that you can create a world in which that is plausible and, if you want to make the characters sympathetic (which you don’t necessarily have to do) then you can create circumstances to do that. It’s all about setting and storytelling.
One of my favourite fantasy series is Michelle Sagara West’s THE SUNDERED (starting from INTO THE DARKLANDS). At the centre is a dark romance between Stephanos, First of the Dark (basically a God), and Erin/Sara who is the champion of Light. If I remember, when they first meet, he kills her entire platoon and then proceeds to flay the skin off of her bones and feeds off of her pain – not exactly a “meet cute”. However, by the end of the series, I felt it was one of the most intense and tragic romances that I had ever read. It’s one of those books that made me think a lot about what love actually was and what you would be prepared to sacrifice for it.
@CD: Ha, and then there’s me, who very much appreciates that Laurent, as someone I starting the book holding in contempt, actually earned my respect in spite of what the POV had to say about him. (Whereas Lymond, for example, has never worked for me fully.)
[spoiler]I do agree that the Veretian court doesn’t get a lot of depth, mostly because Damen just doesn’t care in Vol 1 — but I didn’t need more detail than I got, for some reason? I wasn’t left feeling that anything was missing. I got enough of a sense of what kind of game the Regent was playing to satisfy me, and the parts that were fleshed out for plot purposes were woven organically into the narrative throughout, from my perspective anyway.
Actually, I just realized that I guess I’ve been subconsciously expecting Vol 3 to pull more and more of these threads into play — Herode and Guion, and Jokaste and Nikandros, and perhaps others that we haven’t been introduced to yet.[/spoiler]
I go back and forth on how the story would work with women as the protagonists instead of men. I think the writing would have to frame some of their vulnerabilities more carefully, because of the stereotypes they invoke for women. But if someone *could* pull it off, that someone would probably be my hero.
So many comments to respond to! I’ll take them one or two at a time, with breaks in between, but I promise to respond.
I agree with your spoiler re. Laurent. I posted some of my theory on that earlier, in the hidden spoiler within comment #90.
I understand why you feel that way, though the first time I read the book, I didn’t think Laurent knew, and that added a lot of tension and suspense to the reading. The second time I read for clues to see if he knew, and that was wonderful too, but in a different way.
Although it’s less likely, it wouldn’t diminish Laurent in my eyes. Laurent admitted to Damen that he didn’t see his uncle’s first attempt on his life coming, because he didn’t really believe his uncle was capable of killing him “after everything.”
If Pacat decided to go that way, she could convince me that Laurent didn’t want to believe his uncle capable of arranging that his brother’s killer be sent to him as a bed slave.
One of the themes in the book is that we don’t see the things we don’t want to see. Pacat shows this much more with Damen than she does with Laurent, but on occasion we see this with Laurent as well. So I think she could make it work, but I think it’s a lot more likely that Laurent knew from the beginning, and that would work for me too, as long as it takes a little while for Damen to learn that Laurent has known all along.
There has been a lot of angst, agreed. And I think there will be quite a bit more even if Laurent has known from the beginning. Auguste’s death will be out in the open between them, and they will have to deal with it. And when the Regent’s abuse of Laurent comes out, there will be quite a bit of emotion from that as well. (I don’t believe Damen has put the pieces together yet, although some readers do think so.)
Agreed! I love it when his youth and inexperience show. And that comparison to Aimeric was so well done.
@Kaetrin: I’ll reply to your Erasmus comments later — I think it’s an interesting topic and I’m glad you brought it up.
You have a point.
While I agree that the world-building could have been better developed, I feel that Laurent’s brilliance was shown, not just told. And I did have a pretty good grasp on the difficulty that needed to be overcome, thanks to the villain’s actions. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t have gotten enjoyment out of more details about the political and military environment, just that the absence of these things did not impede me in the way it did you.
I think you recommended this book on the AAR boards many years ago, and I have been intrigued by it ever since (I post there as LFL). And Sagara is one of Jia’s favorite authors as well.
Thanks to your recommendation, I actually snapped up Into the Dark Lands in a kindle sale a year or so ago, but I’ll confess that the prospect of a tragic ending has held me back from reading it. Can you give me a spoiler — is the ending nihilistic or is there hope left even though something bad happens?
Back to Captive Prince, since it sounds like you see it as fun, not too deep read, I wonder what you think of the thematic richness I mentioned before? Because it seems to me that in terms of its themes this book is complex and thoughtful.
Have you read Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia? These books are the closest thing I can think of to Captive Prince with a male/female dynamic — but without slavery and no explicit sex. They are fabulous books and I highly recommend them, if you haven’t.
@Janine: I can see a “female Laurent” doing those things actually. I would have bought them – it’s hard to know obviously, but I think I could have gone with it quite well. I read and enjoyed the Janny Wurts series Daughter of the Empire (et al) and the slave owner there was a female. She was always in charge, as I recall, even after she got together with the guy.
I also agree with Jorrie Spencer, I don’t think males and females can just be swapped out. But, I could imagine a similar story where the “Laurent character” (ie, the slave owner) was a female. It would obviously be a different story (at least in part) because gender identity matters.
It was a new term for me as well. I’m usually very discomfited by romances with slavery in them so it’s not a genre that I seek out.
That was my read on the Erasmus short story too. And in that way, I thought it showed how horrible the slavery system in Akielos was, that the only recourse the boy who loved Erasmus had was to betray Erasmus and “ruin” him in order to save his life. Also, that these two boys loved each other but didn’t have the freedom to express those feelings.
And I thought that story also provided a glimpse into how enormously privileged Damen was. There was a line in there about Damen being able to take to bed anyone, whether a slave or not, and that person would likely not refuse the honor of sleeping with the crown prince.
This to me was a glimpse into Damen’s moral ambiguity, whether or not it was intended as such. There a dichotomy in Damen’s character, that one level he seems sensitive to the issue of consent, and on another level, with a background like that, he could not possibly know whether every partner of his was consenting, when some were slaves and would not refuse the “honor” of going to bed with him. A power disparity like that is ripe for a lot of abuses.
I also thought there was an interesting comparison of the slaves in Akielos with the “pets” (sex workers) in Vere. It was interesting to me that initially Damen saw the “pets” as slaves, but it was pretty quickly clarified that they were contracted for the work. So I saw them as having much more agency, except of course for Nicaise who was not old enough to consent, and whom I would absolutely consider a slave. However, I saw him as an exception, and a sign of the Regent’s sick nature.
I’m less comfortable with this aspect of the book than with a lot of the rest. Yes, it’s clear that Torveld is a benevolent master but that feels less true to what slavery is like. I would read about rather the brutality of Laurent/Damen in the beginning or the horrific lack of agency in “The Training of Erasmus,” then have Torveld and Erasmus held up as an example of a healthy relationship.
I prefer Laurent’s take on the Akeilon slaves to Damen’s, when he says in Vol. 1 ‘It is your barbaric society that forced them into slavery, not mine. I would not have thought it possible to train the will out of a man, but you have managed it. Congratulations. Your show of compassion rings false.’
This was also interesting to me because it highlighted a difference between the two societies’ value systems (despite the excesses of the court, slavery is considered “barbaric” in Vere) and between Damen and Laurent’s value systems. I also love that Laurent needles Damen about owning slaves more than once. (Another reason I think Laurent knows who Damen is. I have doubts that he would want to own Damen otherwise).
But my favorite aspect of Erasmus’ presence in the book (which I’m generally not crazy about) was the scene where Damen encounters him again in Vol. 2 and is deeply discomfited by his obedience and keeps telling him to stand up.
Damen’s POV thoughts show that he feels it’s odd that the manners of Akielos now seem alien to him, and he recalls sleeping with slaves as pliant as Erasmus. Then we get this great line “He remembered enjoying it, but the memory was distant, as though it belonged to someone else.”
I am hoping that when all is said and done and the serial ends, slavery will be eradicated from Akielos.
@Janine: I read the first Megan Whelan Turner book a few years ago but only found out recently that the others are not written in the same style, which seems like a sign that I should continue. The comparison to Captive Prince is certainly a good endorsement of that!
[spoiler] I read The Training of Erasmus the same way you did, and thought it an excellent addition, but I understand why for some readers, the Erasmus POV might be too unpleasant to make the rest worth it. On the other hand, I suspect that, say, Kallias would not have been an effective character for me from his own POV, certainly not as effective Erasmus, who does not even push against his bonds but who is no less bound because of it.
Damen’s privilege blinded him to political machinations among the slaves as much as to that within his own court, and even his belief that slaves in Akielos are never abused can’t really be trusted.[/spoiler]
@Janine: [spoiler] I hadn’t given the Erasmus short any further thought – but you’re right -that’s the next logical step. I read it very quickly in between Vol 1 and 2 because I have to finish what’s in front of me before I start the next one but I *really* wanted to start the next one! Possibly I would have made the leap myself if I had taken more time (or not!).
As for the other, I don’t think for a second that Erasmus and Torveld are a healthy relationship. But, I wonder if, in the third book we might hear that Erasmus has been freed and what will happen then? I think at the point we saw them, Erasmus was incapable of being on his own, of not being a slave – after all, that is what he was trained for his whole life. Maybe I’m off base and we’ll never see E or T again but I wonder if Torveld is attempting to “train” Erasmus to think for himself and stand for himself in preparation for freedom (and thence to a more equal relationship?). Very possibly that is just my wishful thinking because I don’t like slavery either and the idea of Erasmus being delighted by it is a bit icky to me. I want him out and safe!
I can see that “pets” in Vere *are* different (for the most part) to slaves in Akielos but they still *seem* disturbingly similar to me. Yes there is a contract, but I didn’t really get a sense that they had any way to enforce proper treatment within it or that they had any agency at all during the course of it. Perhaps that is merely a flaw in the world building but, as it is, it rings of slavery to me, just a slightly different species of it I guess.
I think that Damen has made the quantum shift about slavery by the end of Vol 2 and when he gains/regains (?) his throne as he surely must in Vol 3, I am hoping he will bring about wide ranging change – one aspect of which will be the abolition of slavery. Like many things in the story, the journey is a slow (but not boring) one. But I agree with all of your comments re slavery and Damen’s journey. I pointed out in my own review regarding the comment that Damen starts off not minding slavery – it is being the slave he doesn’t like. Having experienced it now, it makes him see slaves as people instead of objects and that was the first part of his change. Damen was very much a surface thinker in Akielos. He was never forced to look deeper and it suited him to do no more than that. In Vere however, he has to look and in the looking, the changes come, because, while he is ignorant, he’s not a monster nor is he stupid IMO.
And yes, another way in which I believe Laurent absolutely knows who Damen is. :) [/spoiler]
@Janine: You advised Moriah to “start with book 2 . . . Then go to book 3 . . . That’s where the romance begins.” I took that to mean you didn’t think there was much, if any, romance in book 2. I’m glad you think there is. There are parts of King of Attolia I really love (e.g., when Gen comes to the door in his robe), but Queen and Conspiracy are neck and neck for my favorites in the series.
@etv13: Is it necessary/advisable to read book 1? Is there no romance in that one?
I’m going to tackle the Megan Whalen Turner topic in one comment and Erasmus in another, later. I’ll start with MWT.
@bx: Yeah, the first Megan Whalen Turner book is very different from the rest. It’s a middle grade book whereas the others are YAs that cross over to adult readers. There is also no romance in the first book, and very little in the way of female characters for much of the story. That changes when you get into book 2.
What I often advise romance readers to do is skip the first one and then backtrack to reading it after reading #2 and #3. Then, after reading #1, read #4, which is all about Sophos, a character who appears in #1 but not in #2 or #3. Since you’ve read #1 already, I would say just read #2, #3 and #4 in order, unless you want to refresh your memory.
Those books are wonderful– I have reviews of all of them here at DA which you can find linked at the top of this review (though I don’t advise reading any further than the review of the first book you have not read and plan to read).
I would probably grade them a bit higher today than I did when I first read them, because like Captive Prince, they have twists that make a second reading just as satisfying as the first.
@etv13: That was bad wording on my part in my advice to Moriah. I meant that she should skip book #1 because there is no romance in it, and not much in the way of women.
Having said that, The King of Attolia is my favorite, then The Queen of Attolia, and then A Conspiracy of Kings. I love all three of those. My grade for Queen doesn’t reflect that, though. I came to love it much more in rereadings than I did on the first read, and I reviewed it immediately after the first read.
@Kaetrin: Not etv13 but I’ll answer anyway. That is correct — no romance in book 1. And it is written for younger kids (middle grade, on par with the first Harry Potter book in reading level, though very very different from Harry Potter). It also has a slow paced first half. I did end up liking it anyway, and you can read my review of it here, but I know a lot of people, who, like bx above, never go on to book 2, and some (like DA Jayne) don’t even finish book 1.
There is a twist that comes late in book 1, so if you want to read the books in order, don’t read reviews of book 2, as the twist from #1 will be revealed there. However if book 1 doesn’t sound like your cup of tea (if you don’t care for slow-starting kids’ books or for books without romance), then read a review or two of book 1 and then go straight to book 2.
I think my review of books one and two is spoiler free, but it is best not to read the blurb on the back of book two and to avoid reviews of it, because that might spoil it for you. I would say that of all of MWT’s books, actually. They rely a lot on surprises.
So, to sum up, the reading order I recommend to romance readers is as follows:
Book #2 — The Queen of Attolia
Book #3 – The King of Attolia
Book #1 — The Thief
Book # 4 – A Conspiracy of Kings
You can read them in publishing order if you think you’d enjoy #1 but I enjoyed it more after reading #2 and #3 because by then I was a huge fan of the main character.
@Kaetrin: I feel my enjoyment of book 2 was heightened because I had read book 1 first, but Janine is right, there is no romance in book 1. I disagree that it starts slow; I was about three pages in when I realized I was going to have to go back to the library and get the rest of the series (at the time, that was only two more). I really enjoyed the narrative voice — it’s a first-person narration by one of the main characters in the series, while books 2 and 3 are mostly close third that shifts around quite a bit (in one key scene in book 2, the viewpoint shifts several times in the course of a couple of pages, which in the hands of a less skillful writer would draw a lot of criticism). Also, it has a twist that you will lose the benefit of if you’ve already read books two and three.
“While I agree that the world-building could have been better developed, I feel that Laurent’s brilliance was shown, not just told. And I did have a pretty good grasp on the difficulty that needed to be overcome, thanks to the villain’s actions. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t have gotten enjoyment out of more details about the political and military environment, just that the absence of these things did not impede me in the way it did you.”
Fair enough. I have no problem with Laurent being very clever as a character trait – as I wasn’t reading the books for the political or military strategizing, that wasn’t too much of an issue for me in terms of enjoyment. I do read a lot of fantasy where intrigue and strategy played a lot more of a focus, so I’m probably a lot more demanding in those areas than the average reader.
“I actually snapped up Into the Dark Lands in a kindle sale a year or so ago, but I’ll confess that the prospect of a tragic ending has held me back from reading it. Can you give me a spoiler — is the ending nihilistic or is there hope left even though something bad happens?”
If you are planning to read INTO THE DARK LANDS, I would highly recommend having CHILDREN OF THE BLOOD to hand as well as there is a huge cliffhanger at the end of the first book.
[spoiler] The romance is told during the first two books with the last two books following Erin as she confronts the consequences from the first half of the series.
As for your question, the romance does actually have an HEA at the end of the 4th book. However, this was probably the only time I have actually been disappointed in a romantic HEA. Not only did the resolution seemingly come out of leftfield in my opinion – I felt that the relationship between Stephanos and Erin, and the fallout from that relationship, were so painful that a tragic ending would have felt a lot more emotionally true to the spirit and themes of the series.
Just to let you know that INTO THE DARK LANDS is the first book that Michelle West wrote and it shows – her later books are a lot better written and have more consistent pace and plotting. However, I love the series because of the tight focus on the central relationship and how West almost feverishly (and fearlessly) dives into a huge number of really meaty themes and ideas.
“Back to Captive Prince, since it sounds like you see it as fun, not too deep read, I wonder what you think of the thematic richness I mentioned before? Because it seems to me that in terms of its themes this book is complex and thoughtful.”
To be honest, yes. I loved the developing relationship between the two heroes and the plot was serviceable enough that it kept me reading. But to me, the world that Pacat created never really felt like a real world that would exist independent of those two characters and their relationship. Therefore, with most of the themes and ideas – I felt that they lacked the resonance and complexity that they would have done if her worldbuilding were richer.
“I read and enjoyed the Janny Wurts series Daughter of the Empire (et al) and the slave owner there was a female. She was always in charge, as I recall, even after she got together with the guy.”
I really did like the series – it was written about 20 years ago and one of the first mainstream fantasies which had a female protagonist who wasn’t a warrior or sorcerer but a woman using her intelligence to survive and thrive in a hostile male-dominated political world. And you are right – Mara’s relationship with her slave didn’t threaten her authority and she actually used his military expertise and outlandish “barbarian ideas” a number of times if I remember, much like Laurent uses Damen’s. But I felt that his questioning of some of her actions made her rethink her own culture and ideas – and it felt like it was in some ways undermining her own strength. However, thinking about it, maybe this is a bit of reverse sexism/cultural-ism in that I would have had absolutely no problem if it were a female “Asian” slave making her male “Western” master question his own methods and assumptions – especially when they relate to slavery…
I would however hesitate to call it a great feminist fantasy as such – even before then Ursula Le Guin, CJ Cherryl and Sheri Tepper had all written a lot more and better fantasy novels with less muddled feminist messages. However, I think it was probably the most mainstream with its use of Raymond E. Feist’s enormously popular Riftwar world.
@CD: I wouldn’t call Daughter of the Empire feminist – as can be seen from my various comments over the web recently, I’m no expert on the topic of what is and isn’t feminist in any event. :)
I read DofE after reading the Magician series, when I was on my big fantasy kick years ago. Nowadays, my fantasy reading is almost exclusively limited to fantasy romance and I don’t read tons of that – I enjoyed the Warprize books last year and the Tairen Soul books too but fantasy romance is a kind of new (sub)genre for me.
Maybe the best advice to Kaetrin would be to start with The Thief, but if it doesn’t grab her, to move on to The Queen of Attolia rather than give up. You are absolutely correct that there are some advantages to starting in the beginning — and I don’t regret doing so myself. It’s just that I know a few people who have never made it to the second book because the first did not grab them.
I actually have The Thief (I just checked GR). I must have bought it on a special after reading someone’s review – possibly yours Janine :)
@bx: Agreed with your points on the Erasmus short.
[spoiler]And yeah, I also agree that privilege is one of the reasons Damen starts out blinded. I think it’s a lovely bit of irony that Damen’s first impression of Laurent is that Laurent is spoiled, because I think in many ways Damen starts out more spoiled than Laurent! [/spoiler]
[spoiler]I hope you’re right re. Torveld. I can’t see slavery being abolished from Patras as well, though (and I know you weren’t suggesting that). That would be a stretch to believe
I see your point about the pets, but I feel we really don’t have enough information to know if that’s the case. It is not clear to me whether the pets can negotiate more than the price of their contract, or not.
Talik’s concern that Ancel would foolishly contract with someone who would put him in the ring, where Ancel’s enemies might injure him as payback, would seem to indicate that at least with some contracts, agency may be limited. But we really don’t have enough information to indicate whether or not that’s always the case. I also got the sense from what Talik said that Ancel wasn’t concerned for his own safety, so it may be that it would be his choice to go into the ring for more money.
The pets’ situation didn’t strike me as being a whole lot less safe from the situation many sex workers face in our own world. Prostitution isn’t the safest of professions anywhere, IMO.
We also know is that the pet profession is lucrative and can bring them in contact with powerful people, and there is a line in Damen’s POV (when he thinks Ancel is seeking the patronage of the Regent) that says a man could do worse than become the bed partner of a powerful man That made me view the pets a bit like political groupies, as well — not completely unlike those in our own world who want access to the wealthy or the powerful and are willing to trade a lot for that.
I hope so too.
That makes sense. Did you approach the book as a fantasy, then? I approached it as a romance, and as such, it had more intrigue and strategy than most romances do, so I was satisfied. I probably don’t read as much fantasy as you do, but I do love books with a lot of intrigue (esp. if there are also romantic threads) so if you could recommend some to me (esp. ones without overly tragic endings) I would be grateful.
I have Into the Dark Lands on my kindle, and can always purchase and download Children of the Blood immediately after finishing the first book but thanks for letting me know that I’ll need to do so. How many books are there in that series?
Thanks for the spoiler. I would have to read the series to know if I agreed with your assessment, but there have been books I’ve felt that way about too. And to clarify what I said above about “overly tragic” endings, I can deal with an ending where someone, even the main character, sacrifices his life for the greater good, but if they die in vain instead of saving someone else in the process, it’s just plain depressing to me.
Re. Captive Prince
Got it. They had quite a bit of resonance to me, though I agree the world didn’t feel fully real. Maybe they resonated so much because I was so invested in the main relationship. I loved the way the author contrasted Damen and Laurent, too.
I would say that as a reader, it’s probably more affecting to me to see themes played out in the microcosm of a personal relationship, which can be a world unto itself, than in the macrocosm of the greater world. That’s not to say that better worldbuilding wouldn’t have enhanced the book for me; I think it would have, if it was constructed in such a way as to not distract from the close focus on the relationship.
I actually have the feeling, based on Pacat’s use of some ethnographic details, as well as on all the detail about horses and military training, that this author is capable of stronger worldbuilding. I wonder if she chose not to do it because the plotting and the characterization took a lot of effort — I can see how they might, in a book like this. Or perhaps she wanted to keep the focus closely on the two protagonists.
Of course, I could be wrong in this supposition.
S.U. Pacat has sold Captive Prince to Berkley! On the one hand I’m so excited for professional editing. On the other hand I’m bummed for P2P. The free serial will be up for one more month though — so now is your chance to read it for free.
I didn’t like this book, and to be honest I DNFed it right after Laurent attempted to have Damien raped and it became clear that yes, Laurent was the other MC. I could have bought him as a villain, but not a romantic hero. I don’t really care what his reasons were, that was a line I don’t want to see my heroes cross. Also, I felt the world building was very shallow, I didn’t really get a sense of history or culture or even a sense of what made the two countries different, they seemed very much the same to me. Maybe that improved later on, but with at unlikable main character and a world that I felt wasn’t very impressive I just didn’t want to bother with it.
Overall I found the book really disappointing and even enraging, when I think of all the praise it got.