It’s June. It’s Pride month. And I am going on a self induced torture which I am calling Reading Marathon Mania where I am going to read as many LGBTQIA+ related books as I could. I am not following any list or recommendations, I am going to read all and any LGBTQIA+ book I come across in this duration. Like a Maniac, yes.
I am in a daze as I come back from reading the Captive Prince Trilogy by C. S. Pacat in 4 days flat. And just now, while I was further researching about the author and her books, I have learned that she has written a collection of short stories which happened during or after the Captive Prince series.
and hence, this review has been delayed.
I will be giving a general series review and then a detailed review of each book while trying to keep it spoiler-free.
So without further ado, let’s go!
My Overall #RMM Rating: 3.7
So this series started on C. S. Pacat’s blog as means of getting her story out to the world in 2013 and since then it has grown into something quite big with a large committed audience.
The story is about the Captivated prince, our protagonist Damen aka Damianos. Damen is the crown prince of the Kingdom of Akeilos and was betrayed by his bastard-brother Kastor and his viper-like mistress Jakoste for the throne. Just as his father, the King of Akeilos dies, Damen is shipped off to their enemy nation as a ‘bed-slave’. Their enemy nation is Vere and Damen is gifted to the Prince of Vere, our second lead/ love interest, Laurent. So naturally, the primary conflict which Damen faces is to try and escape out of his enemy nation while hiding his identity from his mortal enemy and master Laurent who himself is being trapped in the throne politics.
This series is essentially Red Queen series + Game of Thrones. Literally.
If you guessed that this series is heavy on betrayal, scheming and backstabbing, you are right. Like the Red Queen series (if you have read those books) the story Captive Prince involves family going against each other for the throne and there is a hint of romance. But the plot line is no where near as complex as the Game of Thrones so if you are looking for an easy palace politics + romance (kinda) this one is for you. And because this series essentially is about a prince forced into bed slavery, here is where Game of Thrones comes into picture. There is sex. Lots of it. But again, not as much as Game of Thrones (GOT is in a league of its own).
The story is written in Third Person limited POV where the POV is limited around Damen, though is POV shifts very briefly towards Laurent in the last book. As far as writing is concerned, I have to say I am not a huge fan of C. S. Pacat’s writing. It is not bad per se but I did keep losing focus and getting confused with who is doing what quite often and had to go back a few paragraphs to see where my imagination lapsed. The writing also is very descriptive which paints a beautiful detailed image of their cultures, clothing and character but at time it may seem intrusive and excessive especially when description of the room or the characters’ features takes up a paragraph between the ongoing dialogues.
The story is well paced and the character development is properly done and slow paced as needed (because enemy to lovers is not going to happen overnight) and this was a relief because from the summary and the theme I assumed the Princes were going to jump each other very quickly.
I am a sucker for political games and the politics of Captive Prince has layers upon layers upon layers. The twists and turns as the schemes unfolded were captivating (see what I did there?!) and this was interesting at times but there were few instances where I remember thinking “This person must have the ability to see the future” or “It’s pure luck that their plan worked out.” and this one time when the plan had no logical reasoning from my view. The politics and crossfires for the throne were block-y and predictable to some extent (in book #1). It seems concentrated at certain points in the story to the point of it being overdone or over planned but this is a work of fiction and I am going to take it as it is just because I still enjoyed silently screaming “What the fuck!” in middle of the night.
The characters are well written with impressive character development and steady progress. Even the lesser characters have been written well and the cities, towns, kingdoms, and their cultures are well defined. That is, the world is built to be sufficient for the story.
Damen (aka Prince Damianos) is a hunk. He is tall, dark and handsome. He is fierce and reminded me strongly of Achilles (sans the fair skin and golden hair) for his fighting spirit. He is ferocious at war and ferocious in bed. A symbol of Masculinity, if you will, but he is a large puppy on the inside. I mean it! I can only imagine Damen as a large puppy because he is so utterly loyal and trusting and caring and pure and so naive that he is going to force you to say “Aww… Why is he so stupid!” He really is a pure soul and I love his character because it opposes his rough exterior and that is all that matters.
Laurent is a stark opposite of Damen. He has a delicate built with fair-creamy skin and golden hair and blue eyes. I will not forget his golden hair and blue eyes even after I die, even after I have been reborn because that fact has been mentioned a thousand fucking times in the span of 3 books and that is no joke. Besides that, we have also been told a few hundred times that he is a ice-cold, heartless bitch and I fully agree. Laurent is a beautiful, snarky, little bitch and I have absorbed some of his character into myself which is the reason why I have been throwing shade at my family since I got into Captive Prince. We see most character development in Laurent as the story progresses. He is lethal, his mind is a dangerous thing and his tongue is sharper than any knife I have seen or read about. I really liked this guy.
[Artist: Merwild on DeviantArt]
The Kingdom of Akeilos is heavily (and I mean heavily) inspired by the Greeks. Everything from their simple architecture, to their practical clothing of simple cotton chiton, and even their names and sports and culture in general screams Greek-Roman influences. Maybe that is the reason why Damen reminds of Achilles.
On the other hand Vere is heavily influenced by French culture. It is fancy. Everything is fancy and gaudy and decorated. Their clothing is impractical with lacing everywhere and I love it! In the first book Damen comments scornfully, “if Veretian lovers suspended their passion for a half hour in order to disrobe.”
Damianos spends half of the book complaining about laces which have been mentioned almost as many times as Laurent’s arctic blue eyes. (I have learned a thousand ways to describe blue eyes thanks to Captive Prince.) And then finally when Laurent is out of Veretian clothing and in a chiton, Damianos losses his shit. That was hilarious!
The next point of discussion is the Queer Factor.
When I first got into this series I thought this was just some popular gay smut series and I was getting disappointed because my motive for this Pride month Reading Marathon Mania is to read LGBTQIA+ books to understand the community better and not to read gay erotica. But oh boy, I was so wrong.
The world that C. S. Pacat has built is unique in multiple ways starting with the fact that the world is (a) not homophobic/biphobic in anyway and (b) it is not hetero-normative.
Infact, in the Kingdom of Vere, fornication between male and female is frowned upon and punishable in certain cases! Yay to gay!
Laurent is almost certainly, completely gay while Damen is canonially bi and the only problem their subjects have regarding their sexuality and relationship is that one is Veretian and the other is Akeilon. That must be a beautiful world to live in, right? Wrong!
Akeilos is a kingdom where slavery is predominant in their culture and their slaves are of the best ‘quality’. Vere does not exactly have slaves as in Akeilos but instead they have ‘Pets’ which are contract-based sex slaves which have a little more freedom. Same difference if you ask me.
The instances of fetish/kinks, rapes, physical and sexual abuse as well as pedophiles in positions of power are also in plenty (not as graphically presented, but TRIGGER WARNING in action)
The author had tried to push the boundaries beyond gender-normative world we live in by giving our leads contrasting natures to their physical appearance. She has discussed more on this topic and the overall LGBTQ+ theme of her series in this interview which you should check out.
Her desire to represent a POC male bisexual prince with a soft heart as the lead character is a change that the written and visual media needs. Such characters and their part in stories which goes beyond adding diversity are long over due.
Also, what is notable about this series is that the driving force of this story has never been their sexuality or relationship. Their romance, which is scarce, is a small part of larger, more important story driven by greed, games and loyalty.
The reason I continued reading the series was that I genuinely got hooked to the politics and their chemistry was an added bonus.
I would sincerely like to thank the author for representing a part of queer community without making their gayness their only character feature.
Now, let’s talk about individual books. Yes this review is going to be super long because I am reviewing all the 3 books plus the short stories so feel free to just to skip this next part if you want to get into this series completely blind or if you are just bored.
Book #1: Captive Prince
My #RMM Rating: 3
The first book of trilogy dives directly into the story as Damen is being shipped off. We learn more about the character eventually as the story takes form. Both, Damianos and Laurent hate each other’s guts and though there is sexual tension building up, they would rather kill each other. This book honestly does not do a fair job in convincing you to read the series if you are going in with the intent of enjoying the scheming. There is a lot of sex from the get go which gets you like (“Wtf am I reading porn?”) and the betrayal seems obvious. (“Your half-brother wants the throne? of course. Your uncle wants the throne? of course.) but don’t judge the series by the first book. It gets better.
Book #2: Prince’s Gambit
My #RMM Rating: 4
It really does get better. This book is so heavy on scheming which starts building during the final chapters of the previous book. We learn more about our characters and their dynamics change as they are forced to spend more time in each other’s company. They begin understanding each other while still being cautious but the harsh back and forth hate war reduces as they combine forces for a (more or less) common cause. There are a shit ton of WTF moments and the story really keeps you on edge. Some of my most favourite moments from the series are in this book. Read this book. Seriously.
Book #3 Kings Rising
My #RMM Rating: 4
The last book of the series has betrayal and double-crossing in plenty. The schemes and plans and relations built in the second book all come crashing down. We see our characters change from who they were or what we perceived them to be as (almost) all the cards are laid out in open. We see most and drastic character development here as the protagonists make tough choices for their love and loyalty towards each other and their kingdom. Like the second book, this is going to make your heart lurch. I loved how the story ended but not how the ending was written. It has a happy ending, yes but I was expecting some epilogue or something which shows us how the characters are after the conflict ends. But literally the story ends with the conflict without restoration of normalcy and that, I hated.
Luckily C. S. Pacat wrote four short series which fills in the gaps and gives us a view of what happened after the story. The next reviews are obviously going to have (mild) spoilers so if you want to read this series, I suggest you don’t read the next part of the review but surely read the short stories because they are good.
The four short stories are complied into a single book “The Summer Palace and Other Stories: A Captive Prince Short Story Collection”
My #RMM Rating: 3.6
This book was so fucking necessary to the Captive Prince trilogy because as I mentioned, the ending was not written well. It felt incomplete. These four stories makes up for it. All the stories are in Third Person POV limited to different characters in each story.
#1 “Green But For A Season”
This short story follows Jord, a very good, dedicated soldier from Laurent’s Prince’ Guard after Jord is promoted to Captaincy in the second book. We learn about Jord’s insecurities and see how much the position of Captain means to him. The story is interesting as we see Laurent from a different characters’ POV and get flashbacks from the time when Laurent was younger and when Prince’ Guard was being formed. Reading this story after the trilogy give you a sense of nostalgia as we are taken back to the second book and we see how Laurent grew to be what he is now. We also get see Aimeric and his attempts to get in Jord’s pants and that hurts. It does.
#2 “The Summer Palace”
This is the epilogue the story needed. The story takes place a few weeks after the trilogy ends. We see Laurent and Damen at Damen’s Summer Palace having a calm, romantic time after the terrible happenings of the earlier three books. It has sexy times along with the growing bond between the two as they make promises and try to move on from their past. It’s good. It’s calm. It was needed after the series ended.
#3 “The Adventures Of Charls, The Veretian Cloth Merchant”
We first meet Charls in Book Two and again in Book Three where he has played a very important role in saving Laurent’s and Damen’s skins. He is the famous Veretian cloth merchant and this story is from his POV when he meets ‘Young Cousin Charls’ aka Laurent for the third time while on a business road-trip. The story is set approximately 9-10 months after the events of the Kings Rising and Laurent’s Accession is merely 4 weeks away.
I loved this story. More than loved it! Charls is a little dense and he fails to realise that Lamen, the ‘Merchant Assistant’ who is following the Prince around is actually Damen, aka Damianos aka King of Akeilos. This story is ridiculously funny and heart warming as Charls notices them flirting or notices Lamen not being star struck while being in presence of The Prince as a piece of good acting from Lamen. Heck, Charls even advices Lamen to not get involved with Laurent because he is royalty and is already promised to Damianos, King of Akeilos. 😂
Charls is adorable. I am gonna go and read this story again because this is the best thing ever!
This was the longest short story, complete with actual chapters. At first I was reluctant to read it but it was a good. The story follows Ancel, the red-headed pet of Lord Berenger. The story is about how Ancel made his way from a brothel to the court. We already know he is ambitious but this story just shows how much. The court politics happen in the background as Lord Berenger confirms his alliance to the Prince of Vere, Laurent and how Ancel plays a part in it.
This story was almost perfect. Almost. But it has a big, rather annoying continuation error to the main story.
The short story tells us that Lord Berenger is a righteous man who does not indulge in Pets and this is a huge part of Ancel’s conflict. Ancel, in fact managed to get only few passionate kisses out of him to ward off the rumours that Berenger was into women.
So tell me, in the first book, why does Damen mention the ‘red-head slave’ twice because this said ‘red-head slave’ was doing things to Lord Berenger’s woo-hoo in public?
“To Damen’s left, the red-haired boy was unlacing the front of his master’s garments, and wrapping a hand around what he found there.” (What he found there? A yellow toy duck, of course. 😒)
“The pets had dressed differently, offering ease of access, and the red-haired pet had unlaced only that part of his master’s clothing that was required for his purpose.”
C. S. Pacat, you got some explaining to do. This really did annoy me.
Otherwise the story did a good job in telling us about Laurent planning everything well in advance and about what an absolute arse his uncle was.
There is my review, finally done. Phew!
So, should you read the Captive Prince trilogy? I liked it. I might read my favourite chapters from the series again if I felt like it. I would ask you to read this for Laurent and Damen because I loved their portrayal and also for the rich cultural emphasis.
But this series is not something everyone would like. It does not have the absolute best writing or complexity so if you are someone looking for some poetic love between two princes. Nope, not happening here.
Also, if you are just a casual reader who has no experience at how graphic gay smut could be, please steer clear. A warning is in order.