Spoiler Rating: Low-Moderate
Let me warn you now that Captive Prince is not your standard gay romance fantasy novel. Do not pick this book up expecting to watch two men get cuddly; I understand that things get more romantic later in the trilogy, but Captive Prince is first and foremost brutal, and it establishes a truly amazing foundation for what I hope will be (a) a truly amazing plot, and (b) a truly amazing romance.
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 rason to hate him than anyone else . . .
Okay, straight up: I really enjoyed this book, and I could ramble about it at length. But I won’t, because I can exhibit self-restraint sometimes, and you’re better off just reading the book already.
And sure, it’s not perfect, but it does so many things right that I typically have to complain about in other books. For example:
Captive Prince‘s story focuses pretty tightly on Damen’s struggle to cope with the loss of his identity and his new, horrifying life as his #1 enemy’s pleasure slave. Unsurprisingly, he has plenty of conflict (internal and external) to deal with, and some personal goals he’s determined to achieve, or die trying. Even though there wasn’t much going on in terms of, like, coups or war or evil sorcerers attacking the city or whatever, Captive Prince kept me reading long past my bedtime, because Damen’s personal struggles were so damn compelling.
This is in contrast to books like, say, Rebel of the Sands and The Winner’s Curse, in which the protagonists have no particular goal, and their personal struggles are either nonexistent (Rebel of the Sands) or portrayed in a terribly dull way (The Winner’s Curse).
It helps that I liked Damen from the get-go, and was firmly Team Damen throughout the novel. He’s a fantastic combination of strength, moral integrity, pride, and practicality that I find endlessly enjoyable/charming.
(Note: this isn’t to say the story is entirely about Damen’s enslavement. Important things do happen, as the synopsis promises.)
Enemies (Captive/Captor) to Lovers
Remember in my review of The Wrath and the Dawn, where I frothed at the mouth over Shahrzad’s near-instantaneous lady-boner for her enemy/captor/husband, Khalid? Remember how I explicitly described how I’d’ve changed the story to make the romance more palatable—and my changes included pushing the romance back so it’s not even hinted at until the second book in the series?
Because really, the enmity and skewed power dynamic of these types of relationships (enemies and spouses in The Wrath and the Dawn; enemies and master/slave in Captive Prince) can’t be magicked away by a few glimpses of sweaty skin and a couple snarky conversations. These couples start off in a horrible place, and it should realistically take a lot of work to arrive at romance.
Captive Prince does a great job of respecting the very real and very horrible relationship between Damen and Laurent—and I cannot wait to see exactly how they negotiate their way to love.
Laurent’s a Dick
Were you ever engaged by Draco Malfoy’s combination of pride, cunning, and ruthlessness? Are you interested in reading about a morally ambiguous love interest? Allow me to present Laurent. He read to me like the grown-up’s version of Draco, and I loved being both attracted to and repulsed by him. I need more, stat.
Now, I don’t want to give explicit spoilers here, but: Captive Prince is focused tightly on realism, and just as it doesn’t let love instantly spring up between Damen and Laurent, it doesn’t magically redeem Laurent of his (truly horrifying) behavior throughout the novel. Hallelujah.
As excited as I am to see how the romance develops, I’m even more excited to see how the author will convince me that Laurent is (or can become) a decent person.
The Writing Style
For the most part, I really enjoyed the writing style. The story’s told from Damen’s (third-person) perspective, and the language (for the most part) suited him very well: frank, observant, and descriptive without being poetic.
The Writing Style
As much as I approved of the writing style, it had its hiccups. Every now and then, the author would use a million-dollar word or phrase instead of a more reasonable one-, ten-, hundred-, or even thousand-dollar word or phrase that would’ve worked better. It felt like the author decided to go digging deep into a thesaurus to use the most obscure words she could find, forgetting that the story’s narrated through Damen. Damen wouldn’t have chosen those words, I don’t think; they’re too obscure or unnecessarily flowery.
The result: every now and then, I was jarred completely out of the story. It was very frustrating, and I’m glad it only happened a handful of times.
Damen’s Weird Blindness to Laurent’s Impending Kingship
There’s probably a much better section title than the above, but god help me I can’t think of it.
Crash course in Captive Prince politics, here we go.
Damen is (was) the heir to the throne of Akielos, which borders the kingdom of Vere. Akielos and Vere had fought a brutal territorial war that ended with Akielos the victor—and killed both the king and the crown prince of Vere. Laurent, the second prince of Vere, was still a child at this point, so his uncle became Regent.
Now, Laurent is less than a year away from becoming a legal adult—and once his birthday arrives, the Regent will have to get his ass off the throne and let Laurent become king. The Regent has been a good/passive neighbor to Akielos throughout his regency.
You’d think that Damen would’ve spent some time imagining what kind of king Laurent—who is, by all appearances, a malicious and awful person—is about to become, right? You’d expect Damen to prefer the Regent over Laurent for Vere’s king, right?
Yet he doesn’t. And even when he’s in a position to choose between siding with the Regent or with Laurent, he leans toward Laurent, without ever having discussed with himself just how potentially, incredibly horrible it would be for Akielos to have Laurent as its ruling neighbor.
Yes, a hasty explanation for Damen’s choice is offered on the very last page of the novel, and it’s not a terrible one; I just would’ve preferred to see Damen weighing the options throughout the book, and his choice would’ve been much more convincing if he’d shared his explanation before the very last page of the novel. Cutting it a little close there, dude.
I need to warn you that this book is thick with sexual, physical, and emotional violence. There is rape, and extreme physical punishment, and slavery, and this is really not a book for the squeamish.
That said, I thought the violence was handled with care and frankness; it wasn’t gratuitous, though there was plenty of it.
I never thought I’d enjoy a book that features slavery (sexual and otherwise) and extreme abuse, but here we are. Now, if only YA fantasy novels could approach their own stories with the care, realism, and gravitas seen in Captive Prince; I’d be a much happier reader, for sure.