Prince’s Gambit

Prince's Gambit reviewPrince’s Gambit
C. S. Pacat4.5 Stars

Hey Ashers,

I’ve finally read Prince’s Gambit, sequel to the glorious Captive Prince. And I.

I just.

*Throws at it all the stars.*

(This review will be spoiler-free, because *hurls more stars.* And also because my Obsidian snark is consuming my every spare moment, and I have some other stuff going on that’s keeping me away from my computer, and I just don’t have time to write a lengthy review. I’m sorry. But hey, check it out: my first review of 2017 is 4.5 stars and an LGBTQIA+ fantasy! Starting the year off right.)

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First, let me craft for you a quick refresher on Captive Prince, which you’ll remember I lost my shit over this summer:

One not-so-fine day in the country of Akielos, beloved King Theomedes dies after a long sickness—so his bastard son Kastor immediately ships Crown Prince Damianos into sexual slavery, and claims the throne for himself.

Because being enslaved isn’t awful enough (that’s sarcasm, note), sweet dumpling Damianos (a.k.a. Damen) is given to the vicious Prince Laurent of Vere, enemy of Akielos and little brother of golden Prince Auguste, whom Damen had killed in an almost mythic battle several years earlier.

Damen endures vomit-worthy abuse as Laurent’s slave, and pours all his (significant) princely will into hiding his identity and escaping his captivity. Until, that is, he discovers that Laurent is the only person who can prevent an all-out war between Vere (led by Laurent’s scheming uncle, the Regent) and the splintering Akielos. (Turns out Kastor’s not a great king after all, who’d’ve guessed?)

Because watching his country get torn apart by war sounds awful, desperate precious Damen swears to do whatever it takes to protect and aid Laurent in this next, most dangerous stage of Laurent’s power struggle against the Regent. The book concludes with our princes preparing to head to the Vere/Akielos border with a little troop of soldiers (most of whom are loyal to the Regent, and are therefore quite probably under some kind of order to help Laurent break his pretty neck in an “accident” at the first reasonable opportunity).

Things are looking grim; will our princes be able to survive the Regent’s assassinationy schemes?

And now, Prince’s Gambit.

Book synopsis

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 a final devastating blow . . . 

Spoiler free book review

Gushing Praise

  • Its twists and turns were less predictable (and therefore had more of an emotional impact, and made for more exciting reading) than those in Captive Prince.
  • We learn more about both Damen and Laurent, and holy crap I love how well-rounded, complex, and human they both are. You’ll not see me complain about either of them acting out of character or unrealistically. They aren’t characters; they’re real people. *Confetti rains.*
  • And, okay, it doesn’t hurt that they represent two of my favorite character types: the proud, remote, cunning one who’ll be as cruel as necessary to achieve his ends, and the quiet, disciplined one with strong morals and a deep sense of responsibility to those around him. (But, if I’m being honest, Laurent’s my fav by far. Intelligent, confident, androgynous men are my weakness, what can I say.)
  • Watching Damen and Laurent’s relationship thus far has pretty much my ideal reading experience: every moment is realistic, with palpable emotions and high stakes. I’m a picky bastard when it comes to relationship development in my books, and the relationship in this series (so far) actually meets my criteria for Romance Done Exceedingly Well. No emotion is rushed or forced; there’s serious conflict without angst; no conflict is resolved too easily; the romance doesn’t overshadow the interpersonal or overarching plot conflicts. It’s amazing.
  • Rape, lack of consent, and forced powerlessness played significant roles in Captive Prince (with the tone of the book being “THIS IS AWFUL”), but in Prince’s Gambit the focus shifts to trust, consent, the explicit procurement of consent. Both the book and the characters highlight the importance of consent and trust before acts of intimacy, and I won’t lie, this just about brought a tear to my eye.
  • The writing style starts off a bit shaky, and (like Captive Prince) occasionally uses some unnecessarily obscure words, but quickly settles into an effective, efficient style that’s scattered through with some super-quotable gems.
  • The final scene literally gave me goosebumps. I tend to react very physically to my books, but getting actual goosebumps is rare. Excellent job, book.

Two (Minor) Issues

This book wasn’t without its issues, but they weren’t severe enough to seriously detract from my overall enjoyment, thank goodness.

Issue One: Too Much Repetition

The events of (much of) this book were very repetitive, which doesn’t make for the most exciting reading. I wasn’t bored, and I didn’t want to put the book down, but I was starting to squirm for something new to shake things up. (Don’t worry; the new stuff did come. And when it came, it was great.)

Issue Two: Lowered Tension and Stakes

The stakes and emotional impact of this book weren’t nearly as high and intense as those of Captive Prince. I wanted Prince’s Gambit to ratchet everything up to the next level, not relax and sit back a little. That’s not to say the stakes and emotional impact of Prince’s Gambit are disappointing, though; they just don’t compare to the extremity of its prequel.

But, honestly, I doubt it could have maintained Captive Prince’s momentum, anyway. This isn’t a problem of writing or editing; it’s just an effect of Damen’s changing position, which is significantly better/more empowered in Prince’s Gambit than it was in Captive Prince.

However, the change and growth of Damen and Laurent’s relationship adds a new dimension of tension and stakes that were absent in Captive Prince, and you will never hear me complain about that.

Book review quick note

Readers should (again) be warned that this book doesn’t shy away from the topic of rape, including the abuse of children. Nothing is shown explicitly, but it is referenced in ways that some readers will find disturbing.

Slavery is also an issue, of course, and I do want to focus briefly on that.

Laurent’s kingdom, Vere, frowns on slavery as a barbaric practice; however, Veretian nobles do keep personal “pets,” which are something like expensive and exclusive courtesans.

Damen’s kingdom, Akielos, does practice slavery (not of other races, but of their own people). Damen, the heir to the Akielon throne, begins the series believing that slavery is a normal and great thing. Through his experience as a slave in Vere, Damen’s attitudes toward slavery as a whole begin to shift. The shift is a good thing—he has a growing distaste of slavery as an institution—but the shift is not a focal point in the series (thus far).

The books do not romanticize slavery, and they do focus heavily on the powerless/empowered dichotomy across many types of interpersonal relationships, but the issue of slavery itself is not a significant focal point (thus far). I’m hoping it’s more explicitly confronted in the final book in the trilogy, Kings Rising.

Book review in closing

I’ll admit that, immediately after finishing it, Prince’s Gambit felt like a mild let-down in comparison to its prequel. A four-star read, perhaps. But exactly (approximately) a day and a half after finishing it, I wanted to reread it—and considering how long it usually takes me to want to reread a book (a year or more, on average), that’s a big deal.

And the fact that I then reread it, and enjoyed it even more the second time around, should say something.

Now excuse me, I have Laurent fanart to go stare at a snark to continue.

Love,

Liam


23 thoughts on “Prince’s Gambit

  1. Lovely to read a review from you that isn’t a full blown rant… not that I mind the rant! 🙂 I was wondering here whether there were (m)any books that managed to delover to your high standards 🙂
    I have learned alot from your reviews… I have ‘lazily’ overlooked some of the aspects in novels before but I think from now on I will be super eagle eyed when it comes to relatonship dynamics in books. Thank you, Wise One! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I won’t lie, Liz, those few books that blow me away I will scream about for the rest of my life. Prepare yourself for constant screaming. 😀

      Aw, that means more to me than you could possibly know. Like, I’m giddy over here at the thought of it. I hope your new eagle-eyed-ness also gives you a new appreciation of those relationship dynamics that are done well!

      Like

  2. Looking at dark plaid always makes me so cozy and happy. (Haha, I always have the need to comment on your photos every time. 😄 )

    I totally remember how you gushed about Captive Prince last year, LOL. I think I was just in shock that you gave something so high of a rating. I’m glad to hear that you found this one just as compelling even though it didn’t quite match the level of excitement you had for its predecessor. The middle or second books in a series tend to be let-downs for me as well sometimes. 😄

    And YOU CALLED SOMEONE SWEET DUMPLING. Sorry, I’m not screaming at you or anything, but I can’t believe you called someone a dumpling!! I do that too, and I haven’t met anyone else that does it. (Because I think the preferred term is cinnamon rolls now?)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. (My amateur photographer heart is all joy. Thank you!)

      Yeah, those middle books are dangerous territory; it’s such a huge relief when they’re done well! Though, unfortunately, I can tell you that I’ve already read the final book in this trilogy, and was seriously let down by the plot. The Laurent/Damen relationship stuff was still pretty great, but oh god the plot what happened. So sloppy and underdeveloped. (I’ll be in agonies over this probably for the rest of my life.)

      Dumpling is so much more adorable than cinnamon roll! It’s one of the many things my husband and I call our cats, mostly. A+ affectionate nickname, and I’m delighted to know you use it too. 😄

      Like

    1. You totally should! But, be warned, I was seriously let down by the third book in the trilogy. It had great stuff going on, and I do love how Laurent and Damen’s relationship progresses, but the plot is kind of a disaster.

      I’ll still be rereading the trilogy for the rest of my life, but wow, it’s hard to see a final book in such a promising series fall apart like that.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As expected, phenomenal review, Liam! 😀 I knew I enjoyed the second book when I finished, but I was just being stubborn. Immediately after completing it, I was tempted to reread it, which is always a good sign, especially since it’s a rare feeling for me. If there’s one thing the author does well, it’s her relationship development between her two protagonists. I love how their romance isn’t straightforward or completely solidified by the end of the book. It’s a slow-burning, conflicted romance that I enjoy very much.

    And even though both characters fit into well-known character molds, I don’t really have an issue with it. Mostly because I love cold, conniving Laurent, who secretly has a heart of gold haha. I agree this book did kind of feel like a transition, hence the repetition, but only because the characters’ positions and motivations were changing so much.

    My biggest issue, I suppose, is the depiction of slavery and how little it is discussed or confronted in the first two books. But I can’t remember how the issue was acknowledged or dealt with in the final book. I’ll be looking for your review to remind me haha. I’m excited to see your thoughts on that! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Azia!

      “I love how their romance isn’t straightforward or completely solidified by the end of the book. It’s a slow-burning, conflicted romance that I enjoy very much.”

      You said it perfectly. It’s just so REAL.

      It was those changing positions and motivations that really kept me reading when the repetition started to bother me. (There was just so much “D&L sneak away from camp at night, perform a secret mission, run into danger, escape danger, return to camp, AND REPEAT” going on for the middle half or so.) Man, Pacat does character development and arcs incredibly well.

      I fully agree with you; I’d expected the issue of slavery to be more explicitly acknowledged and discussed in this book than it was. And, unfortunately, one of my (many) major criticisms of the final book is its almost complete absence from the story. I mean, it’s mentioned, like, twice, but only in passing as something that Damen wants to do away with if he regains his throne. And that’s it. Like, two measly sentences. Bah.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The middle was pretty boring, but the interactions between Damen and Laurent kept me going. Their character development and blossoming romance was, by far, the best part about this book, and one of the main reasons why I plan to reread it soon.

        Ah. So the third book really didn’t say much about it. I couldn’t really remember, mostly because there was nothing to remember, unfortunately. The ending was definitely a disappointment, and the lack of discussion around slavery almost made the issue seem inconsequential towards the end :/ It felt like a missed opportunity.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Romance Done Exceedingly Well and REAL PEOPLE? You don’t need to say more, I can tell this is a book worth reading! I love that we got to learn your way of analyzing and interpreting your words from your rants, so when you praise a book, it has such a big impact and I trust it to be so true.

    Liked by 1 person

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