Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat


Published: April 2015 by Viking Books
Format reviewed: Paperback, 268 pages
Series: Captive Prince #1
Genres: Fantasy, romance
Source: Borrowed from a friend
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015
Available: Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

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 epitomises the worst of the decadent court at Vere. But in the lethal web of Veretian politics, nothing is as it seems, and when Damen is caught up in a dangerous play for the throne, he must form an alliance with Laurent to survive and save his country.

For Damen, there is just one rule: he must never reveal his true identity. Because the one man Damen needs is the one man who has more reason to hate him than anyone else . . .

Captive Prince is a bit of a strange book to come out of mainstream publishing. It is a fantasy m/m romance featuring BDSM elements, which, while it’s not new to my reading pile (The Court of Five Thrones, anyone?), is certainly breaking new ground for the big publishing houses. However, it is clear why Captive Prince deserves this distinction.

The story begins in the middle of the action, with Prince Damen taken prisoner by a rebel faction, then enslaved and gifted to the prince of an enemy kingdom. At a bit over 250 pages,
Captive Prince is not a long book, but it is tightly written. Thetension caused by Damen’s imprisonment only ratchets up as he comes to realise the depth of his predicament.

Damen is a pretty straightforward guy, so it takes him a while to accept the duplicity of his half-brother (or, at the very least, his half-brother’s mistress) and to understand the levels of intrigue playing out in the court of Vere. I found this kind of naivety made him easy to relate to. I also enjoyed watching his focus expand from a merely selfish desire to escape his captivity to a concern for the other slaves from Akielos that arrived in Vere with him.

Laurent is ice to Damen’s fire. He shows little emotion apart from irritation, and intrigue comes to him as naturally as breathing. His backstory is subtly done. I found there were just enough hints for me to understand the history between him and his uncle, the Regent, without anything needing to be explicitly said.

Readers could be forgiven for wondering whether Captive Prince really is a romance. It is definitely a slow-burning one, as befits a relationship that starts out with such antagonism. This slow burn makes it seem as if the strong fantasy plot is dominant, even though the two are in fact inextricably entwined.

Homosexuality is a key component of Vere’s society and one that I think makes sense for a culture that thrives so much on intrigue; look no further than Akielos for an example of why this might be the case. However, while I enjoyed seeing homosexuality as such an integral part of the worldbuilding, what I appreciated most was the way Damen is portrayed not as homosexual but as bisexual. It would be easy to leave this out, erasing bisexuality in much the same way as asexuality. Instead, it is shown as completely normal–for Damen’s culture, if not in Vere.

Unsurprisingly, the story deals with some dark themes, including rape, torture and bondage. It is definitely not going to be to everyone’s tastes.

However, I found Captive Prince a well-paced read with a strong focus on character and just the right amount of heat.