This was a buddy read with my friends Heather (review here) and Sarah (review here).
C.S. Pacat does with CAPTIVE PRINCE what the bodice rippers of yore did with historical romance, the differences being that (1) this is a fantasy novel and not historical (and not really a romance) and (2) it is about two men. Apart from that, the structure is eerily similar to bodice rippers, from the plot to the role that the characters play to the way sex is used within the story. Damianos was prince of Akielos until his half-brother staged a coup and gave Damianos to the enemy country of Vere as a gift-slave for lolz. Damianos, now called Damen, finds himself the position of a sociopathic prince named Laurent who is busy fighting power struggles of his own with the Regent, his uncle. Vere is an utterly cutthroat court with courtiers stabbing each other in the back, and an utterly depraved view on relationships, with a society that appears to be structured almost entirely around rape: rape as punishment, rape as entertainment, rape as a means of showing power or getting what you want ... there is a lot of rape. Bertrice Small would totally write this story.
I like bodice rippers, so reading CAPTIVE PRINCE was kind of like a modern throwback to that style of writing. Pacat's writing is seriously #WritingGoals. Seriously, she writes in this really fancy and beautifully opulent way, and I even learned a new word ("marmoreal"). Which was good, because I felt like it lent a certain respect to the content; had this been written in a trashier way, I think I might have disliked the book more. It's pretty obvious from Damianos's reactions that he thinks that Vere is a messed-up place. I did balk at the pedophilia (underage preteen slaves and hints at someone being sexually molested) and the corporeal punishment and the mistreatment of animals (horses). These are things that I sometimes have difficulty reading about in fiction. But luckily, Pacat didn't go into too much detail. The rape scenes were very unpleasant, though - especially the gladiatorial rape games that the Veretians like to play, involving wrestling matches where the loser gets raped - but again, these seemed to speak more to the corruption of a society that is slowly falling into ruin as it's blinded by its own glittering bacchanalia, and not just writing shock horror for the sake of writing shock horror. At least in my opinion. I'm sure people will disagree. Some of my friends hated this book with a passion because of the things I mentioned, and I totally respect that.
What makes this book great - apart from the lovely writing - is Damianos. It's hard not to root for him. His bewilderment and fear and anger in the beginning are so poignant. And then, his determination to survive - even if it costs him his dignity and his honor. He's a very strong character with a strong sense of right and wrong. You want him to survive this nightmare court so he can go back to Akielos and kick his brother's butt. But survival is not easy - and that's where another thing I liked comes in: the court intrigue. Court intrigue is one of those things that automatically gets me interested in a book, and here it is done really well. I'm a sucker for scheming character, and the secondary characters are all total schemers, especially Nicaise and Ancel.
Laurent isn't really much of a love interest in this book. He's brutal and mean. He reminds me of the heroes in Rosemary Rogers, Marilyn Harris, and Patricia Hagan bodice rippers in the sense that he's virtually indistinguishable from the villains of the story, except for hints of vulnerability and a slight interest in the hero in this case that borders on outright disdain. He is incredibly cruel to Damen: whipping him almost death, drugging him and then entering him in the gladiatorial rape arena, forcing him to receive oral sex from another slave while a crowd of people watch. There's hints of why he is the way he is, cold and brutal and utterly repulsed by human contact, but that doesn't make it easy to stomach or at all excusable. I know he's the love interest because I've seen the spoilers and the fan art, so I can only hope that Laurent scales the mountains of heavens themselves in order to win Damen over once he gets it into his thick skull that he likes the man, because man, does he have a lot to atone for.
My edition also had a short story called THE TRAINING OF ERASMUS. I side-eyed the short story at first but decided to read it, and it was actually good. It's a prequel to CAPTIVE PRINCE about Erasmus and how he became a slave and then, after that, how he was brought to Vere. This also has an open-ended sort of ending that leaves it up to interpretation why he was removed from his royal duties. Was it cold-hearted scheming borne of jealousy? Or mercy cloaked in the guise of betrayal?
Overall, this was pretty good. Much better than I'd expected. I'm probably going to keep my copy because her writing is so amazing and I want to have it on reference as an example of how to string words together prettily. The content on the other hand is brutally dark and unless you are a fan of bodice rippers or are not particularly bothered by sexual violence, I would not recommend this to the faint of heart. Even if the book does not go into detail, it is still not an easy read.
4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars