This series was featured in Ruthie Knox’s What to Read Wednesday weekly blog post. I was very intrigued, so I bought the first book, read a couple of chapters and went and bought the second book, because that small sample was enough to convince me of its quality. The books ended up being so good, that I’m tempted to just review them in one line saying go read this now.
Before I get to the review, you should know is that this is a work in progress. The third and final book won’t be out until next year, and the second book ends on a cliffhanger. Not only that, but these books tell one story and pretty much read like one long book. I think the only reason why they have been divided into three volumes is because Captive Prince originated as a free online serial. So the books must be read in order, otherwise it will be like randomly opening a book in the middle and starting there.
Our captive prince is Damen. He’s an accomplished and respected warrior as well as the beloved heir to the throne of Akielos. But when his father dies, his older brother --the bastard son of the King and his mistress-- kills everyone close to Damen, captures him and sends him as a slave to the enemy kingdom of Vere, where Damen is given as a slave to the ruthless Prince Laurent.
No one in Vere recognizes the new slave as the recently deceased prince of Akielos, which is good news, because Damen is universally hated in Vere. But just as Damen is more than a rebellious slave, appearances are deceiving and no one in Vere is what they originally seem. And that is all I can say about the story without spoiling it.
This is a fantasy story clearly inspired by ancient Greece and Rome. As Ruthie said in her blog post, at one point things start to look a lot like the movie Caligula. The setting and characters are brutal. There is slavery, rape and humiliation. And at one point during the first book I even considered quitting, because it was disturbing and uncomfortable to read. But this is not a master-slave fantasy, and the brutal scenes are never used for titillation nor are they ever gratuitous.
The story is filled with political intrigue and machinations, but at its core there’s a very lovely and impossible romance that develops oh-so-slowly and takes us all the way to an incredibly satisfying emotional payoff. This, my friends, is how enemies-to-lovers stories should be.
There’s also a bit of a clash of the cultures that I found fascinating. Damen and Laurent are both Princes without a crown. Damen was stripped of it; Laurent is too young still. Each sees the other’s culture as barbarian. But they have more in common than they think, and watching them navigate those differences and find common ground was very entertaining. Their relationship is defined by a power struggle, but what makes it thrive is the moment they realize that their differences are complementary.
Captive Prince is told in third person and always from Damen’s point of view. He is the only character whose motivations are always clear; the hero in a sea of (apparent) villains. I found him way too naïve for someone who was groomed to be a king, but I never disliked him, and the more I got to know him, the more I understood where he was coming from.
I found the narration beautiful. It’s very simple and straightforward, yet the sense of place and otherworldliness that Fantasy novels should have is present in every word. I was transported to the places described, and I have an incredible sense of who Damen is, because the narration perfectly mirrors his character. The battle and action scenes were exciting and well done, and I have a vivid picture of how the places described are.
I had some issues with the first book that were mostly cleared in the second volume; the main one being that the female presence is disturbingly lacking. Same-sex relationships are accepted and encouraged, especially in Vere where unwanted pregnancies outside of marriage are taboo, and although there are women in the court, they have no role in the story. In the second book we meet a group of warrior women who help save the day, but I’m still not entirely convinced, and I hope that in the final book one female character in particular will have a more prominent role.
I was intrigued by the first book, but the second blew me away. When I was done I felt like reading nothing else, because stories like these are hard to let go. It’s brutal and at times I wasn’t sure where the story was taking me, but I’m glad I didn’t quit. It won’t be for everyone, but it definitely was for me.
Review by Brie
Grade: 4 (Vol. One) | 5 (Vol. Two)
Purchase: Volume One | Volume Two (Currently, the books are only available on Amazon, but according to the author they should be available on iTunes and B&N soon)
Sensuality: McBurning (Mostly because disturbing rape scenes and some other situations that are mentioned and hinted at. The romantic sex scenes are highly sensuous but not at all graphic. This book doesn’t really fit the erotic romance label)
Synopsis: (I’m only including the blurb of the first book)
“This was Vere, voluptous and decadent, country of honeyed poison.”
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 Verethian court, nothing is at 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 reasons to hate him than anyone else...
Gatto. February 2, 2012.
Gatto. February 2, 2013.