Reading this series with the knowledge of what happens introduces an entirely new perspective. Captive Prince is a wholly different experience this time around. I am in love with this series. SPOILER ALERT
It was easy to forget after reading a while that Kastor even really existed, because the presence of Laurent in the books simply dwarfs him. Re-reading reminded me that to begin with all of Damen’s suffering is from his brother’s hand. When Kastor sends Damen into slavery, specifically to Vere, it is with the expectation that he will suffer, that he will be abused and humiliated. Laurent’s initial behavior is following this expectation.
When Laurent and Damen first meet, Damen’s blond fetish rears its head and he’s instantly transfixed by Laurent, not yet knowing who he is. At this point, Laurent has basically had the last six years of suffering hurled into his face without warning. He’s meeting his brother’s killer and the trigger point for all of the subsequent abuses and grief Laurent has experienced since that day at the Battle of Marlas.
The threat to put Damen onto the cross to break him is a first painful reaction from Laurent to cause Damen as much pain as possible in retribution for killing Auguste (though Damen doesn’t actually make it onto the cross at this point due to the Regent’s intervention). The intervention is not for Damen’s sake or for maintaining any shallow respect for Akeilos, but for his future plans for Damen. The really twisted thing about the Regent bringing in Damen to be a pleasure slave for Laurent is because he wanted to wait for the moment when Laurent actually allowed Damen into his bed and then the Regent would reveal Damen’s identity. It is a plan to break Laurent to the point where he would be unable to rise again, to have been tricked into the bed of the man who killed his brother. It’s possible that the Regent may have even planned it to prompt Laurent into suicide to leave the throne free for him without any direct involvement on his part.
My interpretation is that Laurent’s primary driving force through much of Captive Prince is fear. His control is a protective measure to mitigate his fear and there are incredible lengths he will go to in order to preserve his control.
When Laurent comes to Damen drunk, we later learn that it was the first time Laurent has been drunk in a long time and typically refuses to touch alcohol or anything that dulls his senses. It’s not completely explained, but I almost wonder if the Regent used to give Laurent wine before his abuses. This interaction is interesting, because without that knowledge it seems like Laurent is a spoiled drunk come to taunt his prisoner, but in reality we are seeing Laurent pushed to the edge. His control is gone, his coping strategies having utterly failed him after coming face to face with Auguste’s killer. Laurent is so upset that he is willing to risk his life to try and escape what he feels.
Further interactions feel like Laurent testing Damen out, asking through his orders, Show me who you are. Laurent would have built Damen up in his head as his cold-blooded monster, a murderer, removing the context of war and setting it up as Damen taking a life without circumstance, purely for bloodlust. Each interaction you can see Laurent asking Where are your limits? Laurent’s attempts at humiliating Damen are more to soothe himself, I think, to feel like he has control somewhere.
The scene with the ring is definitely still traumatizing. Here I think it’s Laurent trying to pass his own sexual abuse to Damen, indirectly. In a sort of, “Your actions allowed this to happen to me, now it will happen to you” way. When Damen later refuses to rape one of the child pets, Laurent doesn’t seem to quite understand. It’s like he’s asking Damianos why murder is acceptable to him, but rape is not. It seems like it’s one facet of the monster Laurent believed Damen to be that is being chipped away and Laurent doesn’t like it.
When Laurent has Damen attend him in the baths I find it very interesting, because there’s this giant unspoken question hovering over them. You killed my brother, will you kill me too? Show me that you’re a monster and I’m right to hate you. It could also be a sort of death wish from Laurent, standing on his edge, wondering what it would be like to have the man who took Auguste put his hands on him. Maybe he feels like it connects him to his brother, connected in a new way through Damen, Laurent facing the same danger that Auguste did. When Damen gets distracted and aroused, Laurent is instantly furious. Laurent knows how much (potential) danger he’s in at this moment and because he doesn’t know Damen as a person, he’s likely petrified that he’s going to be raped and responds to that with violence. From the baths we go to the whipping post where Laurent pours out his fear and his anger onto Damen. As awful as these actions are, it’s almost like watching a kicked dog suddenly maul. Laurent has been unable to attack the Regent, he’s suppressed everything and now Damen is here, in a position of decreased power and those years of impotent rage are dumped out. If Damen is broken then he is not dangerous and Laurent doesn’t have to be so afraid of him, of everything.
The end of chapter three has Laurent telling Damen that he knows, but not explicitly and it’s possible that Damen is in too much pain to even really understand what is being said.
The exchange: “You can thank him for the lesson.”
“Thank who?” Damen pushed the words out, somehow, past the pain, but he knew. He knew.
“Damianos, the dead Prince of Akeilos,” said Laurent. “The man who killed my brother.”
^^^There is an intangible YOU in the air here. You miss it on the first read, but it feels like a neon sign the second read through.
The whip is Laurent taking retribution, forcing Damen to pay for his crimes against Vere, for his crimes against Laurent. While Laurent bore the brunt of the destruction from the Battle of Marlas, the Veretians lost their King, their Crown Prince and an entire province in a day. Laurent is telling him he is taking his payment, carving out pain within Damen that had radiated through Vere. Laurent had grown up the spare to the heir, a boy who loved books and had little interest in ruling and in a moment that was all stripped away from him. He was forced to abandon himself and step into the life of his brother. The Laurent that we meet is the ghost that rose on the day his old self was killed alongside Auguste.
Laurent and Nicaise have a strange relationship. Nicaise is the child pet of the Regent and he’s getting to the point where the Regent will discard him for someone younger. Laurent knows this, Nicaise knows this, but is in denial over it. When Laurent suggests offering for Nicaise when he’s released by the Regent, he’s offering Nicaise protection, time to heal, because Laurent has zero sexual interest in him so Nicaise would get to live his life however he chooses. It doesn’t matter if Nicaise believes the Regent loves him (as does everyone else the Regent screws with, literally and figuratively), because he’s only thirteen, he should never have been in that situation. Laurent’s offer is, I think, a way for him to reach back into the past. He’s doing what he desperately wished someone had been able to do for him when he was in the same position. Laurent didn’t have anyone to help him through his abuses and he doesn’t want the same for Nicaise.
I think the character of Nicaise is almost allowing the reader a look at young Laurent. He was the same age when he found himself under the power of the Regent. They’re both terrified beneath the veneer of unpleasantness, both have nowhere to turn, both trapped by the same man. Their hostility, rebellion and double-dealing is them both trying to cope with their reality.
Unraveling the Monster
I particularly enjoy the scenes where Damen says or does something that utterly confuse Laurent. It’s so much easier to hate someone when you don’t know them and Damen expressing his humanity throws Laurent for a loop each time. In my head his brain is just going Stop that! I can’t blindly hate you when you do that and you need to quit it right now so I can go back to my comfort zone of despising every aspect of your existence.
When Damen offers up his complete obedience if Laurent will help the Akeilon slaves, it reveals a self-sacrificing, non-monster version of Damen. It seems like Laurent wants to believe him, but he has too many trust issues. What happens here though is a power exchange, Damen hands Laurent a way to hurt him, which gives Laurent a feeling of control is a world of quiet chaos. It’s sort of a neat exchange, because under the threatening overlay you have as quieter, Please help me to help them, you don’t have to be afraid of me and an acceptance of Thank you for seeing I was and not taking advantage of it.
Each interaction between Damen and Laurent is slowly (very slowly) alleviating the crippling baggage between them. I think here we basically have to look at Laurent as weighed down beyond what he can handle, even if we don’t see it. Each time Damen isn’t what he expects it’s Damen lifting a small weight off him, letting him stand up a little more and seeing things for how they are instead of the perspective he’s been forced into. It’s confusing and disorienting, but all of that is stifled behind the visage he gives the court. Since the loss of Auguste, Laurent hasn’t had anyone he can truly trust, save perhaps the members of the Prince’s Guard (but I’m sure even there he’s suspicious given the nature of the court). He’s isolated and used to fighting alone and when Damen hands over leverage to be used against him it’s like a hand being offered even if they don’t yet realize it. Damen doesn’t understand Laurent’s predicament, but I’m sure he has to know that people are generally not horrendously awful for no reason; whether it’s the result of abuse, learned behavior or something else propelling it, it’s possible deep down he senses something isn’t right, but he’s too clouded to consider what it might be.
Trust and Power
Towards the end of the book we see a fairly substantial power shift again between Damen and Laurent.
When Damen saves Laurent’s life in an assassination attempt he tries to find reasons for himself, but I think he’s starting to look beyond the frosty exterior of the Veretian prince. He knows that Laurent doesn’t let innocents suffer and he respects that. Here is where the power dynamics skew, giving Damen the control Laurent so desperately clings to. Laurent has repaid the power exchange where Damen promised obedience for the protection of the Akeilon slaves, and now Damen has saved Laurent’s life. Very soon after Laurent saves Damen in turn and the balance of power returns to the status quo. Here the rug is pulled out from under Laurent and the Regent boxes him into a corner and consequently has him being sent off for border duty, a veritable death sentence. Damen wants to go with Laurent, offering to be someone Laurent can trust on this journey. Laurent isn’t ready, on many levels, to accept this offer. I think that beneath it all he understands that Damen doesn’t offer these things lightly. The ghost of Auguste hovers between them, the man who took him offering to protect and save the one whom Auguste was taken from. Damen doesn’t yet truly regret his taking of Auguste’s life in battle, but it’s possible that we are seeing his first steps towards amends for those actions. There’s nothing he can do about the choices he made in the past, but Laurent is here and Laurent needs him. He can honor the memory of Auguste and reconcile his actions by keeping Laurent safe.
So those are my thoughts on Captive Prince. The first book of this trilogy has very mixed reviews, mostly from people not continuing on with the story and thus not learning any of the above (and more). The series is definitely worth checking out. C.S. Pacat is a literary talent.
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