The basic synopsis of the Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat is that Damianos (Damen) is the heir to the throne of Akeilos. His father dies and Damen’s half-brother Kastor captures him and sends him off to be a slave in Vere, telling everyone that the prince is dead so he can rule as King. Laurent is the Crown Prince of Vere, but is not yet old enough to inherit the throne. Vere is ruled by his uncle, the Regent. Damen is sent to be a personal gift to Laurent.
(Note! After reading the series I am now re-reading this book and I will just say, read it, read all of them and re-read them again. The layers to this story are amazing. It was a big struggle to just not re-write this entire review, but my reviews are first impression. I’m doing an analysis of this book that will be posted at a later date examining it after a second read.)
I’ll start off by saying that I don’t particularly like either of the main characters. In this first book they both seem pretty awful. Damen is, as I’ll explain below, a hypocrite, and Laurent is a dick to Damen for about 95% of the book. By the end of the book I still didn’t really like them, but I was more invested into their story.
One unusual aspect about the world developed by Pacat is that it is homonormative, which is not often seen in books. This basically means that homosexual relationships are completely normalized in the societies, which is incredibly refreshing. In Akeilos it doesn’t much matter who you’re with, but in Vere homosexual relationship are the norm over heterosexual pairings if you are not married and procreating since having illegitimate children is a massive taboo.
Slavery plays a really big role in this book, primarily sexual slavery. In Vere there are “pets”, which are doted upon companions, but it’s not entirely clear whether they are fully enslaved or how one becomes a pet. In Akeilos the slavery system is also not explained as to how one becomes a slave. They seem to be trained from a young age and raised with others who are eventually to become sexual partners to the elite, but there’s very little information otherwise. In Akeilos the slaves provide “perfect obedience” in exchange for “perfect treatment”. Some of the Akeilos slaves we encounter in the story are so devoid of autonomy that they grow up literally yearning to “belong” to someone. They voice no opinions, offer no resistance and are so passive it’s almost painful. For really any we encounter, save perhaps Erasmus, they are stripped of all agency to the point that they might as well be dolls. I wish there was more worldbuilding in this book. There are a lot of fantasy cultural aspects that aren’t really explained and I think things would have benefited with a bit more context and background. We get to learn a little bit more about the slaves in Akeilos from a bonus short chapter at the end of the book which focuses on Erasmus and his early training. There’s still no explanation about how one becomes a slave, but there’s a least a bit more info on their lives.
At the beginning of the story Damen is the Crown Prince of Akeilos and, as such, uses slaves whenever he feels like it and remarks on this a few times through the story. I find it difficult to sympathize with Damen’s enslavement considering that he was a slave owner himself and saw nothing wrong with it. Obviously it’s bad when anyone is enslaved, but it’s less sympathetic when the slave owner becomes the slave. I’m very much hoping this causes a change for him when (I’m assuming) he eventually returns to take over his Kingdom. When Damen is taken to Vere and he sees other slaves from Akeilos he remarks that he’s worried for their safety. This is where their lack of agency becomes acutely apparent. Even when being horribly abused, with their obedience for nice treatment agreement being violated, they do literally nothing about it. Damen doesn’t worry about the Veretian slaves/pets at all, only the ones from Akeilos. This is remarked on several times, his concern for only his own people who were given as slaves, but not any of the others. Also there is no concern at all for the slaves who currently live in Akeilos because he gets to use those ones and it apparently only counts as something bad if another nation is doing the same thing. The Veretian slaves are just as human as the ones from his homeland. Damen seems to have this idea that the slaves where he’s from have a much better deal despite them being trained into complete submissive obedience with no opinion, autonomy or self-determination of any kind. Slavery is still slavery regardless of how well you dress it up.
Damen has a very obvious blond fetish and it comes up fairly frequently since a lot of the characters that appear are blond despite it being unusual coloring where he’s from. It can come across as a little bit overboard considering we get to meet four blond characters before we have any idea of what Damen himself looks like. I’m almost wondering if the blond slaves in Akeilos were imported from Vere at some point since there seems to be a lot of them, but this is never discussed in the book.
There’s a lot of backstabbing and political intrigue in this book. We get everything from Damen’s perspective so we’re denied a lot of information simply because he doesn’t have access to it. If you do want to check out this book, there are some graphic scenes and some rather unpleasant characters who engage in things that would be cause for incarceration if they were in our world. Overall, despite some uncomfortable scenes, I’m pretty invested in this story and eager to look into the character development. Had I not looked into reviews of this book I might have skipped subsequent books, but because this book seems to be so polarizing, I feel like I can’t truly understand it without the full context.
*Content warning for this book: slavery, abuse, rape, violence, pedophilia
Anyhoo, that is my take on the Captive Prince. Thanks for stopping by!
*Note: I’ve since finished reading Book 2 of this trilogy, Prince’s Gambit and all I can say is that it gets SO much better. If you can make it through Book 1, you’re in for a treat
**I’ve finished reading all of the trilogy and I have to say that these books are meant to be consumed as a package. You need Book 3 to fully understand Book 1 and if you only read this one, you’re less likely to enjoy and understand the story. There is a lot of discomfort that occurs in Captive Prince and you need Kings Rising to fully comprehend the layers and complexities.