Captive Prince by CS Pacat
The first installment of the Captive Prince trilogy by Melbourne author C.S. Pacat is likely to take you by surprise. Before reading it I’d heard the premise –medieval-style fantasy with gay princes. Enough said, sign me up! What Pacat is doing here is intriguing, clever, knowing, and quite a lot of fun.
I began this book eagerly anticipating some hypermasculinity and queer romance. I found instead brutality, rape, and dynamics of absolute power and enforced submission. It’s detailed and direct, replacing the medieval battlefield with the bedchamber. I wasn’t sure what to make of it: I was shocked and uncomfortable, yet the characters were engaging, the narrative exciting, and the prose seamless. I wasn’t about to stop reading.
The plot centres on Damen, Prince of Akielos, who is double-crossed by his brother after the death of their father. Damen has been given as an anonymous sex slave to his mortal enemy, the Crown Prince of Vere, Laurent, and must pray that he isn’t recognised as the man who killed Laurent’s brother in battle many years earlier. For Damen – wrongfully imprisoned, bound and tethered by chains – Vere is a depraved kingdom where slaves are abused, kept as sexual ‘pets’, and forced to fight to the ‘little-death’ in the arena for sport. Damen does not take kindly to his new, inverted position, but bides his time until he can escape. In the meantime, he develops a tense and unlikely affinity with the calculating, mysterious, shockingly beautiful but untouchable Laurent.
Any novel that’s referencing genre and has explicitly queer content will always have a number of things going on at once. Pacat has created a simple, homonormative, masculine world. It is, to some extent, erotica for women, but more than that I read Captive Prince as an exploration of men’s desire. The Captive Prince trilogy promises to be refreshingly queer and unique in its approach to this action-packed and sexy genre, and I can’t wait to read the next two books.
Amy Vuleta is the Shop Manager at Readings St Kilda.