Discussion of the Captive Prince Series, by C. S. Pacat

Posted May 14, 2016 by Ellen in Discussion Post / 14 Comments

C O N T A I N S     S P O I L E R S!!!

discussion of the captive prince seriesSomething occurred to me when I was writing my review of C. S. Pacat’s Captive Prince a few weeks ago.  And that is, there is so much I want to talk about with people! However, I can’t in good conscience recommend this book to the people in my day-to-day life, all so I can chat them up about it. The Captive Prince series, especially book one, is extreme and explores some very dark, very immoral themes in a disturbing manner.  I don’t want to risk scarring people by foisting Captive Prince on them.  A recommendation of this series should come with a full disclosure. It brought me to the brink of total disgust and I consider myself to be a pretty liberal reader.  That being said, after I was finished with book one, which contains the lion’s share of horrific material, I loved the series.  I want to talk about it with people, or, at the very least, share some of my thoughts. So here we go — a discussion of the Captive Prince series.

Book One Really Pushes It

In interviews C. S. Pacat is frequently asked about her boundary-pushing writing.  So far, from what I’ve read of her answers, Pacat seemed keen to disturb people.  That was utterly intentional on her part. She even admits to having written with her eyes averted from her screen, squeamish herself. So, what I haven’t picked out yet is, why?  I understand wanting to elicit strong feelings in readers to create high emotional stakes… but was the explicit content in Captive Prince, Volume One necessary? Why did Pacat push it that far?  I was almost totally alienated by the content, which contains graphic sexual assault, rape, and torture, amongst many other things.

Here’s my bottom line: I cannot love Captive Prince, Volume One like I do the rest of the series, because it was so goddamn disturbing.

I’ve tried to re-read book one, like I’ve done with books two and three, but I just can’t manage it. I’m finished with that novel, and I can’t make myself re-visit it.  Books two and three — I can read them over and over again.  But not Captive Prince. Despite this, I have to appreciate book one in many respects for laying the foundations for Prince’s Gambit and Kings Rising. 

So here’s my question: Did the boundary-pushing in Captive Prince, Volume One actually affect the emotional stakes for the rest of the series positively, or was it all gratuitous?

Laurent Has a Mysterious Backstory That Can Be Reconstructed

We find out in plain terms at the end of Kings Rising what was hinted at throughout the entire series — Laurent had a sexual relationship when he was a boy with his uncle, who is a pedophile.  Readers, we all saw that coming, right?  Throughout the books, Laurent is exhibits classic symptoms of having been abused and exploited at a young age.  There were countless small hints dropped and countless, heart-squeezing suggestions.

What shocked me, though, is when Laurent hints that he was partially complicit in the abuse. It’s such a sad, wrenching backstory.

I found it somewhat frustrating that we never get a clear picture of what exactly happened to Laurent.  But, with some reflection, I found that Pacat had given us enough clues for us to put the story together.

Here’s what I think happened, based off of evidence from the text:

Laurent’s uncle, a pedophile, dialed in on a young Laurent as a potential victim from a time before Auguste’s demise.  Auguste, for his part, protected Laurent from their uncle’s manipulations while alive.  Upon Auguste’s violent death, however, there was no one standing between Laurent and his uncle’s dark agenda.  Desperate for comfort and affection, a young Laurent became complicit in a secret, sexual relationship with his uncle, the predator.  

Much like the regent’s other young victims, Laurent became both enthralled by his uncle and coerced into a servile role.  After a number of years, however, the regent exchanged Laurent for a younger victim.  At first confused and disoriented, Laurent, with some distance from his uncle, gradually came to understand that he’d been exploited, by his own family and ‘caretaker’ no less… hence, his terrible thirst for revenge…

In the present, Laurent is still suffering the ill-effects of years of sexual and mental abuse. This explains, in full, Laurent’s “virgin/whore” dichotomy, where he seems at once wholly bored by and exposed to sexuality, adroit at explicit verbal jabs, and yet, he is frigidly prudish to an infamous degree.

That’s my idea of what happened.  Readers, does it align with your concept of Laurent’s backstory?

Laurent’s Relationship With Damen, His Brother’s Killer, Starts Out Sick, Winds Up Surprisingly Healthy

From the age of thirteen, Laurent has been obsessed with ‘Damianos,’ the war hero of Akielos.  The reason why — Damianos bested Auguste, Laurent’s older and beloved brother, in a single-combat deathmatch. Not only did Damen kill Auguste, but his victory ushered in the darkest period of Laurent’s life.  Without his protector in Auguste, Laurent fell prey to his pedophilic uncle.

Even before the Regent, Damen of Akielos was Laurent’s first enemy.  Fantasizing revenge, Laurent trained with the sword, learning both Veretian techniques and the Akielon style, all to one day seek Damianos out and avenge Auguste.

So when, ten months before Laurent’s ascendancy to kingship, the new Akielon regime sends Damianos to Laurent in chains, Laurent is thrown.  At first, Laurent intends to toy with Damen like a mouse, aware than Damen thinks his identity is undiscovered.  However, Laurent reacts with rage and disgust when Damen makes a sexual overture, and has Damen flayed near to death.

Realizing that he’s made a political error in gambling with Damen’s life, Laurent decides to keep his slave and adversary alive.  In little time, however, Damen’s character, sensitive, honorable, and so contrary to the dumb brute Laurent had expected, makes an impression on Prince of Vere. At the end of Captive Prince and throughout part of Prince’s Gambit, Laurent decides to put some careful trust in the man who he used to loathe above all others. Over time, their camaraderie grows, with a romantic edge to boot.

When Laurent and Damen’s relationship becomes sexual, near the end of book two, it comes as a shock to the reader, though not in the expected way. Damen was born into a homoerotic culture and has been lusting after Laurent since book one.  That there is lust and attraction on his side is not a shock. What’s gripping is that Damen’s identity has just been discovered by Jord, who gives Damen a deadline to get out of town. All of this deception is hanging like a guillotine and Damen has sex with Laurent anyway… Damen!

What’s even more shocking is Laurent’s complicity.  The reader has been shown outright that Laurent is frigid, and its been intimated that he’s been sexually abused by his uncle.  To accept Damen as a lover is a marvelous personal step in letting himself heal and be vulnerable! Or so we think…

We find out in King’s Rising, along with a blindsided Damen, that Laurent has known Damen as ‘Damianos’ from the first. Instead of Damen taking advantage of Laurent when they had sex, it was the other way around. Laurent!

After everything’s out in the open, however, the two men actually move forward. It’s hard to discern the point when, after everything, Laurent decides to earnestly pursue a relationship with Damen.  Most certainly, has already occurred when the two reunite in the sheets, after Laurent has interrogated the two-timing Jocaste, Damen’s former lover and possible baby-mama.  The difference between that honest encounter and Damen and Laurent’s first, manipulation-ridden rumble is palpably different. And from that point onward, Laurent becomes vulnerable and giving in leaps and bounds, much to a love-sick Damen’s delight.

But when exactly did Laurent forgive Damen, put their history aside, and decide to love his former enemy?  Did it happen gradually, or was it a moment’s decision?

The Identity of Damen, ‘Damianos,’

A big theme in the books is the concept of dual identities. Yes, it’s no mistake that Damen, ‘Damianos,’ has two names. So, did Damen become a slave during the course of the series, casting aside his former self? Or was he the Prince of Akielos all along?  The books seem to argue in favor of his being one person, with different facets.  Damen always had a generous and giving side — it grew and developed during his time as a slave — and yet, he also has unyielding integrity and the personal pride of a king.

Laurent gets a mighty share of recognition for being a complicated and faceted character, but in my opinion, Damen doesn’t get enough credit.  He is a complex character in his own right. For instance…

Part of Damen’s identity is ‘Damianos,’ Prince-Killer and jock lord.

His greatest hits:

  • Throwing a six-pound sword through the air to impale a man.
  • Besting an armed adversary with a wooden practice weapon, to the the astonishment of all present.
  • Shattering an opponent’s shield with a single blow.
  • Being kicked in the nuts by Laurent during a bought, and carrying on through the blackout pain.
  • Winning victories in his army’s athletic games, with nonchalance and a cheerful attitude.
  • Being recognized as ‘Damianos, Prince-Killer’ through his body-language on the battlefield.
  • Ripping a window out of a wall.

I have to say, I loved this character, especially during his ‘jock moments.’  And I thought it was a great move on Pacat’s part to have him be our narrator, even though she’s intimated in interviews that she favors Laurent.  Damen is quite relatable, but also enough of a unique character and a powerful identity to make his narration vastly entertaining.

Who was your favorite of the two protagonists? Laurent? Or Damen?

These Books Are Going To Stay With Me

That’s mainly what I have to say. Only over 1,600 words of raving. Haha! But if you’re reading this, please, comment! I would LOVE to hear your own thoughts on this complicated, sexy, fantastic series.

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