So before I go into all the complaints that I’m going to make about the Captive Prince, I want to iterate one thing: It is good and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I picked up the novel in the morning and finished it that same morning.
The Captive Prince is not a book that’s easily put down and while I have some misgivings, I can admit that it’s compelling. The characters draw you into this strange world and even if I don’t agree with the circumstances they’ve found themselves in… They don’t feel one note to me as can so often happen in romance books set in fetishistic settings.
As a read? It’s a pretty easy one, but that doesn’t make it any less compelling.
We good? Good. Let’s get to some dirt.
The Captive Prince is the first novel in a fantasy trilogy that focuses in on the relationship of two princes. Damen is a lauded warrior and a hero, betrayed by his own brother so that he can’t take his rightful place on the throne. Laurent seems like the exact opposite of Damen. Where Damen is famed for his physical prowess, Laurent is known for his ability to weave intrigues and to outwit his enemies at every turn. Both princes are on uneasy ground. Laurent must find out how to control his own court and how to make use of the unwanted gift that he has been given.
And Damen? Well, Damen is that gift. To add insult to injury, rather than just killing Damen, his half-brother has sent him to their enemies to service them sexually.
As I mentioned previously, the characters are compelling. Maybe from my explanation they seem like they would be one note, but they’re far from that. Both Damen and Laurent have multiple facets to their personalities and they’re both fully fleshed out characters. And maybe that’s where I’m struggling with the novel. To have two people who we’re supposed to hope get together despite their uneven power balance, it doesn’t appeal to me like it might have before I really stopped to think about it.
The Captive Prince had me breathlessly turning through the pages because I liked the power play between the two mains, but the sexual dynamics of the pair left me cold. As soon as one of the characters is a slave who doesn’t have the right to dissent and as soon as they are forced to take pleasure in someone else (regardless if they manage to orgasm or not), we’re in rape territory. It’s not even a hazy line that we’re unsure of, it’s definitely rape territory.
Maybe some people would class this novel under dub-con (dubious consent), but I can’t even place it there. After all, it’s clear that Damen doesn’t want to be serviced sexually, particularly in front of an audience. It’s just as clear that Laurent is doing it to humiliate him rather than to make Damen feel any sort of pleasure. While C. S. Pascat does a brilliant job of maintaining the tension and the push-pull between the two mains, it would have been better without any sex at all. Or at least some form of consensual sex.
While the slave narrative can be titillating to some people, the longer you stay in that world, the more you’re aware of how wrong things are. And to be fair to Pascat, the disgusting nature of how slaves are treated and how slavery is abhorrent aren’t avoided. The most disgusting excesses of slavery are touched upon in the novel, but that’s where the problem is: they’re only touched upon. For the rest of the novel, there’s an almost fetishistic quality to the slavery, as if everyone has entered willingly into a BDSM contract rather than become a slave (and in some cases, this does actually appear to be the case).
I’m torn. Honestly. I loved reading this book and when I found myself trapped in a sexual scene, I would just skim past it as quickly as I could to get to the next character driven moment. So keep in mind that the sexual politics are more than a little gross in this novel, but if you can get past that, there are some truly memorable characters and a world waiting to be explored. Despite how much emphasis is put on Damen being a pleasure slave now, there’s surprisingly little in the way of sex and I was so, so, so, so very thankful for that.
Whatever you think of the sexual situations, the characters are more than strong enough to carry the The Captive Prince and make it fascinating.