Upon his father’s death, Prince Damianos should be heir to the Akielos throne. Instead he finds himself captured, bound, and given as gift to Prince Laurent of Vere as his new slave, “Damen.” Damen’s younger brother has sent him away to claim the throne for himself, and told everyone in the kingdom that Damen is dead. After being drugged and taken to Vere, Damen realizes that no one knows he is really the Prince of Akielos. This is particularly crucial as during the war between Vere and Akielos, Damen was responsible for killing Laurent’s brother, the Crown Prince.
Upon meeting Laurent, Damen finds the man totally repugnant. Laurent is arrogant and rude, calculating and manipulating. He seems to thrive on making Damen as miserable as possible, as well as verbally sparring with his uncle, the Regent. Laurent has 10 months until he turns 21 and can claim the throne, and until then he and his uncle are always at odds.
Damen has a hard time accepting his role as a slave, and obeying and catering to Laurent is impossible. He finds himself beaten and abused and a pawn in Laurent’s game with his uncle. Damen eventually does his best to get along, hoping there will be opportunity for escape. But when he realizes there are other Aikelos slaves at the palace and that he may be in a position to protect them if he plays along with Laurent, it complicates things further. The Veretian court is full of intrigue and scheming and Damen should keep his head down and stay out of trouble. But when things between Laurent and his uncle come to a head, Damen may find himself drawn into the fight whether he likes it or not.
I have heard nothing but great things about Captive Prince since the original version came out a few years ago. When I saw that this book, along with the sequel, was being republished by Berkley in anticipation of the release of the third book in the series, I decided this was a great time to give it a try. And I will tell you that this story did not disappoint and definitely lived up to the enthusiastic reviews.
Pacat creates an amazing world of political intrigue, and that is the crux of this story. The Veretian court is full of scheming, backstabbing, and manipulation. No one seems to have pure motives, everyone wants something from someone, and it is all a complex maneuvering. At the heart of this is Laurent and his uncle. They are the two most powerful men in Vere and they are constantly at odds. The Regent has the current seat of power, but Laurent will come into the throne in ten months. In the meantime, the men have a veil of civility that just barely hides the malice underneath. The best way to describe it all would be like a chess game. The outward actions are just hiding the plotting underneath. The men are always thinking many steps ahead and nothing is as it appears. It makes for a fascinating story as things twist and turn and it is nearly impossible to figure out motivations and plans. I found it all so wonderfully done and I was captivated from the very beginning. Pacat creates a story that is incredibly gripping and intense.
Damen finds himself drawn in as a pawn in everything that is happening, first the maneuvers of this brother and then between Laurent and the Regent. He detests Laurent, but also knows he may need to cultivate that relationship. At times I felt Damen is a bit too much on the sidelines, however. We are in his POV, so he is always a part of the things, but the real story is the conflict between Laurent and his uncle. Damen is often the bystander, observing and trying to figure out how to play things, but he is not really the center of the action much of the time.
The relationship with Laurent and Damen is fascinating, however, as Damen hates him intensely. I’d say this is classic enemies to lovers, but we never get to the lovers part. Damen hates Laurent from beginning to end. There is never any softening, never a suggestion that there could be more between them. There are times that they work together, but Damen continues to detest Laurent throughout the book. So clearly there are no sexy times here or even anything that could be described as a romance. Now this is the first book in the series, so I am assuming that will come with future books. And surprisingly, I didn’t miss it. Pacat’s writing is so clever, and Laurent is just a fascinating character. We never quite know what he is thinking, what is motivating him. He seems all cool calculation, but at times we could swear that there is more there. I am dying to see how his character develops and what will happen between him and Damen.
I just am incredibly impressed here with Pacat’s writing. The world she has created is fascinating and she captures the politics in such clever, subtle ways. Tidbits are dropped here and there, moves are made, and then things come together in incredible ways. At one point a casual comment by one character combined with my memories of two other seemingly unrelated bits of information to suddenly surprise me into figuring out something shocking. Or at least I think I figured it out. The subtly here is amazing, and I can’t wait to see how (or if) it all really does end up connecting. And that is the real beauty of this story and Pacat’s writing. It is just so clever and the story is so intricate, I really loved it all. I am eager to start the second book (releasing in July) and then can’t wait for the final book in the series. Definitely highly recommended.
P.S. A couple quick notes here. First off, I read this in electronic format, but also had the paperback. There is a map in the front of the book that shows Aikelos, Vere, and the neighboring lands that I found very useful. However, in the ebook version the map was garbled and unreadable. I am not sure if that is a flaw in my review copy, or the way my version formatted or what, but just be aware as a potential issue. I will also point out that both the print and ebook end at about the 85% mark, something I personally find kind of frustrating. After the main story ends, we do get a short story featuring one of the slaves we meet in the book, as well as an excerpt from the second book, Prince’s Gambit, but the main story ends fairly early. So just be aware this book isn’t as long as it may appear.