Prince’s Gambit picks up right at the end of Captive Prince as Damen agrees to help Laurent deal with conflicts on the border. Laurent’s uncle, the Regent, has forced Laurent’s hand and he now must get in the middle of the border fighting between Vere and Aikelos. His uncle has sent him off with inexperienced soldiers and a captain who is in the Regent’s pocket. Conflicts are breaking out between the two countries, there are spies and traitors in the midst, and along the way they face attacks and treachery. Laurent knows his uncle wants nothing more than to see him dead, but Damen is determined to help keep the young prince alive and see him safely to the border. After that, Damen plans to make his escape back to Aikelos where he can confront his brother and attempt to regain his rightful place on the throne.
The journey is long and difficult and along the way, with Damen’s help, they manage to turn the disorganized and unprofessional group of soldiers into a loyal fighting force. Although still a slave, Damen becomes an advisor and confidant to Laurent. He is one of the few people brave enough to speak his mind in front of the prince and Laurent is coming to rely on him. What started out as hatred between them begins to soften into respect, friendship, and ultimately affection. But Damen knows once the border conflicts are over, he will need to return home. Not to mention that he is keeping a big secret from Laurent about his role in Laurent’s brother’s death. On top of that they face secrets, intrigues, spies, and unexpected attacks that threaten their lives and the tentative control they have over their future.
Prince’s Gambit takes all the intrigue and politics, twist and turns that I loved in Captive Prince and moves them from the court to the battlefield. Laurent and the Regent are still playing a chess game, still trying to one up and out maneuver each other, but this time at a distance as Laurent travels the country with his soldiers. Once again Pacat keeps the excitement high as you never quite know what is going to happen, and few things are as they seem on the surface. As Laurent and Damen make their way to the border, they are dealing with spies and traitors and attacks coming from all directions. We once again get to see Laurent’s clever mind work as he makes moves and countermoves, and I loved watching it all develop. The ending of this story is particularly exciting, as so much happens and it is so fast paced I was breathless as I raced through the pages. Watching the pieces all move around and come together in this story is just fascinating, and I can’t stop thinking back to all the little details and how they create this fabulous book.
The big change in this story, aside from the location, is in the relationship between Laurent and Damen. In the first book, all we get is hatred between them. Damen rebels against being a slave, still chafing that his brother sent him away and stole the crown. And Laurent uses him as a pawn with his uncle, resenting Damen and mistreating him. But by the time this story starts, the men have come to a fragile understanding. Damen has agreed to help Laurent and he slowly becomes a key confidant. Damen organizes the soldiers and gets them in fighting shape. He advises Laurent on strategy and managing the men. And he spends days accompanying him as he meets with messengers and makes covert plans. So over the course of the story, we see the change from hatred to acceptance, then ultimately respect and friendship. And by the end, we can feel how much they have grown to care for one another, but they are in an almost impossible position. Damen is determined to return home, something of which Laurent is well aware. Not to mention that their countries appear to be heading for war, and they are the two rightful leaders who may ultimately have to face one another in battle. Adding in Damen’s secret about killing Auguste and it is hard to imagine how these men can ever find their way to each other. But for those of you waiting anxiously like I was, we do get to see these men finally get together physically and it is so lovely.
Pacat’s writing is once again so well done. The world building is creative and rich without being overwhelming. The politics and intrigue are fascinating and engaging. Even during the simplest of scenes, little details end up coming back around to be important. But even with all the twists and turns, Pacat keeps the story easy to follow and reminds us of what we need to know as the story goes on. I am just so impressed with these two books and wish I hadn’t taken so long to read them. Now I am VERY anxiously awaiting the final book in the series to see how it all resolves. The ending here is so exciting and intense, we have been set up for quite a story and I can not wait!