Hello, it's me, coming in a decade late with Starbucks, a book everyone was excited for ages ago, and outdated memes.
I remember when Captive Prince was an online sensation in circles adjacent to mine (it was fun reading familiar usernames in the back of the second volume that I started immediately after I finished the first), but I didn't read it during that time. I bought the first book in 2016 and it sat on my shelf, and we considered each other dubiously until early January. I have tried a chapter of Dunnett and it seems like it would be very neat but there's just so much of it in very tiny print. She's the author I've heard Pacat's work compared to most often so I was all over uncertain. Turns out there was really no reason to be worried because Captive Prince is great (potentially that means I should really give the Dunnett book I have another try).
spindilly, in the past, warned me that she considered Captive Prince and Prince's Gambit one "story", and more recently that the first and second are a pair and the third book is a sequel, so in late 2018 I picked up the second and third volumes to be prepared, because no cliffhanger in a completed series is going to catch me off guard!
Captive Prince is about Prince Damianos (called Damen by his friends and family), who is betrayed by his half brother to steal Damen's throne. His family and household are killed, he's captured, and sent as a sex slave to Laurent, prince of an enemy kingdom. This is particularly brutal because Damen killed Laurent's brother on the battlefield six years before. Awkward! (But also: You Have My Attention.)
It's secondary world fantasy, but there's no magic—it's very much rooted in the problems and politics of warring kingdoms, sly double-dealing, and very skillful verbal manipulation. Our hero, Damen, is a warrior. He's all muscles, pure intentions, and ethics (well, ethics for his kingdom, which allows slavery, so not the most perfect). He's very unsuited to be a slave of any kind, and his clashes with Laurent take up most of the first book. It's very explicit when it comes to violence and sex, but not in the way I expected—except for a few scenes, it's much less between Damen and Laurent than everyone else in the Veretian court. The kingdom Damen is trapped in is hella dark for everyone, especially attractive young boys.
But the politics are so good; the machinations are expertly laid and I loved every twisting moment of them, and the sharp realism of the hatred between Damen and Laurent, the give and take when it became clear they could use one another's skills, grudging and resented—and I totally agree that this book should be read with Prince's Gambit. Finish the last chapter in Captive Prince and start the first chapter in the second book, which is legit what I did. They should have been one book because the emotional arc of the first book is odd—it seems more complete with what I've read of the second book. This may be controversial! But Susan agrees with me so I feel confident on this hill.
(Slightly unrelated, but I got some serious Eugenides/Attolia/Politics vibes from this book.)
If the speed with which I finished the first book is any indication, I will probably have the whole series finished by the end of the week. Nine out of ten loincloths embroidered with golden thread.