Title: Captive Prince
Author: C. S. Pacat
Genre: Queer fiction/fantasy
Date Read: 27/03/2016 – 30/03/2016
There are parts of this novel that I want to bring up that some readers may prefer not to know about. I also want to give trigger warnings for rape and other sexual violence. I’ll try to keep my ranting to a minimum, but this book did make me cranky.
Last July I read For Darkness Shows the Stars and really enjoyed it. When I was perusing some other reviews, I came across one written by a black American, who pointed out that a slave owner is still a slave owner, regardless of how benevolent they are, and a narrative where they were presented as the good guys was offensive to her. While I didn’t change my rating of the book because I wanted to accurately reflect how I felt about the book when I read it, this review did make me rethink how I viewed certain narratives from my privileged position as a straight, white reader.
Memories of this came back to me as I was reading The Captive Prince, which even I found to be even worse than FDSTS in terms of its slave narrative. Given that the term “pleasure slave” is in the blurb, I went in expecting that there would be probably be some questionable sexual content in there. What I didn’t expect, though, was a whole aristocracy obsessed with sex, who see rape as a form of entertainment, and who have “pets” as young as thirteen who pleasure them, or pleasure each other while their owners look on.
Aggh, just writing that paragraph has made me feel gross all over again.
Ostensibly, the country where all of this is going is the “enemy” of the books main hero, Damen, deposed Prince of Akelios. However, Prince Laurent, quintessential anti-hero, heir to the throne of Vere and Damen’s eventual love interest, is entirely complicit to this behaviour, and even if he never actively participates in the abuse himself, he does watch, and in one scene instructs another character on how to perform a sex act on Damen, who is an unwilling participant in the scenario. I’m all for a good redemption storyline, but I feel that someone who has grown up in this atmosphere has very little chance for it, and even if he changes, how much of the rest of the country is going to change along with him?
The other thing that bothered me was exactly the issue that was brought up in that other For Darkness Shows the Stars review. Damen objects to the treatment of the slaves in Vere, and argues that in Akelios, the slaves give up free will in the knowledge that they will have a “perfect life”. Well, that’s all very well, but you’re still keeping them around to do your bidding, including sleeping with you at your whim, even if you do treat them nicely. Also, they are “trained” in the art of submission and pleasing their masters, which is sex slavery at worst and grooming at best, which has its own slew of problems.
Having said all of that, C. S. Pacat is a good writer. More than once, I felt conflicted about the fact that I was enjoying the writing, and that I did want to keep reading, despite my objections to the content, even if not a huge amount happens until the last third or so of the book. However, for that reason, I very steadfastly avoided reading the Chapter 1 preview of the next book, because I didn’t want to put myself through this all over again. I have heard from several places that Book 2 is a lot better, and given the set-up, it seems it probably would be, but when I have so many books already on my TBR, I don’t want to risk one that may very well make me cranky all over again.
(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. Click here for more information).