Captive Prince by S.U. Pacat (Volumes I & II)

 

It says a lot about a book when it can transform a 33 year old heterosexual female who has been an avid reader of the M/F romance genre for 15 years into a M/M genre addict. On a chilly February night I was craving a historical M/F enemies to lovers romance novel to warm me up - I stumbled across S.U. Pacat’s Captive Prince series instead. Probably one of the best stumbles I’ve ever made and I fell hard.

The Story

Set in a historical AU that bears likenesses particularly to the historical cultures of Greece and France, I expected to read a chintzy slavefic possibly analogous to the bodice rippers of which I was acquainted. What I found was a story that is not chintzy. Not a slavefic. Not anything that my presupposing mind would have expected from a free WIP posted by an amateur author.

Prince Damianos of Akielos, aka Damen, stars as our narrative guide. Influenced by slavefics of Anne Rice, Pacat notes in a Livejournal interview, that Damen’s origins lay in “the alpha warrior-prince who keeps his attitude and sense of identity in all circumstances.” Damen is all that and more. He is likeable, relatable, no genius, but no dummy, honest, confident, a fighter, but reasonable. The kind of hero who is just itching to gallop into a fray in shining armor on a white horse and kiss the pain away - and even cuddle afterwards. Alas his world is jarred when he is forcibly taken from a place where he is centered and complacent to a place where he is, well, not. Enter Laurent, Prince of Vere. Inspired by Dorothy Dunnett’s Francis Crawford of the Lymond Chronicles, Laurent is ten steps ahead of everyone … possibly even Pacat herself. Together theirs is a tale of enemies to … speaking terms, to cautious trust, to budding respect, to sexual tension, to hesitant lovers, to more intrigue to come. As subtly as hidden truths unfold, so does an undercurrent of affection between these two.

The story is spectacular. However, Volume I is an obstacle that many readers will face the challenge of completing. I would venture that the many readers, like myself, are honest folk, trusting until betrayed and discerning based on prior experience - making not only relating to, but liking Damen a naturally easy conclusion. Damen’s likeability is a comfort and a distraction to the reader at the same time. Damen sees of Vere what he expects to see. And the reader sees what Damen sees. And as readers journey through Vere, reliant on Damen’s observant, but biased POV many of us will fall into the same trap that Damen does - to believe he has just journeyed down the rabbit hole into a depraved and perverted slave fic with a spoilt and dastardly Prince bent on being a thorn to his pleasure slave. About halfway through Volume I many readers will have the urge to toss it on the pile with Tribute and A Prince for a Kingdom wondering were the “smarts” that are hyped to set this series apart are hidden. Stick with it, you’ve been fooled. And so has Damen. The reader is dependent on Damen to tell the story. And from his telling, one must filter the actual story from his POV - the clues come in piecemeal and must be assembled after absorbing these two volumes from start to finish to savor the full affect. I cannot promise that this series will appeal to everyone, but I can promise that Volume II holds much more than Volume I for those of you who struggled to get there. Persevere it is worth it.

The Writing

The story is clever and intricate, but it is the writing that sells it. Don’t let the silliness of the pen name fool you, S.U. Pacat possesses an extraordinary command of prose. Though the words didn’t fall in line at the snap of her fingers, in a commentary on her Livejournal account, she notes that each chapter underwent multiple beta reads and edits, one of which was rewritten 40 times! The obsessive persistence of mastering the prose paid off and she got it right in the end.

Pacat has found the allusive balance of simple and complex. While writing, she does what I believe every author should do, she keeps the phrasing simple. No overindulgent, superfluous descriptions with ostentatiously flowery wording, her sentences are formed of easy elegance. Next she infuses these undecorated prose with layers upon layers of meanings, symbols and imagery. Her innocuous wording belies the complexity of what is actually stated. A complexity that must be deciphered bit by bit, which required of this reviewer multiple readings.

"The wooden doors were delicate as a screen and carved with a repeated design that included gaps in the wood; through them you could glimpse shadowy impressions of what lay on the other side.”

This seemingly basic description of the architecture of a Veretian door, was just that my first time reading the series. The second time around, it was not just a visual cue for Veretian architecture, but for Veretian culture as a whole. And my third indulgence into this work, I realized it very well could be describing Laurent (and possibly the series itself). I am not sure that I can fully relay how much a single, simple sentence like the one above - one that can change and shift with the reading and understanding of the reader, makes me smile. And so far there are two full volumes of these sentences!

At art school I spent an inordinate amount of time sitting in silence, staring at a painting to analyze every carefully executed detail for symbolism, for meaning. From a broom in van Hoogstraten’s The Slippers to a lion on the belt of a Cyprian soldier sculpture, an image could say a thousand words.

"The tiled floor around the table was scattered with detritus: overturned pewter, an apple rolled to a far tile, a pitcher of wine that had let fly its contents so that the floor was soaked in red. The silence stretched out."

Turns out that two sentences are able to say a thousand words as well. Pay attention to the imagery. It is woven seamlessly throughout both volumes (and I suspect the third also). Watch a sapphire earring appear at moments Laurent gets personal and blood red wine spilled repeatedly in a most decadent fashion every time a villain’s machinations ripple to fruition. There is more hidden in plain sight in this series than in a 17th century Dutch painting. I can only estimate the difficulty to achieve the same effect with a pen instead of a brush. And I admire the results.

Let’s talk business

With Captive Prince, S.U. Pacat excels the quality of writing in the romance genre. Not solely the M/M genre - the romance genre. Jane Austen would be jealous. And by putting forth such quality, is how an amateur writing nobody grabs the attention of and a contract with a big six publisher. As of October 1, 2013, the series was removed from S.U. Pacat’s Livejournal account per her agreement with Penguin Publishing. Making Captive Prince a free online fiction WIP, that is no longer free online, but it is still a WIP.

The paperbacks and e-books are now available for purchase on Amazon and upon completion Volume III will be offered there as well. I recommend the e-books, which each contain a bonus chapter at the end of them (you particularly don’t want to miss Chapter 19 ½ at the end of the Volume II e-book). The e-books are currently retailing for a meager price of $3.99 each and are worth every cent.

Pacat’s current work in progress is Volume III, which is expected to be the third and final volume in the series - to be released (tentatively) in 2014. Promising an HEA and to retain full artistic control over the content of Volume III, despite Penguin’s acquisition of it, Pacat has set the bar high for herself. Fingers crossed she can deliver, out of the love I hold for this series and concern she could face a wrath of diehard Captive Prince fans if she allows capitalist commercialism to muddy the unique niche that Damen and Laurent have filled in many of our libraries.

Does it warrant the hype?

Yes. This series can stand on it’s own merits - that is why the “hype” is generated by it’s readers. That is why a big six listened to the buzz - because they didn’t create the buzz. The series created the buzz all by it’s self. I am always a bit weary of overzealous hype surrounding a book, but in the case of Captive Prince I can only add to it.

I recommend picking this one up with an open mind and a hungry mind and it will sate plentifully. Don’t just read this to sate a mood for some M/M romance, read this for the character studies of what should be predictable high id archetypes that instead surprise with plausible reactions. Captive Prince is not a work of erotica. It is a work of adventure, of danger, of the posturing of court politics, of power plays on the battlefield, of nail biting traps and great escapes. And circulating in the midst of it all is a work of intimacy. Read it for the intimacy, for the beauty of the writing and yes, one scene halfway through Volume II that is as moving as it is sensuous. Read it to be stunned.

Check out more great free reads at: http://boysinourbooks.com/