Notes on Captive Prince (Volume 1, first half)

[ALERT ALERT: There are massive spoilers for Volume 2 in the comments thread. There are no spoilers in the post, and you will not see spoilers when you scroll down to the bottom of the post. You have to read through the first few comments before you get to them, and the first ones are marked. ]

This story showed up in my corner of Romlandia through two separate channels: First, it is quite popular in the m/m community and there has been a thread on it at GR for years. Second, Supacat (S.U. Pacat, get it?) is friends with a writer who is friends with friends of mine who are in my tweetstream and whose blogs I follow. That’s two degrees of separation, but all it takes is a couple of blog posts and tweets and soon it’s all over my part of Twitter. I tried the Kindle sample and found the writing and the premise weren’t enough to make me immediately download the first volume, but the chatter on Twitter didn’t subside and the enthusiasm from such disparate reader communities made me wonder if this might not be the Next Big Thing. So I gave it another shot.

I made it through the first four chapters of the online version, thought for a while, and then downloaded Volume 1 of Captive Prince to my Kindle.

Please note: This is not a review. These comments are from my reading of the first half of the book only.

Things could change later on, and I’ll certainly read to the end of this installment. I’m thinking out loud here, so bear with me. I’ll post again once I’m done with Volume 1.

I’m still having trouble seeing what readers are so taken with. It’s decently written, although I’ve discovered that the adverb abuse is accompanied by rampant comma abuse. I need Liz Mc2 to tell me what the proper names are for the sentence clauses and constructions; all I know is that Supacat has an inordinate love for the split subject/verb. She splits them with clauses, she splits them with commas, and she likes to break up the flow of a sentence with extra (optional?) commas. I itched to remove the commas and rearrange the sentences. I’m a fan of dividing subject and verb with a modifying clause, but I think the technique is a bit like truffle oil: delicious when used sparingly but annoying in quantity.

OK, so the plot and characters. Damen is a prince/heir to the throne from Sparta I mean Akielos who is sold as a slave to the ruler of Byzantium/France I mean Vere. In the original fanfic B/F is called Rabat, but in the ebook the name is changed to Vere. Vere is full of people and places with French-sounding names but it also has arches and tiles and lots of gold and jewels and a harem, so hello Byzantium.

One of the frequent observations about the book that intrigued me is that it reminds readers of Dunnett, and that Laurent in particular recalls Lymond. I don’t see it in the early chapters. How is he like Lymond, except for being blond and handsome and outwardly nasty? Lymond took his traumatic past and made himself a force to be reckoned with. Laurent took his traumatic past and became sulky, resentful, and nasty to people who are in his power. Lymond was respected by the men he commanded and loved by those he befriended. Maybe Laurent will get there, but when I compare the opening introductions to both men, I have trouble seeing any similarities beyond the superficial. [Update: I've been reliably informed on Twitter that the Dunnett- and Lymond-esque bits emerge toward the end of this book.]

The settings are evocatively rendered but juxtaposed in troubling ways. Akielos is Sparta, what with the emphasis on rugged masculinity, minimalist clothing, etc. etc. Akielos is a land of forthrightness and truth (though also fraught with evildoers who intrigue), and the sex is discreet. Vere is lavish, ornamented, and bejeweled, and the sex is in your face all the time. This opposition is not exactly masculine v. feminine, together with the distinctive power that each would imply, but rather masculine v. effeminate, with the pejorative implications thereof.

Damen is given as a slave to Vere’s rulers by the new King, presumably to get him out of the way; this dishonorable act is committed jointly by Damen’s half-brother, the new King, and Damen’s (female) former lover. The half-brother, Kastor, is a bastard and therefore of Akielos but not entirely legitimately (heh). Jocaste is the traitorous ex-lover who abandons Damen for immediate power via Kastor. It struck me that the bad things happening in Akielos are done by specific people who are bad, but the bad things that go on in Vere are done by everyone.

The depiction of Vere as effete and decadent is conveyed through the emphasis on ornamentation, from the way the slaves are made up with gold cosmetics to the architecture. Perhaps this is meant only to be Damen’s view, and I hope it changes as the book progresses, because in these early chapters it feels uncomfortably Orientalist. I should note here that I grew up with lots of ornamentation, arches, marble floors, bejewellment, and the equivalent of makeup for children, but sadly there was no decadence that I can remember. Or public sex.*

Damen’s scorn at the finery and the embellishments is understandable given his backstory and present circumstance, but the book is in close 3rd POV and the constant repetition of how decadent Vere is becomes tiring. The blurb describes Vere as “voluptuous and decadent, the country of honeyed poison,” a phrasing that recalls depictions of the devious Oriental. (As an aside: I find the wording a bit odd, since if you’re going to poison someone you presumably don’t want them to figure it out from the first taste. Honeyed poison seems smart, not devious.)

As I read, I was struck by how completely drenched in sex the book is. Not so much explicit acts of sex, although there are those too, but off-page events, implicit and explicit penetration, implicit and explicit arousal, and so on. It’s all about power so there’s definitely a point to it, but it’s relentless and it’s a bit one-note so far. There is also a back and forth in the descriptions of these events: sometimes they’re referred to as rape, sometimes they’re not, and sometimes the same event moves from rape to “performance.” Given that we’re talking about slaves for the most part (every sexual interaction so far has had at least one slave as participant) my instinct would be to call it all rape unless explicitly shown otherwise. But maybe that would be too discomfiting for the reader. Or more likely I’m missing something.

The main characters are obviously in a master-slave relationship as part of the initial story setup, but all three societies introduced so far include the institution of slavery as an unquestioned given. Sexual slaves are called “pets” and they are almost all slight, long-lashed, and young. There are women and men slaves, but up to this point we only encounter the men. The book’s treatment of slavery deserves  a post of its own, but this one is already long enough, and I want to refresh my memory about different types of slavery before I post on that.

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*Well, yes, there are the temples at Khajuraho but I didn’t see them until I was an adult and I didn’t read the Kama Sutra until I was in the US and honestly, we were very very not-talky about the sexytimes. It makes me blush just thinking about thinking about that while in the same room with my grandmother.

[Note: Comments are now closed on this post. There is a second post on the rest of Volume 1 and the beginning of Volume 2 here.]

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100 thoughts on “Notes on Captive Prince (Volume 1, first half)

  1. I’ve been debating on this one. I don’t read much m/m, and it seems like a big commitment of time and energy from my limited stock of same for pleasure (heh) reading. But when there is so much love for something from such disparate readers, I wonder where my reaction would fit. Maybe I’ll take your path and read a couple of chapters on line first.

    • I went through the same mental process. It’s hard to ignore completely something that has so many people raving about it, from such different perspectives. The online and the ebook aren’t that different from what I can tell; I pasted four online chapters into a text file and then converted it to mobi. It didn’t take long.

    • Eeek! Not Safe for Work!

      It starts out with the whole Caligula thing, but then it morphs into something different. But yeah, the first part is very Caligula meets AN Roquelaure meets slavefic. It’s not *exactly* gratuitous, but it felt a bit relentless because it’s either torture, sex, or both. I know it changes after this, but I have reservations about the setup because you can’t unread the parts that are problematic, and I am not convinced that this is the only way to get to where the author wants to go.

      At the same time, I don’t want to diss other people’s choice to read it and I’m trying not to.

      ETA: I admit, I’d love to see you review this, given your, um, reader background.

      • Well, if there just so happens to be a “forced” fisting scene with the evil fem emperor in bad makeup forcing the manly masculine unwilling (but curious) slave to fist him then that’s what you are basically reading.

    • You read m/m and fanfic; I think you would recognize the genre. The writing is generally pretty good, and at times very good. Janine is reviewing it at DA and she really likes it, so you’ll get a different take on it from her. Plus of course she’s read the whole thing.

  2. I hope you keep reading. I know I keep saying it, but my impression at the halfway point of volume one really wasn’t so different from yours. My opinion, like the book, did a 180.

    Also, I’ve finished my second read of both volumes, and the paperback versions are waiting for me at the post office, so if you want to borrow the kindle version for volume 2 from me when you finish volume 1, so that you don’t have to pay for it, I will be happy to loan it.

    • That’s very generous of you, Janine! But I don’t mind buying the second one if I decide I need to read Volume 2 right away.

      I’ve finished Vol. 1 and I read a couple of chapters of Vol. 2 in the online version. I don’t see the massive change you do, although the book definitely shifts gears in the last third of the first volume. The on-page focus changes, and Laurent becomes more nuanced, but it still depends heavily on the early setup, both in terms of Vere and the relationships among the people.

      • The book is very much dependent on the early setup and IMO will remain so until the end. But that is not to say that the author will not deal thoughtfully and sensitively with many of the issues you brought up — slavery and Laurent’s character especially — though perhaps not all the Orientalist aspects.

        l think that if you keep reading, you’ll come to a different view of at least some of the concerns you mention in this post, if not all. It is not an immediate massive change but rather a gradual shift in Damen’s, and the reader’s, perceptions of Vere, of Laurent, and of Akielos.

        At the same time, it is a massive change if you compare where things were at the beginning of Vol. 1 to where they stand at the end of Vol. 2, but it takes the full two volumes to get there. The process of getting there is just so, so, good, and the plotting of Vol. 2 is marvelous..

  3. Oh great, now I’m comma bitch not just at work but in my leisure time. ;) Ironic, since I grammar and punctuate by instinct, and if I have to pronounce authoritatively on WHY something is right or wrong, I look it up in a handbook first.

    I find that books from different English-speaking countries often vary in how they use commas. British books, for instance, are often full of things that I’d consider comma splice errors. But any kind of repetitive sentence pattern such as you’re describing here gets wearing, even if it is not “wrong.”

    • Yeah, but I don’t even remember what different grammatical constructions are called anymore! All those years of foreign languages but my brain seems to have purged most of them.

      You’re right about cultural variation, and there’s also the stylistic issue. Writers have individual rhythms and styles, and it’s more a question of whether they resonate for the reader or not. I have trouble getting used to the comma between the subject and the verb, though, it has the same effect on me as a comma splice.

    • And lots and lots of public sex and sex-as-humiliation-and-control. There is less on-page, explicit description, but the effeminate slaves (and the slender, not-tall Laurent) and the idea that slaves are fine with being slaves, even enjoy it, that is similar. For me at least, reading the first part of the book, it was impossible not to think of the first volume of Beauty. Now that I’ve finished the volume, I see the Dunnett-like aspects better, but it’s an uneasy pairing of the two for me.

      • the idea that slaves are fine with being slaves, even enjoy it

        I started out thinking (and even at the end of volume 1 that this was a message the author had buried in her book, but having finished both volumes plus the extras, I don’t think so at all anymore.

        For the record, I’ve read the Anne Rice Beauty book, and the similarity crossed my mind when I read Vol. 1 of Captive Prince, but after finishing both volumes I think Pacat wanted to start in the at Rice like place to make a point, and that where she is heading is a very, very different direction from where Captive Prince began.

        After reading two full volumes, the similarity to Dunnett becomes far stronger than the similarity to Rice. As I said on Twitter, you start seeing glimmers of Lymond 3/4 of the way into Vol. 1, but it doesn’t come to full fruition until Vol. 2.

        • having finished both volumes plus the extras, I don’t think so at all anymore.

          I read the Erasmus extra at the end of Vol. 1, and I found it problematic. It reinforced my belief that slavery was being presented as a valid and good way to live. If anything, it emphasized the similarity to Beauty rather than diminishing it.

          I honestly don’t understand why I have to read both volumes and all the extras in order to form valid opinions about what is going on in Volume 1. By that logic, no reader should ever write a DNF review (and I’ll point out again that this post is explicitly not a review), and your opinion on the similarities between CP and Lymond are invalid because you’ve only read Game of Kings and haven’t seen the full portrayal of Lymond. And you and I should never have written that joint review of the first installments of The Rifter.

          It’s not really engaging with my points here to tell me that my criticisms and objections will be answered if I read everything published so far. And let’s leave aside the small complication that the work is not finished and Volume 3 isn’t even written yet, so even if I read everything available, we’re both still forming and expressing opinions about an incomplete work.

          • First, I don’t know if your criticism and objections will be answered if you keep reading, I only know that mine were. And I happily explain why and engage with your points if it weren’t for the fact that doing so would entail posting spoilers. I can do so by email, if you like, but it would ruin Vol. 2 for you.

            • I doubt it would ruin the book, because (a) I don’t mind spoilers as a rule; and (b) I’m pretty sure I know most of them, since I’ve read multiple comment threads on the books. The point of writing the post was to throw the issues open to wider discussion, so taking this to email would defeat that purpose. If you can’t talk about it here without feeling like you’re giving away spoilers, that’s fine.

          • Sunita, I want to add that I have no issue with you posting your post — and would have none even if it was a DNF review. You have every right to your views and opinions.

            I’m reminded of what Robin said to me when I discussed Ashley’s Motorcycle Man with her on Twitter. She said she couldn’t address my points about the hero, because the heroine/narrator’s POV was so unreliable that my objections could only be addressed if I finished the book. I was frustrated at the time, so I understand your frustration with me.

            IMO Pacat is a master of misdirecting and misleading readers purposefully, and the success of the book depends on that.

          • I really dislike the argument that the writer is actually “quite good” but you can only figure all that out if you read all three books and get the big picture in this elaborate work of art.

            Listen, if the writer cannot express a complete concept by the end of the first book and give me a general idea of where we are going then I have every right to call the whole event crap if that is what it struck me as. Good writers do not fix “all” the story problems in the last few pages of the last damn book in the series and I should not have to wait that long to see the appeal of what I am reading in my opinion.

            Listen If you are telling a long complex joke right… and the entire joke rests on some hypothetical “punch line” located on the last page of the last book 100s and 100s of pages away then “the joke” being told in all due respect sounds like a pretty weak and ultimately annoying joke.

  4. I have heard sooo very many great recommendations for this book and it contains my very favorite trope “from enemies to lovers”, so of course I bought the two volumes when they were out. But now it is a challenge for me to hold off till the third book comes out (hopefully not too long of a wait?). So far I had been succesful, because I really really hate cliffhangers, but sometimes my fingers are itching :-). It was very interesting to read your notes and wonder what I will think. I hate cliffhangers. I even found that I was better off waiting till Riffter was finished and then reading it. And Rifter was done before they published it, this one god only knows when the third volume will appear.

    • The end of Volume 1 is definitely a stopping point rather than an end. You can see the beginnings of a changed relationship between Damen and Laurent, but that’s all. From what I understand, the end of Volume 2 ends by answering some of the important questions, but a reader at Goodreads described it as similar to a cliffhanger at the end of a TV season. So I’m not sure it will work for you to read it this way.

  5. Okay, so I have a lot to say about the few chapters I’ve read thus far, and none of it is fully worked through in my head, so who knows how my opinion will change if or when I get through both volumes.

    I say “If” because I am having a hard time with the Orientalism and slavery like Sunita is. In fact, I’m glad I’ve started to read this, because it’s helped define the line I was articulating to Katie in my post on captivity narratives between captivity and slave narratives. In the Indian captivity narratives, it was often a white woman, but generally a white Euro-American person who was captured, so there’s already kind of a flip in the power hierarchy. Having women captives is more complex, because they already have that insider/outsider dynamic going, privileged in some senses, marginalized in others. But these are definitely NOT slave narratives, and even though slave narratives are a type of captivity narrative (one commonality between them is the frequent invocation of the Bible, for obvious reasons).

    The slave narrative is much more difficult for me to romanticize, and two things that spring to mind as examples are an erotic slave short by Thea Devine I read many years ago, and the conversation I was having the Joanne Renaud the other night on Twitter about “plantation porn.” Intellectually, I get the sexual fantasy of the H/C slave fantasy narrative, and I can appreciate the appeal, but I think these narratives tends to call up my line, across which I cannot extend consent, because for me, the fantasy elements are too wrapped up in the exoticization and fetishization of torture and dehumanizing subjugation on an institutionalized scale. At this point, CP is pushing all those buttons for me, and I don’t know that — even if there is a turn-around pay-off — if I can make it there.

    So I guess I’d really like some spoilers, so that I can get a sense of what this turn-around is like. In the Ashley book, for example, it’s a first-person narrative, and Ashley consistently challenges the heroine’s POV throughout the first part of the book, so that you always have a sense of having to revise, in small ways, your perspective about what’s going on. Moreover, the piece of information dropped near the end of the book is in the vein of ‘what you thought was happening wasn’t really happening,’ whereas it seems — from the limited 3rd person POV — that there really is dehumanization and torture going on, and it’s endemic in this society in a way that’s institutionalized in very deliberate and highly structured ways.

    Back to the slave narrative fantasy more generally, the Devine story I read flipped the paradigm by making men the slaves in a matriarchal society, and I can see where if this story featured a hetero pairing, it would likely be completely unreadable for me. But interestingly, using the same gendered protagonists also makes it easier for me to focus on the dehumanizing aspects of the worldbuilding, which reinforces the institutionalized slavery. All of which comes down to the fact that I’m not saying I won’t be turned-around in my view of this book and its characters, but I likely would not even try to make it through were it not for off-page discussions of the book, which I do not think should be necessary for persistence.

    • I’m fine with spoilers in this discussion. If we go down Spoiler Road, I’ll put a warning at the top of the post that the post is spoiler-free but the comments aren’t.

      The comparison with Ashley is really instructive to me. I agree that in this case there is no question that the slavery, rape, etc. is going on, so the question is not one of the reader realizing she was misunderstanding, but rather that the reader must feel at the end, when everything is explained, that these aspects were worth it to get to the payoff. My problem with this strategy is that even if you are invoking stereotypes, etc. in order to comment on them or subvert them, the invocation can’t be unread and un-experienced. So the payoff has to be off the charts for me when it comes to these kinds of issues.

      • I think there’s a fine line — and it will vary across readers – between portraying a victimizing society and endorsing/using/exploiting/fetishizing it. My example of this is always Hardy’s Tess, which for me crossed the line from portrayal into exploitation of social hierarchies at Tess’s expense. I felt that not only was society crushing her, but so was Hardy, and even if the book is intended to be a critique of the forces that destroyed her, I felt it also reveled in them a bit too much. I can’t yet identify where I fall re. CP, because it’s too early; I only know I’m uncomfortable, and the prospect of having it get worse before it gets better is not super appealing to me at this point. So I will read Janine’s spoilers with much eagerness, and try to forge ahead, to at least get the whole picture for myself.

    • All right, I will post spoilers but these will be MASSIVE SPOILERS, and not just for Volumes 1 and 2, but also for Volume 3, if my theory about what’s going on is correct — and I strongly think it is.

      MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD
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      While there are some things to be learned from the Ashley comparison, I think it’s not completely instructive in this case. The reasons I feel this way boil down to the the fact that t he reasons for the POV being blind and unreliable are different in the two books.

      In the case of Damen’s POV in CP, there are a few things that cause his impressions to be false much of the time. Here are some of my thoughts, on that and on other issues that have been raised.

      1.Damen is a complete foreigner to Vere, it’s a new world for him, and he can only translate what he sees in terms of what he knows from his own culture of Aikelos.

      For example he extrapolates that pets=slaves, because he comes from a slave owning society, when in fact all but one of the pets are consenting adults who sign contracts exchanging sexual favors for money. Nicaise is the exception, and there is a reason for that.

      Damen and the Aikelon slaves are ostensibly only kept because of diplomacy (they are gifts from a king of an country with which Vere has just signed a peace treaty) , but in fact they are there through the machinations of the Regent. The Regent, who is the villain, wants Damen to either kill Laurent or befriend him and sleep with him — either option works out wonderfully for the Regent’s purposes.

      2. Damen comes from an extraordinarily privileged as well as sheltered position in his own society, and does not even fully comprehend these facts about himself. That blinds him to the wrongness of slavery in his own country, and allows him to see the Akielon slaves as people who benefit from being enslaved. His views on that only begin to shift very slowly, the full 180 likely won’t happen until Vol. 3, but based on what I’ve read so far, I believe he will get there.

      3. Damen is prejudiced against all Veretians and has made up his mind about them in advance. This is one of the reasons he sees himself as a hero and Laurent as a villain, when reality is wildly different from that.

      4. Vol. 1 takes place entirely in the Veretian Court, which in many ways unlike the rest of Vere, but Damen extrapolates that Veretian Court= Veretian Society. This is a false assumption.

      5. Damen doesn’t have the first clue at this point in the story, of what makes Larurent tick, what Laurent’s motivations are, or what Laurent’s character/personality is like. Even at the end of Vol. 1, he has only begun to glimpse this. But by end of V. 2 it’s pretty clear to me that Laurent has never owned a slave before Damen, and doesn’t have any interest in owning a pet, either. I would venture to guess any kind of sexual slavery is repugnant to him. There are many reasons for this, but just to name a small one among them — Laurent needles Damen for not objecting to slavery in others, but only in himself, more than once.

      6, The villain of the story is the regent, who acts as de facto king, and the practices of the Veretian Court are a reflection of the regent’s character more than anything else. Damen is fooled by the Regent’s facade, and this causes him to extrapolate some things, like the presence of Nicaise, the child pet, as emblematic of Vere, when they are more emblematic of the Regent’s power and corruption.

      7. (And this is where I get into a spoiler for Vol. 3), I’m positive at this point, although it has not yet been revealed to Damen, that Laurent’s treatment of Damen has nothing to do with liking to lord it over slaves, or even with a hatred of all Akielons, but with Laurent’s knowledge that Damen is the one who killed his brother.

      There is a reason why Laurent would avenge himself for this by attempting to have Damen raped — which is that the Regent is a pedophile (Nicaise is his “pet”), and when Damen killed Laurent’s older brother in the battle of Akielos, he took away the only person who could protect 13 year old Laurent from being raped by his uncle. Not only that, but there is a strong hint that Laurent believes Damen killed Auguste through treachery rather than fairly. As he says to Damen after the flogging:

      “How dare any one of your speak the word honour? I know your kind. A Veretian who treats honourably with an Akielon will be gutted with his own sword. It’s your countryman who taught me that. You can thank him for the lesson.”

      Thank who?” Damen pushed the words out, somehow, past the pain, but he knew. He knew.

      “Damianos, the dead Prince of Aikelos,” said Laurent. “The man who killed my brother.”

      This is where I should add that children do not wear makeup in Vere. Pets were makeup. Nicaise wears makeup not because he is a child, but because the Regent wants him to mark him as a sexual object/pet.

      8. Laurent is a fascinating, complicated, contradictory character who rarely shows what he is feeling or reveals his plans/thoughts. It is hard to convey how much this is the case to someone who hasn’t read both volumes.

      In V2, Damen is surprised by Laurent over and over. It’s a portrayal that peels Laurent back layer by layer, and we’re not done yet, but suffice to say, the title, Captive Prince refers as much to Laurent as it does to Damen. In many ways Laurent is in a more perilous and vulnerable position than Damen, both physically and emotionally. In many ways Laurent has the stronger moral compass. As Merrian said on Twitter, Laurent is well acquainted with the limits of his power, Damen has to learn that his power has limits.

      They are contrasted so brilliantly, both in this and in other regards. It is really something to behold.

      9. With regard to the Orientalism, I am less sure of where Pacat is going. That may indeed end up being problematic. Outside of the palace, Vere doesn’t have as much Oriental decor. I don’t know. I feel that she wanted to evoke Anne Rice because she is going in the opposite direction — when Laurent and Damen finally end up in bed together, the scene is so much about consent — but I don’t know if she thought about the use of Oriental decor beyond that.

      10. I very much hope you will read on to Volume 2, if only so I can hear your final thoughts. If Sunita isn’t interested in borrowing it from me, you can.

      • Thanks, Janine, but I actually bought both volumes on Kindle (they were cheap, so I figured what the heck). Also, thank you for this summary. It seems like Captive Prince is at least influenced by the school of Anthropological SFF (LeGuin always comes to mind as most obviously representative), and that gives me a better sense of where the work is going.

        I’m curious about the fact that Damen fails to understand the nature of the “pets” (and I’m going to be reading that very carefully, since I’m pretty suspicious of that concept), since he speaks the Vereian language. In traditional captivity narratives, learning the language is always a sign of understanding of another (or an “Other”) culture, generally as a precursor to some level of acculturation and even assimilation. I guess Pacat felt she had to keep Damen totally blind for the effectiveness of the shift. That’s gonna be interesting.

        • “Damen fails to understand” is the key thing here and the fact that language/words along are not enough to create understanding. Damen is a good and privileged man who has spent his life living on the surface of things. He has never had to understand – to read the world and the people because his privilege. Damen has never had to work for his place or connection with others, he has accepted his world as it is and that has been enough justification for him. Just as Laurent is a captive of the Regent’s machinations, Damen is a captive of his own understanding of the world and his own privilege. Damen’s journey from free to slave to something else is not his only journey from captivity to make.

          • There is a fine line between naively innocent and dumb as a box of rocks, and I’m not sure that Damen is going to be able to stay on the good side of it for me (I’m a few chapters into Vol. 2). I find it hard to swallow that someone who was raised as the heir apparent by a respected sovereign is so clueless.

            • Well it would seem that his mistress came down on the side of thinking he was dumb and/or not as easy to manipulate as Damen’s half-brother, hence her choice of sides in the coup.

              • Though Damen’s actions at the very end of Vol2 suggest he isn’t thick, he just doesn’t think 6 moves ahead and sideways

                • VOL 2 SPOILERS
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                  I also thought it was pretty bright of Damen to work out Laurent’s reasons for having him interrupt Govart, and for the rooftop chase in Nesson. His swordsmanship indicates some quick thinking too. IMO there are a lot of things Damen doesn’t see because he doesn’t want to see them. And as you say, it’s hard not to look dumb next to Laurent.

      • Thanks, Janine, for the spoilers. That one about the “pets” is quite strange, not what I was expecting. The rest of the factual stuff makes sense to me.

      • To correct / elaborate on some of the things I said: That should be the Battle of Marlas in my post above, and due to bad HTML tagging on my part the italics came out in the wrong places in that quote from the book.

        Also, I don’t want to make Laurent sound like anything other than a morally ambiguous character.. When I said that he has a stronger moral compass, I was focused on this issue of sexual slavery. Laurent has a wide Machiavellian streak and is not above using whatever is at his disposal (or whomever is at his disposal) to defeat his uncle. And he certainly exploits Damen’s helplessness toward that goal.

        Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that his moral compass is stronger than the initial impression Damen’s POV gives, and Damen’s is initially weaker than one would think if one bought into Damen’s worldview.

        Damen, while possessing a lot of good and traditionally heroic qualities Laurent lacks, is morally ambiguous in a different way– in a way that has to do with thoughtlessness. It’s not just that he’s blinded by being new to Vere, or just that he’s blinded by having been in the highest echelons of his society: I think it’s also a matter of his personality, that he makes assumptions and (initially at least) sees things in simplistic terms.

        Comparing them on a moral level is fascinating, but not simple, because we never get Laurent’s POV, only Damen’s POV, and very briefly in the prologue to Vol.1, Guion’s POV, and there is plentiful evidence that lies come to Laurent easily, so not everything Laurent says is necessarily to be trusted. And Damen’s readings of Laurent keep shifting. I could be wrong in my guesses about where Pacat is going with this, too, since I certainly didn’t guess most of the plot twists in the book so far.

        Robin, it’s interesting that you should mention Le Guin, as I was telling Erin Satie on Twitter the other day that Captive Prince reminds me a bit of The Left Hand of Darkness. The tones of the CP and LHoD could not be more different, but yeah, I thought of Anthropological SFF too. (although I was even more strongly reminded of Dorothy Dunnett and of YA author Megan Whalen Tuner). I have never seen that genre matched to a story where the romantic relationship is so central and I found the combination thrilling.

        I am glad the spoilers I posted are helpful, but I feel quite ambivalent about having posted them because for me, figuring these things out as I read was a big part of the pleasure of this novel, and I hate to think that readers will be deprived of that pleasure because they read my spoilers.

        • I think that readers who feel as you do have gotten ample warning; You really have to scroll down a long way to get to the spoilers and you have to avoid the bold font and exclamation points at the top.

          A few chapters into Vol. 2, the switches are becoming much more evident. It’s apparent from the first time Laurent sees Damen that Things Are Not What They Seem in terms of Laurent and their relationship, but I can see that much more will unfold in this volume.

        • It’s going to be a while before I can make any significant progress reading these volumes, but I already see the Anthro SFF, and I’d throw in the Satyricon, as well (both the original work and Fellini’s adaptation). I definitely think I’m more comfortable reading books that push the male-female power dynamic to the edge than I am with fictional works that do the same with culture (and I do think these are cultural issues, at least in how they’re presenting now).

          When I pick up a traditional captivity narrative, for example, I know pretty much what I’m going to get: a document written from the perspective of someone who views themselves as culturally, religiously, and/or racially superior (or an editor who views his subject that way, a la Mary Jemison), with cracks in that dynamic forming at certain points in the narrative. And, not surprisingly, many of the later narratives have a cultural anthro feel to them, with supposedly neutral “observations” that are also full of latent (and sometimes overt) judgments. As you know, Anthro SFF is not immune from that dynamic, either, and whenever this paradigm is invoked in fiction, I do start to wonder for what purpose, and how successful a critique of imperialism/colonialism — if it’s present — will be. So I definitely have a lot of questions and points of hesitation, which is why the spoilers are important for me. They don’t answer all my questions, but they do help me place the book within a generic context, so I have a very basic map starting out.

  6. [Note: I did not read comments thanks to Sunita's warning about spoilers]

    I just finished the first book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I could not put it down! I don’t doubt you are correct in your comments about grammar, but, except for some repetition, I liked the writing style a lot, and was so taken with the plot and characters that I never noticed the writing problems. The last thing I wanted to read was an erotic m/m, and if I had known that was what this book was, I would never have bought it. But I found that although it is a sex-saturated culture, there was nothing meant to titillate in book one, and I found that so refreshing. A depiction of rape read as a rape. A depiction of sex as a power play read that way. A depiction of sex as like having the TV on on the background — something bored people do to pass time — read as that. Thank god, no mind blowing “sex is the most important thing you will ever ever do!!!” which I am so tired of in erotic romance.

    The one critique you make that I agree with — but only in the cool hour, post-read — and, I think, maybe coming at it from a slightly different angle — is the way femininity is dealt with, or rather, made invisible. At least with regular contemp m/m, you kind of suspect there is a thriving f/m culture out in the rest of the imaginary world the author has created. But with this one, it was like The Handmaid’s Tale. No need for women unless you want to breed. Sure, we get a reference to lesbians, and we meet one female couple for all of two lines, but if all the military, and all the guards, and all the rulers and all the “pets” who matter are men, then this is pretty much a world where women don’t seem to matter.

    It’s an interesting question. Many feminists believe that if we get rid of heteronormativity, we’ll go a long way to making women and men more equal relative to each other. Guess that’s not how it happened in this world.

    We’ll see what book two brings.

    • Oh, there’s a fair amount of contemporary m/m that erases women or vilifies them, but I’ve ranted enough about that. I counted three women in Vol. 1 who were given names: a slave and a traitor in Akielos and one noblewoman in Vere. Other than that, it was all men and boys. There is no obvious reason for excluding women that I can see from the story, especially given you have a royal court. There were plenty of powerful women, and there are various points at which a woman could have been introduced. It’s unfortunately not unusual for m/m, but it was disappointing.

      I thought you might be bothered by the slavery setting and the references to the Veretians as “pets.” That terminology really started to get to me after a while. And there was one passage where I wondered what you would think: Damen is describing slavery in Akielos and he says “they give up free will for perfect treatment” as part of a “pact.” I couldn’t think of any society that considers all humans to have intrinsic value and inalienable rights that could form those kinds of “pacts.”

      • The slave stuff … no, it didn’t bother me, possibly because the slaves were not a member of any minority I could identify from the real world. If they were all women, or all had dark skin, or all had an intellectual disability, I could not read it. Clearly I need to have my class consciousness raised! I would guess this is an unusual narrative in that it seems to, as you say, justify it a certain type of slavery. There seems to be a slave or quasi-slave class in a lot of fantasy (unless are all those soldiers are volunteers, lol?), but in most fictional cases of which I am aware (which are few in number!) either the slaves are freed by the hero, or slavery is treated as, at best, a necessary evil. It seemed to me almost like the author was drawing a parallel between the slavery in Akielos and contemporary BDSM at times, but it was undercooked (and potentially very offensive, I would think). While I agree that there can be no contract into slavery (I’m too much of a Lockean, I guess) I thought that blurring of the lines was kind of evocative since in today’s world I often find it hard to draw the line between the oppressed laborer and the slave (both of whom are victims of injustice, of course). Then again, I never know if that’s deliberate or just shallow world building.

        Lately, I’m very into unusual settings for romance, and that played a large part in my enjoyment of this one. I know I will have a different view in time, but would rather stab my eyes out than read another Regency set historical.

        • No, no, it wasn’t that you *should* have felt that way, I just wondered if you did because I know you have thought about these things professionally, etc. Same with the contract question. You make a good point about the fact that they weren’t part of an obvious minority (either from within or without the societies), in fact both sets of slaves were described as Veretians and Akielons. I was struck by the fact that they were all slight, effeminate, and so on, which made them feel like a group, but that’s probably because I’m sensitized to that depiction by reading m/m.

          I was thinking about heteronormativity when I was reading as well, because at some point it struck me that both the societies were so conservative, despite all the public sex and rapeyness. It wasn’t so much that there was no need for women, but that both the men and the women in Vere had their public sex and their private sex. The practice of procreative sex was to be carried out in private, the sex anyone could observe was held in lower esteem. You might be more on target with the Handmaid’s Tale analogy, but I was struck by the division. If everyone was fine with sex, why not have all kinds in public? The women were certainly there at court, and I didn’t notice anything that indicated that the Veretian society was dominated by people with same-sex preferences. And Akielos, of course, was all about masculinity and patrimonial lineage, but no one thought that the crown prince should be ensuring the succession at the age of 25? Maybe the reasons for that, as in so much else, are made clearer in Vol. 2.

          • It seemed to me the focus on legitimacy of children was the underpinning for the different roles of public sex and private sex. I also drew parallels with Spartan society with the distinct spheres of living and action for men and women that at the same time allowed women more rights than in other Greek city states. Also, in Roman society there were strong rank differentials, not just slave/free differentials over who did what to whom – e.g. in a pair of lovers the lower ranked person would go down but the higher ranked person would not. I suppose I am trying to say I could see cultural models for Verean society so it makes enough sense to me even while women are too invisible in the story. I think it is a more than fair question to ask an m/m author ‘where and why the women?’.

            I agree about the wonkiness of the rationale given Akielian slavery structure – it would have made more sense to me if they were sacred prostitutes. I also read it as an authorly set up to get Damen into Laurent’s life so it is not as good world building as it could be.

            • I agree about the wonkiness of the rationale given Akielian slavery structure – it would have made more sense to me if they were sacred prostitutes. I also read it as an authorly set up to get Damen into Laurent’s life so it is not as good world building as it could be.

              Maybe because I read the Erasmus short story after finishing both volumes, my take on that was different from Sunita’s. I thought it showed the tremendous defenselessness of the slaves in Akielos, and how horrible that system was. And I thought it showed just how spoiled and privileged Damen was before his captivity and how all the things Laurent taunts him about when it comes to his ownership of slaves were right on target.

                • You could very well be right about it being an authorial set up to get Damen into Laurent’s world, but it may also be there to contrast the culture of Akielos with the culture of Vere, and to show Damen’s acclimation to Vere.

  7. “I read the Erasmus extra at the end of Vol. 1, and I found it problematic. It reinforced my belief that slavery was being presented as a valid and good way to live. If anything, it emphasized the similarity to Beauty rather than diminishing it.”

    This caught my attention, because although I adored Captive Prince, the parts with Erasmus also made me uncomfortable.
    A while back, Pacat went back and did commentary for some of the chapters. In one part with Erasmus, she wrote some commentary about him. What you said reminded me of what she sad: that he seems like a pro-slavery argument, and that he represents an erotic-fantasy version of slavery than realistic slavery.

    She said: “In a lot of ways, Erasmus is a remnant of an earlier vision I had of this story. Although the plot was much the same back then, the ‘flavour’ was different. I thought Captive Prince was going to be much more of a classic slavefic.”
    “I feel like Erasmus the Classic Uke Sex SlaveTM is almost like . . . like a castaway from that other story, a bit incongruous in this one.”
    “A few people commented that they felt he was underdeveloped, or that his switch from sad victim to happy slave was too sudden, and I think I agree.”
    “Erasmus’s desire to submit is in no way a pro-slavery argument. I promise. I think there is a difference between: (1) Real slavery, and (2) Slavery the hothouse sexual fantasy of readers who have slavekink. Erasmus the slave who yearns for a strong master is intended to signal that we are firmly in the territory of #2.”

    Here’s the link: http://freece.livejournal.com/43538.html

    • Thanks so much for this info. It makes total sense, and it helps explain some of the disconnect between the non slave fic stuff and the slave fic. Also the comments on fan service were really interesting. Reading it as a published book, it’s easy to forget that this is still firmly in the tradition of fanfic

      • Yeah, reading some of her commentary made it easier (for me, at least) to forgive the problematic parts of Captive Prince. I mean, at least she’s aware of it, right?
        I’m interested to see if your opinion of Laurent changes or not. He’s definitely a hate-able character at first.

        • I agree, but it also means that the inclusion was more intentional. The fact that she put that extra in Vol. 1 suggests that the slavefic and fantasy-slave-world part is still the portrayal, and for me that’s difficult. But it does help me to remember that this is basically published fanfic, with very few changes. That conversation was from years ago!

          ETA: Oops, I forgot to answer your question about Laurent. Yes, I definitely found that he became more nuanced and interesting by the end of Vol. 1 and into the few chapters of Vol. 2 I’ve read.

          • Came via DA. Just wanted to say that the story was never fanfic as far as I know.

            What I enjoy the most about Captive Prince is that it both engages with classic slavefic tropes and subverts them. I don’t think Pacat could have done this without understanding the appeal of the tropes as tropes, and what works about them, as well as being able to see what is disturbing about them, to see past them.

            I feel in Captive Prince that she takes the classic slavefic, and deepens it, enriches it. She also shows the problems with the tropes and uses them as the basis for an engaging narrative. But what I like about it is that she does this without disrespecting or kink-shaming the original genre, and incredibly without robbing the original tropes of their power. Instead she is engaging with the tropes of the genre on every level. When the protagonists finally
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            make love it is fully consensual but one of the things that is hottest about is that at the same time that it is fully consensual Damen is completely and totally Laurent’s slave.

            Her use of the totems of the genre such as Damen’s golden cuffs is another example. Their meaning in Captive Prince has completely changed by the end of the book but they are charged as incredibly erotic devices, in a way that both sustains and subverts their original meaning. Captive Prince is like ‘meta slave fic’ to me in that sense. I could give many more examples, but I think it’s better to read the whole book to get the true picture of what the author is doing.

            • V 2 spoilers

              When Damen says “Laurent, I am your slave” in the love scene, I read that as Damen meaning it figuratively — that he was captive to his feelings for Laurent. And the cuff thing was so interesting — both Damen’s choice and Laurent’s response to it.

              • V2 spoilers

                Yes, I read it as figurative too, and I think that is how Damen meant it, but part of the reason that it is so powerful as a declaration is because it is also literal, and because of everything Pacat has built into that word slave in Captive Prince. Having the major theme of the book emerge and reach its perfect distilled form in the protag’s love declaration is masterful and gives it a power it wouldn’t have otherwise.

                • V2 SPOILERS

                  Oh, yes absolutely. One of my favorite chapters is Chapter 6 in V2, where Laurent’s “disguise” at the inn reverses things, and there Pacat draws on Damen’s captivity to Laurent just as much as during the love scene.

                  But I think if Laurent were not captive as well, to his uncle’s machinations, the book would not work nearly so well for me.

            • Thanks for commenting. This is kind of a long, ongoing conversation, and I used “fanfic” as shorthand for the format and community aspects. I know that it is original fiction, but it was written within the original slash framework, serially, and with attention to the community that was reading it. In those aspects it is very much original fiction within the fanfic world, as opposed to traditional original fiction.

              My greatest difficulty is with the way slavery as an institution is used and the way it is integrated with an Orientalist portrayal of Vere (and to a lesser extent Akielos). I do have problems with the master&slave-to-lovers scenario, and for that reason I don’t usually read slavefic at all. But a lot of commenters said that calling this slavefic was inaccurate, so I decided to give it a shot.

              • Thanks for clarifying and apologies if I came off as fangirlish. I do love the story though.

                A lot of people troubled by those elements in the beginning find the payoff worth it and the beginning Not What It Seemed. It isn’t for everyone though so it may not turn out to be your thing. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts if you do finish. Thanks for your post and the chance to talk about this story!

                • Oh, no, not at all! I think that for most people, the way the second half of Vol. 1 and then Vol. 2 unfolds makes whatever discomfort they have experienced worthwhile. I am really impressed by how wide a range of readers love this book. Very few books are able to do that, and it’s something to respect. It’s been interesting for me to work out why I’m not in that camp, because I read pretty widely, and I’ve learned interesting things about my own reading preferences and emotional triggers. And thanks for coming over!

    • Thanks for that link. It is disappointing that this started out as “more of a classic slavefic” and remnants of that are still in there, but that does explain why others read it so differently than I do.

      • Hi again ~ I’m Shy!
        Thanks for the corrections on Dear Author, and the spoiler tag. (I didn’t even know spoiler tags were possible in comments! Nifty.)
        Reading your bit about Laurent being the aggressor in the garden… made me wince. I went back and re-read the scene, and, wow, there’s a lot of subtext I didn’t notice before. Initially, I had read it as Laurent being careless rather than cruel — and I saw him as detached from the scene, rather than someone actively trying to harm Damen. Re-reading it, I see what you mean.

        • Vol. 2 SPOILER
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          I definitely saw it as something that happened between Laurent and Damen — a power play on Laurent’s part, more than anything. And I thought it was significant that Damen wasn’t remotely turned on until Laurent sat by him and started giving Ancel directions.

          And Damen says as much (that it was Laurent) early on in the Vol. 2 sex scene, in this exchange:

          ‘You liked this too, with Ancel.’

          ‘That wasn’t Ancel,’ said Damen, the words coming out, raw and honest. ‘That was all you, and you know it.’

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          END OF SPOILER

          • My problem with that scene was that I interpreted it as rape. Janine, would this fall into the forced seduction category for you, or something in between, or neither?

            • Rape or at best something in between. Damen feels violated, as well as turned on. When Erasmus misreads Laurent’s actions as kindness, Damen is crystal clear that it wasn’t intended as a kindness.

              • Thanks, that was my take as well. It’s hard for me to see it as forced seduction because iI think that would have to be the two of them together, not through an intermediary. The intermediary (Ancel) makes it humiliating. Also the audience.

                • And Laurent’s detachment and indifference, too.

                  Laurent only permits it when Vannes suggests that it’s time for Damen to “learn his place” so for Laurent, it’s definitely about showing Damem that he is in Laurent’s power.

      • Here via DA, I hope you don’t mind if I join this conversation.

        I think that quote from Pacat about it starting as ‘more of a classic slavefic’ is misleading outside of the larger context in which she talks about the story. She has said elsewhere that she always intended to write a subversion of the genre, and that part of the reason she wrote Captive Prince was that she had never come across the type of slavefic that clicked with her despite theoretically liking the idea. At the launch which I was lucky enough to attend, she talked specifically about wanting to write a story where the reader first encounters one reality then slowly realises that this ‘reality’ is in fact a projection onto a possible underlying truth.

        I’m a huge fan of the story though, and I think it is doing things with the genre that are interesting and unique and not easy to label. It’s not as simple as “is this slavery meant to be erotic or not” because in this story it both absolutely is and emphatically isn’t, and the story holds that contradiction within itself.

        • No, of course not, you’re most welcome.

          I think part of the difference in interpretation stems from whether or not slavefic interests you (the general you) as a reader. If there are aspects about it that are intriguing or attractive and you read in the genre, then good executions of the trope and intelligent subversions are going to be must-reads. In this case, for the many readers for whom the book succeeds, the story is exploring power and intimacy in compelling ways. It appeals to a wide variety of readers: slavefic readers, m/m readers, readers who have never read either, etc. That’s a testament to its effectiveness.

          For me, though, the context is as important as the central relationship. And I can’t get past the context. Vere is a mashup of Orientalist (and some French) stereotypes. And slavery as a setting is something I find very difficult to read, unless it’s clearly a slaves-as-workers setup, where they’re acquired for labor and they’re essentially treated as indentured, with no subtext of inferiority.

          I’ve written a post about why I find the setting so problematic, I’ll run it this week some time. Hopefully it will help make sense of my perspective for people who are interested.

          • Yes, I think a lot of that is true. I’m looking forward to reading your post!

            I didn’t find there to be overly troubling Orientalism in Captive Prince, but I may have a different cultural perspective. Of course I can only talk about the way I personally received the story, and I would never wish to argue with or seem to erase your experience if there were things in it that troubled you.

            I’m Lebanese-Australian and from what I understand Pacat is Italian-Australian with some Turkish heritage further back. In the US, Lebanese and Italo-Turkish probably wouldn’t be considered a similar background, but we have very different racial constructs in Australia, and Australians construct Lebanese-Italian-Greek-Turkish-Macedonian-Maltese and other Mediterranean basin cultures as one racial group. Here we’re all wogs, which I use as a reclaimed term. I have heard Pacat talk about the Mediterranean basin as an imaginative space for her, which is significant to me, as is Damen’s inclusion in the story. I’m happy to have him representing. It always means something to me to see a character like him (like me) as a heroic love interest.

            For the rest, apart from some superficial borrowings such as baths and a harem, I didn’t see an Orientalist approach because I saw any generalisations or stereotypes as being clearly Damen’s, not the author’s. The exception was to some extent the decor, but to me, ornate architecture doesn’t ipso facto mean Orientalism without a socio-cultural element, which I don’t find in the books. The decadence of the court, for example, is due to the Regent’s personal influence, and is not a racial or cultural characteristic. Not to mention that it is overstated by Damen, who is biased to find any ornamentation decadent as his own culture is very ascetic. Damen is a racially prejudiced character – perhaps as much or even more so than Laurent and with less reason – and this becomes apparent as the book goes on. He sees everything through cultural bias. But I understand that views on what is over the line in terms of troubling Orientalism will vary, and that even the use of the word harem may be game over for some (though not for me).

            I just read the DA post on captivity tropes, and the Shiek for example is very different to me, as the Western heroine learns that the Middle Eastern hero is on some level “worthy” despite the trappings of his race, and this process is one-sided (she is always worthy because she is Western). In Captive Prince, the Mediterranean hero encounters the blond despicable villain, and they both embark on a journey in which they discover that initial impressions were wrong and that they both have heroic qualities, and they both have flaws. Like much of Captive Prince, this is engaging with old tropes but subverting or reinventing them. I guess this is what I meant when I said that I find that Captive Prince is ‘meta slavefic’ because it is in constant dialogue with its genre in these kinds of ways.

            Thank you for hosting this discussion!

            • This is such a thought-provoking comment. I really appreciate your perspective, because it reminds me that my take on the book is very much shaped by the way Orientalism shaped the Western conception of South Asia, rather than the Orientalist portrayals of the Mediterranean and and of the Middle East more generally. And while these two overlap, of course, there are also key distinctions. I agree with your argument that having the Mediterranean hero encounter the blond villain, etc. subverts the usual trope, and thinking about it that way helps me to see why you and other readers talk about the book as meta-slavefic.

              The Orientalists flags for me were a combination of small things. I take your point that the ornamentation of the people was exaggerated by Damen, but he doesn’t invent it in his imagination, it was there. In Orientalism, the gold everywhere and the lavish clothing were often seen as excessive and unmanly by the British and maybe other imperial powers, and they were also seen as a sign of misspent funds (which is ridiculous when you consider that the English nobility spent their money in similar ways). They would talk about the robes, etc. as effeminate. Similarly the jewelry. A bigger flag, though, was the fact that all the Veretian “pets” were small and slim and long-lashed. I don’t think that was just Damen’s perspective. And that signaled effeminacy to me. When you put the ornamentation, the effeminacy, AND the architecture together, that spells Orientalism in all caps, even without the decadence (although you add in the harem and you’ve pretty much perfected the recipe).

              And the reason this is such a cognitive trigger is that effeminacy was the stick with which the British beat the Muslim AND Hindu populations in South Asia, to the extent that there is a substantial indigenous debate about masculinity and culture, and the whole idea of the RSS/VHP/BJP Hindutva ideology is a kind of “Muscular Hinduism” response to the fact that the British insults were effective (and no, the Hindutva types do not see the irony, believe me). The effete Bengali Babu is a stock character of the 19thC British narrative, for example. It’s why the Ghurka stereotype (and the Sikh to a lesser extent) is such a double-edged sword: the British elevated them as great warriors in contradistinction to the namby pamby non-hill-dwelling natives.

              I have no reason to think the author would be particularly sensitive to these issues, unless she’s read a lot of 19thC tracts and/or postcolonial theory and history, and I certainly don’t assume she meant what I took from the portrayal. It’s just part of the book-reader interaction.

              ETA: Your link to the CoffeeandInk post came in as I was typing this, and I see she also picks up on the effete part, but she sees Vere as entirely French and goes with the Barbarian-Civilized dichotomy, whereas I see Damen as Sparta more than Athens and Vere as some hodgepodge of Ottoman and French empire.

              • ” A bigger flag, though, was the fact that all the Veretian “pets” were small and slim and long-lashed. I don’t think that was just Damen’s perspective. And that signaled effeminacy to me. ”

                Oh – yes I see! I think we differ here because to me that was absolutely just Damen’s perspective.
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                Damen spends the whole first book characterising Veretians as wispy, effete and useless, but if you look at the actual text, the reality is different. Even in the case of pets, it’s different. Of the three who are named, Nicaise is indeed a small boy but that is because his owner is a pedophile. Ancel is initially described by Damen as pretty and useless, but later we learn that Ancel is capable of hard core athleticism. (Damen quickly decides Ancel must be the only pet like this, discounting what he sees and returning to his former prejudices.) And Talik is a muscled woman who acts like she could hand Damen’s rear end to him in a fight. Damen continues to make sweeping generalisations about all the unnamed pets and characters and draw the stereotype of Veretians as effeminate, but as the story progresses, the reality starts to disturb what he is saying.

                In the same way, the first time Damen sees Laurent unclothed, he observes that Laurent has developed musculature but dismisses this as being surely the result of effete indoor palace sports. Later, we learn that in fact Laurent is an accomplished swordsman who has been in hard training from a young age, much like Damen.

                Another example would be the battle of Marlas – Damen is continually telling us that the Veretians are useless at fighting, mere effeminate schemers, and Akielos is militarily superior. But at the same time we know that Akielos was LOSING the battle against Vere until Damen demoralised the Veretian troops by killing their prince. How can that be true, if Veretians can’t fight? It can’t. So something is up. There is always that disconnect between the actual facts and what Damen is telling us about the facts. And these cognitive dissonances are intentional, and they get explored later in the book, as truths emerge.

                Damen spends a lot of the book making adjustments and continual exceptions to try to maintain his prejudices – Veretians are effete and useless – sure, Auguste was a magnificent fighter, but that doesn’t mean anything – sure, these men I’m riding with now are strong, honorable swordsmen but that doesn’t mean anything – sure, Laurent is fighting harder than anyone I know but that doesn’t mean anything – until even he can’t sustain the dissonance and he is forced to look inward and acknowledge some uncomfortable truths about himself and his own prejudices.

                • I see what you mean. But I need more of that to come earlier in the book. It comes back to the “everything is explained in Vol. 2″ argument. If the book is going to present a picture I find discordant, I need more hints in that picture that point the way to a different portrayal. I get those about Laurent in Vol. 1, but most of the ones on Vere itself come later, or maybe there just aren’t enough of them for me. For example, Damen could have talked to more people who presented an opposing view, but I only really remember Erasmus, who is hardly presented as a reliable narrator.

                  The kind of misdirection and burying of information that you and Janine found so compelling and worthwhile when you learned the truth just frustrated me and the revelations came too late. I’m used to reading mysteries and even lit fic where the character or plot or setting’s puzzle pieces are buried in the early sections, but usually the unreliable narrator is a lot more interesting to me. Because I didn’t find Damen particularly interesting or compelling, I think I became more frustrated. I didn’t want to see the world through his eyes, and once it becomes clear that his eyes don’t see very well, I’m pretty fed up.

                • Well said Sarah. In replay to Sunita:

                  For example, Damen could have talked to more people who presented an opposing view, but I only really remember Erasmus, who is hardly presented as a reliable narrator.

                  He also talked to Torveld, who presented an opposing view, and to members of the Prince’s guard, who were loyal to Laurent, but discounted all of them. And he saw Laurent offering Nicaise protection from being preyed upon, and discounted that. There are many clues in Vol. 1 that point to Damen’s POV being blind (not just the ones I mentioned here), it’s just hard to see them. In my case it was hard to pick up on because I’m not used to unreliable POV in the romance genre or the erotica genre.

                  The kind of misdirection and burying of information that you and Janine found so compelling and worthwhile when you learned the truth just frustrated me and the revelations came too late.

                  I hear you. But for me, the fact that Damen was so blind for so long is what makes his turnaround re. Vere and Laurent so satisfying.

                  I’m used to reading mysteries and even lit fic where the character or plot or setting’s puzzle pieces are buried in the early sections

                  Is it possible that you approach mysteries and lit fic differently from m/m romance, and that is part of why you missed some of the clues? I could be wrong, I’m just asking.

                  but usually the unreliable narrator is a lot more interesting to me. Because I didn’t find Damen particularly interesting or compelling, I think I became more frustrated. I didn’t want to see the world through his eyes, and once it becomes clear that his eyes don’t see very well, I’m pretty fed up.

                  I can totally see that. Esp. in the sections you’ve read, Damen’s cluelessness makes him come across as slow on the uptake (He shows more intelligence in V2, IMO). And there’s his double standard re. slavery. He’s also filled with hatred in V1 and therefore his personality is less appealing than it becomes once he starts to let go of that.

                  I do wish Pacat had published these volumes in one volume. Maybe she should have even completed V3 and then published everything as one work. Because that’s what it is. I look at V1 as the first act of the story, so I think it would have been better to publish it that way.

            • I have heard Pacat talk about the Mediterranean basin as an imaginative space for her

              That is interesting. It’s an imaginative space for me, too — I have often thought of writing a fantasy novel based in a country modeled on Italy or Greece. I spent my formative years in Israel, and would like to revisit the region in my imagination, but it’s difficult to set a fantasy novel there because Biblical imagery is so strongly associated with it. One of my grandfathers was born in Rome, and I have always been fascinated with Greece, so this region is a draw.

              Not to mention that it is overstated by Damen, who is biased to find any ornamentation decadent as his own culture is very ascetic. Damen is a racially prejudiced character – perhaps as much or even more so than Laurent and with less reason – and this becomes apparent as the book goes on. He sees everything through cultural bias.

              This. I love this aspect of his portrayal because I recall how, when I first came to the USA at age 11 (almost 12), I dislike squirrels, green trees, and any word with “cross” in it, even if it was something non-denominational like “across.” And I hated snow. All these things reminded me how far from home I was and for a long time, I hated them.

              Maybe because I had such an experience, I’m happy to see something like it depicted in a romantic novel. I find it interesting that even though the cultures of Vere and Akielos aren’t developed that deeply, Pacat still manages to portray Damen’s cultural bias in a compelling (to me) way.

          • I just thought – if you’re interested in that side of things, there was a back and forth in coffeeandink’s comments exploring and problematizing the idea of Damen as the dark barbarian from the dark barbarian culture and Laurent as the blond intellectual from the light refined culture, which is another way to look at things. I didn’t necessarily agree with that reading either (because again I think many of those stereotypes come from the characters but not the author) but thought you might find it interesting or apropos.

            http://coffeeandink.dreamwidth.org/1165686.html

            • Thanks for this link! I really want to steal “The Court of Constant Noncon.” That is AWESOME.

              ETA: I read through the comments to Coffeandink’s post, and everyone seems to agree that it’s Athens because of the acceptance of homosexuality. So I may well be wrong, although the Dumb Masculinity of Damen feels much more Sparta-like than Athens-like.

              Either way, I didn’t read Vere as particularly blond, only Laurent, which is obviously because of his Lymondization. The smashing together of the yaoi and Mediterranean Dunnettian tectonic plates creates some unusual formations, for sure. ;)

              • There is a fetishizing of Laurent’s blondness in these books. I think it’s also partly there to indicate that physically, this is Damen’s type, and therefore he feels a dismaying attraction.

                I interpreted Vere as more French on my first read, partly because of the names, partly because it seemed like a lot of the Veretians had blue eyes (Laurent, the Regent, Nicaise) or green eyes (Ancel), and partly because of the mentions of boar hunting and deer hunting — animals I don’t associate to the Middle East, anyhow. I don’t know if they have them in Turkey.

                But in my last reread, I paid more attention to the Orientalism and it does seem to be present in architecture and decor even in other parts of Vere. The decor is I think, partly meant to help define Laurent as a creature of both luxury and asceticism, and partly to unsettle Damen because it’s foreign to him. But I can see why it is problematic to use it this way.

                I look forward to your post, Sunita.

  8. It appeals to a wide variety of readers: slavefic readers, m/m readers, readers who have never read either, etc. That’s a testament to its effectiveness.

    Yeah. I don’t think of myself as a slavefic or big reader of m/m, but this book hits a lot of my good buttons — the exploration of power and vulnerability, of displacement in a foreign culture, of loyalty/duty to country and loyalty to other people, of war, of moral ambiguity, the political intrigue, of the differences between people’s exteriors and their interiors — to say nothing of the clever twists and turns of the plot.

    I also love the way Pacat slowly reveals Laurent’s character to Damen and to the reader — the ways she’ll reveal some truths to the reader before Damen figures them out, creating suspense as we anticipate the moment the truth hits him, while concealing other truths from the reader so that we learn them with Damen and share his shock.

    And I love that she changes our perceptions of Laurent without changing Laurent much — he’s still, as Erin Satie says, got his bad qualities, cruelty among them, but the good qualities Pacat reveals make it hard (for me) not to love him almost as helplessly as Damen does.

    In a sense, Pacat holds those readers who feel this way captive, too.

    • Your sentiments, Janine are pretty much mine. The way in which motivations and feelings and truths are revealed in CP i.e. the way the story is written is as strong an attraction as following Laurent and Damen’s journey. Like you I have great admiration for how Laurent is shown and the readers perceptions are shaped by the writing. This is a nuanced style that contrasts with so much in your face, telegraphed story telling and character development in PNR particularly. I have been thinking too about how the format of a serial means the story is paced differently from a series and how breaking CP up into ‘books’ maybe a disservice to the story. Is this an example of a digital native story that is being retro-fitted into the limits and forms of paper book world?

      • I would have loved for Vols. 1 and 2 to be published as one book, but I’m actually (even with the cliffhanger) glad to have the break between Volumes 2 and 3. The romantic tension got so intense in the last quarter of Vol. 2, and it looks like it’s not going to let up at the beginning of Vol. 3, so I’m grateful to have a breather in between.

        At the same time I wonder if having time to speculate about which surprises may lie in wait for Damen in Vol. 3 may make those surprises less surprising. If I had kept reading straight through to Vol. 3, I would have approached it thinking Laurent was ignorant of Damen’s identity (and feeling that way increased the tension), but now I won’t have that same feeling when I get to Vol. 3.

  9. @Janine: We’ve run out of threads so I’m replying to your comment down here.

    He also talked to Torveld, who presented an opposing view, and to members of the Prince’s guard, who were loyal to Laurent, but discounted all of them. And he saw Laurent offering Nicaise protection from being preyed upon, and discounted that. There are many clues in Vol. 1 that point to Damen’s POV being blind (not just the ones I mentioned here), it’s just hard to see them.

    In each of these instances there are alternative explanations to an unreliable POV. The Prince’s guard are loyal to Laurent. Torveld is attracted to Laurent. Laurent’s relationship to Nicaise is quite ambiguous. In retrospect they are clearer as clues than they are at the time.

    Is it possible that you approach mysteries and lit fic differently from m/m romance, and that is part of why you missed some of the clues?

    I’m not sure what you mean by this? I’m not sure what a different way of reading m/m books would be. Could you expand on that for me? Thanks.

    • In each of these instances there are alternative explanations to an unreliable POV. The Prince’s guard are loyal to Laurent. Torveld is attracted to Laurent. Laurent’s relationship to Nicaise is quite ambiguous. In retrospect they are clearer as clues than they are at the time.

      This is true of so many things in Captive Prince,and continues into Volume 2. Even in the dialogue, some lines have double meanings which are sometimes immediately apparent but often not apparent until later on. It’s a big part of what I enjoyed in the book but I can see how to another reader it might be royally annoying.

      I’m not sure what you mean by this? I’m not sure what a different way of reading m/m books would be. Could you expand on that for me? Thanks.

      Well, I approach different genres with different expectations. For example, if I pick up a mystery, I do not expect a romantic relationship, but I’m happy if I get one. When I pick up lit fic, i don’t expect a happy ending or much optimism, so sunny lit fic is always thrilling to me.

      When I pick up a romance (whether m/m or m/f), I do not expect narration to be as unreliable as it is in Captive Prince. This was one of the reasons I couldn’t stick with Motorcycle Man. However if I pick up an Ursula Le Guin type SF novel or lit fic I do expect unreliable narration. And if I expect something like that, I’m more likely to notice clues to the true reality.
      I know this was a factor for me, so I wondered if it was a factor for you, as well.

      Perhaps I should not have used m/m above, but the reason I did so is that I’m nearly as familiar with m/m romance as I am with m/f romance. For all I know unreliable narration may be used more commonly in m/m romance than it is in m/f romance, and since I wasn’t sure if it was, I used that qualifier.

      • Ah, now I see what you mean, thanks. No, I don’t approach m/m romance any differently, and if I’m reading the m/m version of a larger genre I expect the book to follow the broad outlines of that genre. So mysteries should have interesting puzzles to solve, romances should have satisfying relationship arcs, fantasies should have solid and interesting worldbuilding, etc. Since CP seemed to be in the fantasy-history camp I looked for interesting worldbuilding.

        I don’t generally expect 3rd POV to be unreliable, but I’ve read quite a bit of m/m with unreliable narrators in 1st POV. Some of them are obvious, some quite subtle. Ginn Hale’s story in Irregulars has a narrator who is depicted one way in the previous stories (hers is last) and then turns out over the course of his own story to be something deeper and more interesting, and I think that’s in 3rd POV. I loved those reveals about the character. And Adrien English turns out to be somewhat unreliable over the course of the five novels, not necessarily in ways that flatter him. I think we probably do get more unreliable narrators in gay fiction and m/m because the characters are often grappling directly with psychological issues and figuring out their relationship to other people. So I expect that kind of ambiguity, but the kind in Captive Prince is quite different from that. You said that the length of time he was blind made his turnaround more satisfying; for me it made it less important. In order for the misdirection and obfuscation to work, you have to be fully invested in the characters, and I wasn’t.

  10. Since CP seemed to be in the fantasy-history camp I looked for interesting worldbuilding.

    I looked at CP as a fantasy romance (same genre as books like Wilson’s Lord of the Fading Lands, or Vaughan’s Warprize) rather than a historical fantasy with romantic elements, so I expected more focus on the romance than on the worldbuilding. Even so I felt the worldbuilding was a bit sketchy and underdeveloped.

    I don’t generally expect 3rd POV to be unreliable,

    Pacat does use 3rd person POV in an unusual way. 3rd person POV often is unreliable, but in 3rd that unreliability is countered by giving us equal insight into the POV of each protagonist.
    So for example you can have a romance that starts with two characters who dislike each other, and have each make wrongful assumptions about the other, but since we get both their POVs, we know neither POV is completely reliable.

    Mary Balogh, for example, often gives her characters false assumptions about one another. It’s not so much the unreliability of the hero’s viewpoint that is unusual in Captive Prince>, but rather the absence of another POV to provide a counterweight. I saw this as innovative but I can also see how it can frustrate.

    • Throughout this conversation I’ve been thinking about — wondering, really — what ultimately constitutes this book, The Captive Prince. Is it the online version, which lacks the Erasmus extra? Is it a two volume set that suggests some distinction between the two, as opposed to a single narrative and what that might say differently to the reader? With a book that’s riding the edge of a knife blade, in terms of it’s treatment of “Otherness,” I think these issues are incredibly important, because they all shape how the book is read and how it’s interpreted. Like will a reader get to the same place of understanding without the Erasmus short, for example? I won’t say I don’t wonder if Pacat thought of any of this when she was transitioning this from online to book form? I don’t know what to do with all of these questions, yet, because I haven’t finished the book, but I do wonder how the fluidity of the text and its process affects different people’s experience of reading it.

      Re. the unreliable narrator, IMO all first person narrators are, by nature, unreliable. I wonder if this is part of why some readers dislike them so much in Romance.

      • Robin,

        Yeah, that does present a very real problem, which is why I think it would have been best to publish both volumes together. As far as the Erasmus short, my reading it was very different from Sunita’s and I think at least one of the reasons for this is that I read both volumes before reading the Erasmus short (I couldn’t face it at the end of Volume 1, because Volume 1 was so brutal, so I put off reading it).

        I’d say reading the two volumes are most important, and of them, Volume 2 is far more illuminating than Volume 1. But I thought the extras illuminated some things. And the paperbacks have a map which the ebooks don’t have. Ideally, all this should be available in one place, but it’s not. I agree with you that that’s a significant problem.

        Re. unreliable narrators — I would quality your statement as “all well-written first person narrators are unreliable.” One of the biggest problems I had with Outlander was that Clare’s first person narration lacked unreliability. And I’ve certainly seen overly reliable narrators in the projects of newbie writers from writing workshops I’ve taken.

        • I talk about the Erasmus short in the post I have running tomorrow. I really think she shouldn’t have put it in there, it draws the reader back into the slavefic mentality just when the story apparently shifts gears. And I think many readers will read it right after they finish Vol. 1, since that’s where it is in the sequence, and there’s nothing saying that the reader should wait. Especially if she hasn’t picked up Vol. 2 yet.

          I think the break between the two is problematic, because you get this drumbeat of “you have to read Vol. 2 to understand everything,” which essentially means you spend $4 more to find out if you want to continue. It’s not a good marketing strategy, IMO.

          And that’s completely aside from how potentially problematic it is to have a discussion where some people have read one version and some the other. You can talk past each other. I had a quote in the post that I had to take out because it was in the online version but not in the ebook. It was a small thing but important in a particular depiction and it mattered to my argument.

    • I don’t disagree that it’s primarily a romance, in fact I said so in the comment thread to your review. I still expected a thicker and more robust world than I found, especially given that several positive reviews explicitly praised the quality of the worldbuilding.

      And yes, I understand the difference between multiple POVs that are each in their own way unreliable and having a single narrator who is unreliable to the extent Damen is. The former is all over the place, in fact I think it’s more prevalent since we’ve lost the omniscient narrator. What I mean by that is that because we have multiple POVs and no omniscient narrators anymore, the author is free to make each character as idiosyncratic as she wishes, because she can always provide information through another narrator.

      But while I expect a 1st POV narration to be unreliable (that’s the nature of the form) and I look for alternate sources of information, I don’t expect a 3rd POV to be THIS unreliable. It feels more like a trick than innovation to me. But I’m just a reader.

      ETA: I just realized that you could have very unreliable 3rd POVs with omniscient narrators, I just didn’t think of them as unreliable, but rather incomplete. Of course they put forth their own versions of “the truth,” that’s what characters do.

      ETA2: Since two of my favorite m/m fantasy novels in recent years are The Rifter and Irregulars, both of which are also categorized as romance, I didn’t go into Captive Prince thinking I needed to dial down my expectations on the worldbuilding.

      • It is interesting that the key let downs seem to be the world building and the 2 (currently published) volume structure and how much this has affected – even created the story readers have experienced. I read CP straight through online and I think that is one reason why it worked so well for me. Reading this way I immersed myself in the story of Laurent and Damen not the world. Given that my key criticism of SFR and PNR and UF is usually thin world building I am fascinated at my own eliding of this in my reading of CP. I think for me Laurent & the Regent were the mystery/puzzle to be solved by Damen and then along with Damen my own emerging realisation that Laurent was a captive Prince too, my focus was on that, not the wider worlds of Vere and Akielos. Thinking about this stuff came afterwards when there was an opportunity to talk about CP.

        • I think if the characters and their relationship capture your emotions and attention then everything else becomes secondary, so that even if you see weaknesses you don’t care as much about them. I don’t think it would have worked for me even if I’d read online, because I couldn’t get past the setting and the casual use of noncon/dubcon to move the story forward. It makes me wonder if we’ve become too desensitized to that.

          For me, also, plot and character choices that I might be OK with in a fandom setting will not necessarily work for me in a published book. I know P2P is all the rage now, but there are storylines and tropes in fandom that don’t translate well to mass-marketed fiction, in my opinion. It’s one thing for a group of like-minded readers and writers to fool around with seme-uke pairings and Orientalist backdrops and so on. But it just feels different when it’s on Amazon; I might well be willing to pay ebook prices for a new author’s experiments with slavefic-meets-Dunnett, but I’d like to know up front that that’s what I’m doing.

          I think that officially makes me a grumpy old woman.

        • I definitely noticed the thinness of the worldbuilding. Looking at CP from a writerly perspective, I wondered if Pacat’s motive for that may have been wanting to keep the pace fast and the focus on the romance.

          I haven’t read The Irregulars, but The Rifter, which Sunita mentioned before, IMO suffered from the opposite problem. The worldbuilding was so thorough that it slowed down the pacing of the romance. I quit in the 4th installment for that reason. One of the two protagonists was stuck in a monastic tower where I learned a lot about the world and about minor characters but waited for the plot to get a move on and for him to encounter the other protagonist again.

          I think it’s hard to balance romance with fantasy, but I also feel Pacat went too far in the opposite direction, of putting romance and plot front and center at the expense of building the world. I adored Captive Prince, but the sketchiness of the world did bother me, and I recall saying to Brie, when we discussed it by email, that Pacat could have easily given it more dimension with a few small details about the religion, for example.

          It would have been easy for the characters to take their God, or gods’ name or names in vain, or to make a small offering at a temple here or there, or to have a priest bless their journey, or some minor character could have offered a small whispered prayer at some point — we wouldn’t even need to hear the words. Just to have an indication that there was a religion in this world would have given it more dimension.

          As it was, I think there was one mention of gods in the song Erasmus sings in V2, and a couple mentions of coppers or copper sols (in V2 as well) to indicate a monetary system. The Vaskians could have been more varied and less a group of people of the same type, too. Just a little bit more development along these lines would have done so much for CP, and I say that as one who loved it to bits.

          This is one of the reasons I wish an editor had gotten their hands on this book — someone with experience with the fantasy genre, For me, it’s already awesome, but some of the flaws (like the stuff I mentioned above, and the anachronistic dialogue) are so easy to fix, that it’s a crying shame that they were not fixed.

          Still, what Pacat is good at, I think she is fabulous at — head and shoulders above many in the romance genre. Just as for Sunita, it would not have mattered if she’d read CP online, for me, reading the ebooks didn’t take away from my enjoyment.

          I think Sunita is right on the money when she talks about the characters and their relationship capturing our emotions. I put down my own emotional connection to the story to the fact that it hits on some things I really enjoy in a romance.

          I was trying to think of how many other books I’ve enjoyed this much, or close to this much, and could only come up with a small handful. In the past sixteen years, there have been four. Now mind you, I don’t say that these are the best four books I’ve read in the past sixteen years, but they are the ones that I have enjoyed the most — enough to read and reread over and over.

          The four are Patricia Gaffney’s To Have and to Hold, Anne Stuart’s Black Ice, Patricia Briggs’ novella Alpha and Omega, and Captive Prince. And when I look at this list of four, I think the common denominator is that they all explore power and vulnerability. They are all books in which love is an enormous, enormous risk, in which the beloved is also a villain, or a monster.

          All four convinced me that the couple are better off together, happier together than apart. I think I’m drawn to this theme, though there are many books along these lines that end up failing for me. I don’t like it when the hero or heroine changes the antihero — that monstrous character has to want to change, of their own volition, as well as be less monstrous than initial appearances suggest, for this theme to work for me.

          But when it’s well executed, this theme can be incredibly powerful for me, because IMO in real life, love is a huge risk. When you love someone, you give that person enormous power over you. They can hurt you more than anyone else. And romance novels don’t acknowledge that as often as I’d like.

          In CP, love is an enormous risk for both Laurent and Damen, so it’s twice the adrenaline rush for me. And that theme is also one of reasons why the dubcon / noncon works for me in this book. Not in every book, by any means. But it worked for me in this one. I actually cannot see how this story could have worked as well for me without it.

          These particular button of mine isn’t the only reason I love CP, nor is it the only reason I am willing to overlook the underdeveloped worldbuilding. But it’s a big part of it.

      • I find myself wanting to push back against the characterization of Damen as an “unreliable narrator.” He isn’t a narrator at all; instead, what we have is a very close third-person POV where everything we know about Damen and his world is filtered through his (necessarily limited and biased) perspective. I realize there are similarities between this kind of close third POV and an unreliable first person narration, but I also think the difference is important. When you are in close third, you aren’t grappling with the narrator’s chosen self-presentation; you can doubt Damen’s perceptions, but you can’t question his sincerity. He’s unreliable only because he has a lot to learn about the situation he finds himself in (and maybe a lot to unlearn, too), and we learn it right along with him (and sometimes a little ahead of him. I am not sure he realizes yet how Laurent came to be “not a virgin,” and I’m pretty sure I do. (I’m less sure about whether Laurent already knows who Damen is; I’ve been going back and forth with myself about that)). This is one of those areas in which I find Captive Prince quite Dunnett-like; Dunnett gives you lots and lots of close third narration where the viewpoint character’s perspective is really limited and distorted — and you get, what, about ten pages of Lymond as viewpoint character in six books. (It was also Dunnett like for me in that it took me a while to get into it — about 150 pages, in the case of Lymond, and two-thirds of Vol. 1 in the case of Captive Prince.) It would be very hard to pull off a character like Lymond or Laurent from his own perspective, and Megan Whalen Turner, who is known for her plot twists and unexpected reveals, only managed to turn out one book from Gen’s first-person perspective.

        • Technically, he is the narrator. The story is told through his perspective and the reader is almost entirely dependent on him, especially in the early chapters. It’s not a question of whether it’s 1st or close 3rd POV, it’s a question of who is doing the seeing and the speaking. That person is Damen. And he’s unreliable because he shows us a different picture of the world than the implied author does, to paraphrase Booth’s original conception.

          It doesn’t matter that he’s sincere, it matters that he is giving us a distorted view of the world around him. The unreliability here refers to the discourse, not the character of the narrator.

        • I agree with Sunita that unreliability refers to whether the information we get from the narrator or POV character can be relied upon. A narrator or POV character can be honest, but blind. If what they tell us cannot be true, then it is still an unreliable POV.

          I probably wouldn’t have described Damen as a narrator, mainly because I associate that with the speaker of the words of the story. So I think of first person as the only type of narration in which the narrator is also a character in the story. I’ve always thought that in third person, it is the voice saying “he” or “she” that is the narrator, not the male or female character is describing.

          I could have that wrong, though.

          he has a lot to learn about the situation he finds himself in (and maybe a lot to unlearn, too), and we learn it right along with him (and sometimes a little ahead of him. I am not sure he realizes yet how Laurent came to be “not a virgin,” and I’m pretty sure I do.

          Yeah, I think most readers have figure it out, and i don’t think Damen has yet. I’m anxious to see how that knowledge impacts Damen.

          (I’m less sure about whether Laurent already knows who Damen is; I’ve been going back and forth with myself about that)

          It will be interesting to see which way Pacat goes, won’t it?

          It would be very hard to pull off a character like Lymond or Laurent from his own perspective, and Megan Whalen Turner, who is known for her plot twists and unexpected reveals, only managed to turn out one book from Gen’s first-person perspective.

          Yeah, and Gen was concealing crucial information from the reader for most of that book, which I think is a bit of a cheat with a first person narrator. I mean, I have no problem being kept in ignorance of something the narrator does not himself know, but when he knows it, yet doesn’t tell us, it’s a little less elegant. I think the other books (those not in Gen’s POV) are considerably stronger.

          Good point.

          • From what I can gather, some theorists do limit the use of the term narrator to the speaker of the words of the story. But in close 3rd there is no omniscient narrator, so there is either (a) no narrator or (b) a narrator who tells the story in the 3rd person. In the very close 3rd of CP you could replace Damen/he/him with I/me and the narration would be the same. The narrative comes from someone’s perspective. If you go with (a), you still have to ask, who is giving you the information? And that comes back to Damen. According to the French literary theorist Gérard Genette:

            theoretical works on this subject (which are mainly classifications) suffer from regrettable confusion between what I call here mood and voice, a confusion between the question who is the character whose point of view orients the narrative perspective? and the very different question who is the narrator? — or, more simply, the question who sees ? and the question who speaks ?

            He terms the narrative where the narrator is present in the story “homodiegetic” and the story where the narrator is not a character in the story “heterodiegetic.”

  11. I’ve seen unreliable POVs in 3rd person before, in books that have long stretches (several chapters, perhaps as much as a quarter of the book) in one character’s POV but then switch us into another character’s POV for another long stretch. It’s not as much unreliability as we get in Captive Prince, though.

    I get what you mean about feeling that it’s like a trick. I recall that when I read In the Cut by Susanna Moore, I was shocked when I reached the end and the first person narrator, who had narrated the entire book, died. I had never read a first person novel where the narrator had died before, and although I didn’t care for the novel, I loved this twist ending. It felt innovative to me. But then I discussed it with another writer and she felt it was a cheap trick.

    But I’m just a reader.

    That doesn’t make your opinion any less valid or valuable.

    Since two of my favorite m/m fantasy novels in recent years are The Rifter and Irregulars, both of which are also categorized as romance, I didn’t go into Captive Prince thinking I needed to dial down my expectations on the worldbuilding.

    Fair enough.

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