Warning: major spoilers for the entire Captive Prince trilogy.

Trigger warning: discussion of rape, slavery, child abuse, paedophilia.

Late last year, a friend recommended I try the Captive Prince trilogy by C. S. Pacat, describing it as an excellent queer fantasy romance series. I made interested noises and then, somewhat typically, forgot about it until it cropped up again on my tumblr dash. I don’t know what alchemical combination of blogs I’m currently following to make this so, but thus far, everything I’ve ever read, watched or played on the basis of hearing about it through tumblr has been something I’ve loved, or at least enjoyed despite whatever criticisms I’ve made of it. That being so, and as it was my birthday that weekend, I shelled out for an ebook of the first volume, Captive Prince, and decided to give it a try before bed.

I stayed up until 5am to finish it, then read the next two volumes – Prince’s Gambit and Kings Rising – in less than a day. They’re not long books, but length aside, I couldn’t put them down, and given how much I’ve recently struggled to stay immersed in any story long enough to finish it, that’s saying something. The series is, as advertised, a queer fantasy romance, but while it’s certainly SFF, it counts as fantasy only inasmuch as it’s set in an original secondary world – there’s no magic or mythical creatures, with the focus instead resting on romance and politics.

These are not, by a long shot, perfect books; in fact, they contain a great many elements I traditionally despise, and which would ordinarily cause me to run a mile in the opposite direction. Which is, in part, why I’ve spent the past three months drafting this review: to get my head around exactly how and why I enjoyed them anyway. Because I did enjoy them, for all that I’m about to launch into a lengthy, detailed criticism of their failings, and as easy as it would be to simply write them off as a guilty pleasure, I feel like they deserve more than that.

Here’s the blurb for Captive Prince, the first volume:

Damen is a warrior hero to his people, and the truthful heir to the throne of Akielos, but when his half brother seizes power, Damen is captured, stripped of his identity and sent to serve the prince of an enemy nation as a pleasure slave.

Beautiful, manipulative and deadly, his new master Prince Laurent epitomizes the worst of the court at Vere. But in the lethal political web of the Veretian court, nothing is as it seems, and when Damen finds himself caught up in a play for the throne, he must work together with Laurent to survive and save his country.

For Damen, there is just one rule: never, ever reveal his true identity. Because the one man Damen needs is the one man who has more reason to hate him than anyone else…

Straight away, then, it needs to be acknowledged: this is a world in which slavery, and especially sexual slavery, is normative, and where the primary romance is between a character who, at the outset, is enslaved by the other. Also salient is the issue of race: Laurent is white, while Damen, who’s described as being olive-skinned and dark-haired, is not. Those are going to be hard limits for some people, and with good reason. It’s not something I want to minimise or elide. As I recently had cause to say elsewhere, the fact that I can discuss these elements at a remove is a consequence of privilege: that I enjoyed – or was, rather, able to enjoy – the books otherwise is both personally disquieting and a concession I’d never expect of anyone else.

That being so, it’s also relevant – to me, at least – that Captive Prince was first published online, as an ongoing original  fanfic/slash story, with the first two volumes serialised between 2008 and 2012: by contrast, the content of Kings Rising, which only came out this year, is entirely new. Online, there’s an explicit culture of tagging and author/reader interaction in digital slash circles, both for fanfic and original works, that serves to contextualise which elements of a story are intended for reader critique, and which are explicitly included as a deliberate kink. It’s why, I’ve discovered, there are tropes and stories I’m happy to read in fanfic that I’ll baulk at elsewhere, and nor am I the only person of whom that’s true. It makes a significant difference to know that the author knows that a particular trope or exchange is problematic, and is writing it that way on purpose, as an exploration of flawed humanity or as a dead dove indulgence, instead of having to wonder if they genuinely think it’s okay.

Thus: while I’ve clearly come late to the party and didn’t see the original discussions surrounding, in particular, the early chapters of Pacat’s work, when they were first posted online, the fact that this engagement took place at all – that the story was written in expectation of such engagement – seems relevant to analysing it now. Master/slave romances are a longstanding staple of both erotica and slash, and while that fact doesn’t magically exempt them from criticism either in terms of individual execution or as a discreet phenomenon, it does situate the device itself as, well – a device, one Pacat recognises as such, and which she likely discussed with readers when the story first went up; a discussion to which I have no access, but which nonetheless impacted how and why the story was told as it was.

Here is the thing I struggle with about erotica/romance: the fact that something is explicitly written as a sexual fantasy doesn’t exempt it from criticism, but nor is a reader who enjoys such fantasies automatically wrong to read them uncritically. The act of writing is always an act of fantasy, of construction, but sexual fantasies, by their very nature, occupy a uniquely personal space. It is quite possible to compartmentalise what one finds acceptable in normal life versus what one finds arousing in fantasy, as fiction, within a controlled narrative space; and yet it’s also possible to confuse the two on both ends, to assume that privately desiring a thing excuses its uncritical replication, or to trust that such uncritical replication means there’s nothing to criticise in the first place. Our kinks are our own, but to a large extent, they’re also socially influenced, and as such, the primacy of particular narratives, uncritically viewed and ubiquitous, can sometimes become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The issue becomes further muddled if we attempt to draw that salient distinction between sex and romance, particularly in the context of their interrelated tropes. Sexual fantasies are not the same as romantic fantasies, though there may be some overlap. Speaking personally – which, on the ultimate Your Mileage May Vary topic, is really all I can do – I have a deep mistrust of erotica whose romance elements are meant to be inferred from the hotness of the pornography alone, particularly in instances where the sexual fantasy elements either negate or raise serious questions about the healthiness of the corresponding emotional relationship. Which is where we run into something of a unique, arguably moral but certainly critical, conundrum: how, exactly, does one negotiate the intersection of kink with criticism?

On the one hand, it can’t be denied that the idea of sexual slavery is, for many, an arousing fantasy; and more, that their enjoyment of the concept in fiction isn’t contingent on it being portrayed exclusively as a meta-fantasy of the characters. By which I mean: however abhorrent one might find the concept of sexual slavery in real life, such that physically indulging in such play would (one hopes) take place only under the pre-negotiated auspices of safe, sane and consensual or RACK, the very fact of knowing that a story is fictional, and therefore a fantasy constructed for the reader, can void the need for the characters to engage in similar negotiations. Consent is therefore established, not between the protagonists, but between the reader and the work itself: instead of safewording, all we need do is set the book aside, the characters undamaged by virtue of being imaginary. That being so, a story doesn’t need to internally establish the immorality of slavery, sexual or otherwise, in order to scratch the itch of an otherwise deeply consent-oriented kink.

On the other hand, and regardless of whether the presence of slavery is either intended or able to satisfy a kink, we are not wrong to critique it, and especially not when its inclusion is narratively unexamined. Slavery still exists, both sexually and otherwise; its victims are myriad, their stories appalling. Its impact on histories both individual and collective is staggering, indelible, undeniable and ongoing, and even without any personal experience of or connection to such suffering, we have every right to be horrified by narratives or characters which do not unequivocally denounce it, or which feature it at all, for that matter.

Likewise in this instance, given the historical intersection of racism with both slavery and pornography (both straight and queer), it’s impossible to argue that race simply doesn’t matter, or insist that the characters be judged wholly on the basis of the setting. Calling a mandingo portrayal a kink instead of a trope (for instance) doesn’t make it any less racist – but then, the intersection of racism with fandom is something we, meaning white fans, are still notoriously bad at navigating. The “don’t like, don’t read” culture of fanwriting, which is frequently cited as grounds for critical exemption, is a case in point. While fair enough in theory – fans are, after all, working for free, for pleasure – this doesn’t change the fact that the persistent elision of POC characters, coupled with the joint problems of authorial stereotyping and reader pushback when they do appear, can make a space that otherwise prides itself on its inclusiveness both hostile and alienating to fans of colour, who are then further criticised for violating fan etiquette when they react. As ever, it’s a problem of wider social problems converging in fanspace: fanwriters didn’t create racism, but we can certainly bring it with us, and as Captive Prince began in fanfic communities, it’s certainly a relevant aspect of the discussion.

And then, on that perennially metaphoric third hand, there’s the issue of critical narrative immersion: the decision to accept that slavery is part of the worldbuilding, and to separate our judgement of its objective immorality from our judgement of how skilfully (or not) the world and its characters are constructed, and how they work on their own terms. This is a tricky thing to do, inasmuch as it involves embracing a deliberate form of cognitive dissonance: the parallel rendering of two disparate opinions on the same subject, both accepted, yet never quite reconciled. It’s this third path I find myself taking with the Captive Prince trilogy, further contextualised by my awareness of the other two options. Doubtless, there are some who’ll perceive me as drastically overthinking things, while others might assert that I’m thinking too little, or from the wrong perspective. That being so, the best I can attempt is honesty, both emotional and intellectual: to show my working where possible, and to admit the lack of it otherwise.

Here, then, is the short version of my opinion, by way of prefacing the longer one: Pacat is an excellent writer, one whose style and depth both demonstrably improve as the series progresses. That the first book was written online, in the context of fanfiction and that community’s discussion of both kink and sexuality is, as mentioned, salient in examining its portrayal of sexual slavery, particularly in comparison to the third. The abiding impression I have – or instinct, rather – is that, having used the concept of sexual slavery as a kinky premise for a story being updated live, the setup meant as an excuse for Damen to be deposed and enslaved by his half-brother rather than as a nuanced exploration of culture, Pacat was unable to go back and change things once the story took off. This potentially explains why the first book treats sexual slavery as a normative, largely unexamined central focus; why the second moves almost completely away from slavery without ever really addressing it; and why the third attempts, albeit tentatively, to acknowledge it as wrong without ever really probing its initial acceptance and the implications thereof.

All this being so, and with the best will in the world, it’s clear that Pacat is writing from a position of unexamined white privilege. Even if her initial introduction of sexual slavery was meant wholly as a kinky plot device, its wider implications for Damen’s history unconsidered at the outset, there is no such excuse (if we can call it that) for blithely assuming that the image of a brown-skinned man in chained service to a white man would be narratively neutral. That Damen’s race is never considered salient to his slavery within the story doesn’t change what it evokes to the reader.

Or rather, what it can evoke: from my perspective, Damen’s race feels like an unacknowledged elephant in the room of the Captive Prince fandom. I’ve seen it mentioned as a problem online exactly once, while a staggering amount of fanart involves Damen in chains, cuffs and collar. That he wears all these things at one time or another doesn’t change the fact that replicating them in fanart – emphasising them above other options – is a choice, and one made fairly consistently. That Laurent whips Damen nearly to death in the first book, resulting in permanent scarring, likewise invokes a very specific, very ugly history; as do the times when Damen is referred to as a barbarian, cur or savage. That these insults are delivered exclusively in relation to his culture and warrior-status rather than his race doesn’t change their potential, awful resonance for readers to whom these are all deeply personal, lived insults, nor does it justify their inclusion Because Worldbuilding. No matter how perfectly explained and narratively consistent the internal logic of a setting – no matter how many in-book justifications exist to try and soften the parallels – we all, creators and readers both, bring our world and its history with us. That is inescapable.

Paradoxically, it’s Pacat’s utter obliviousness on this front – and, as a consequence, the obliviousness of the narrative – which made it tolerable for me. (Which isn’t, I hasten to add, the same as defensible; see above re: parallel judgements.) If Damen was insulted on the basis of his skin colour or ethnicity, I suspect I would’ve flung my Kindle at the wall; instead, he’s slandered on the basis of being Akelion, with his countrymen casting identical slurs at the Veretians. The comparison of these countries is an interesting one: Akielos is heavily based on ancient Greece, while Vere is more reminiscent of a decadent, pre-revolutionary France, though in this setting, both nations were originally part of a single empire and exist now at an identical technological level. As such, while Damen’s colouring is less common in Vere and Laurent’s less common in Akielos, there’s enough of a shared heritage that Damen isn’t exoticised for his looks. In fact, it’s Laurent who’s more often fetishised on this count, regardless of the observer’s nationality.

That being said, things turn murky again on re-examining the issue of slavery. Like ancient Greece, Akielos is a slave culture, and at the start of the first book, our assumption is that the same is true of Vere. In fact, from Damen’s introductory perspective, Vere’s version of slavery is far more horrifying in its abuses than anything practised in Akielos, and as such, we’re inclined to sympathise with his outrage (which is, note, a different thing to agreeing with his corresponding defence of his homeland’s practices). The problem is that Damen is, in this respect, an unreliable narrator – not intentionally, but by virtue of cultural ignorance. The story is premised on the deposed, imprisoned Damen, along with a contingent of trained slaves, being sent as a gift to Laurent’s uncle, the Regent of Vere; this makes slavery seem normal in Vere, as does the presence of ‘pets’ kept by the nobility for sexual use.

Not unreasonably, Damen assumes the pets are slaves, and so, in turn, does the reader. It’s only later that we discover this isn’t true: pets are more akin to courtesans, occupying contractual, paid positions. With this information in hand, the opening scenes in Vere – which are, to say the least, both violent and debauched – are cast in, if not a redeeming light, then one in which consent isn’t quite so thoroughly disregarded. Damen and the other slaves are still vilely mistreated, but given the slow reveal of the Regent’s particular monstrousness, it’s not initially clear that this abuse is ultimately the Regent’s doing alone, rather than constituting a widespread cultural practice.

As such, once it becomes clear that Vere is not, in fact, a slave culture, our perception of Damen’s outrage – and of him – is necessarily forced to shift. From the outset, we know that he’s slept with slaves before, and that slaves are prized, treated gently, and praised for their submission in Akielos. Indeed, it’s the abuse of this submissiveness that rouses Damen’s ire, to the point where he intercedes with Laurent to have the other slaves gifted to an ambassador from neighbouring Patras, who knows enough of their training and value to treat them kindly. The slaves themselves – or one in particular, Erasmus, whom we take as being a spokesman for the others – are grateful for this opportunity; the question of freeing them is never raised. Which is where, once again, we run up against the intersection of kink and criticism: the ‘submissiveness’ in question is described in ways that make it feel highly reminiscent of BDSM, with submission offered as part of a reciprocal relationship involving a duty of care, both emotionally and physically, on the master’s behalf. Erasmus’s new master, for instance, is outraged by his rape in Vere, expressing a heartfelt refusal to sleep with him until or unless the other man is ready.

And yet, for all that we’re meant to be thinking of BDSM – for all that masters under the Akielios/Patras system care greatly about the wellbeing of their slaves – this is still an arrangement without consent. Slaves are taken as captives and trained; the practice is a legitimate source of anger in Vere, whose people suffer in border raids. Damen, raised to view this type of slavery as normative, sees nothing wrong with it, and as this seemingly ‘gentler’ alternative is being contrasted with the violent environs of Vere, the narrative doesn’t encourage us to question his assessment. But Vere, despite the depravity of its Regent, is not a slave culture; Akielos is. Yet even in his captivity, Damen doesn’t engage in any real reflection on the wrongness of of slavery (though Laurent makes some pointed remarks about it before then) until Kings Rising; at which point, now freed and fighting to reclaim his country, he eventually pledges to end the whole institution.

Obviously, this is a positive development, for all that it feels like too little, too late; and yet I can’t help thinking that, once again, the problem lies with Pacat’s inability to edit those early chapters. The first book, Captive Prince, treats sexual slavery as an uncritically examined kink/conceit in a way that the subsequent two volumes do not, but on which their events are nonetheless based. This forces Pacat to walk a very thin line in expanding on her own, unalterable canon: to address slavery as an evil – and to acknowledge the past abuses of the protagonists – without presenting them as wholly irredeemable, at least within the context of her world. That she manages this is a testament to her skill as a writer; nonetheless, I’d be remiss not to point out that the problem is one of her own making. Or, looked at another way, a problem of success: had the stories remained online, contextualised by fanfic’s tagging and commentary system – or had they been less popular, such that editing might have passed unnoticed prior to mainstream publication – my reaction might well have been different. At the very least, it might have been easier to distinguish intention from accident.

As if further complications were required, there’s also Laurent’s early treatment of Damen to consider. At base, the Captive Prince trilogy is an enemies to friends to lovers narrative, with each book representing one of those three stages. However unexamined the wider issues of slavery and consent raised by Pacat’s cultures and worldbuilding might be, it works in the series’ favour that there’s no introduction of romance between Laurent and Damen until the two are eventually placed on an equal footing. And yet – again – the offences of the first book cast a long shadow: in particular, three early offences that set the tone for Damen’s early hatred of Laurent. Namely: Damen is badly whipped at his instruction; is forced to engage in a fight where, if he loses, he’ll be raped by the winner (which involves him being prepped for penetrative sex beforehand); and is given oral sex by a pet, with Laurent instructing said pet on what to do.

Definitionally, these latter two acts – the prep and the oral sex – are forms of rape, but the narrative never acknowledges them as such. Damen wins the rape-fight by knocking out his opponent, and therefore escapes having to either rape or be raped, but that doesn’t change what was done to him beforehand, even if it never comes up again. Similarly, in the instant with the pet – which is orchestrated by people other than Laurent, whose complicity is politically forced – although Damen is initially unwilling and unaroused,  Laurent’s instruction results in his physical enjoyment of the act. While the two later discuss this event, it’s never described as a violation; which, on the one hand, is Damen’s prerogative, and as we’re in his perspective, we’re clear on his lack of trauma. If such a scene were present in a fanfic, I’d expect it to be tagged for dubcon – and perhaps, as per the story’s initial serialisation, it was. It’s exactly the sort of scene I can imagine being written for erotic value, as an explicit kink/fantasy, but as stated earlier, the ambiguity on this point, absent any authorial footnoting, is a source of personal unease. The whipping, however, has a different derivation, and is, somewhat strangely, situated within the narrative as being the most forgiveable of these actions despite being the most violent.

There are three major contextualising reasons for this.

Context the first, which constitutes a major reveal of the final book: that Laurent has known all along that Damen is Damianos, the man who killed his brother Auguste six years ago, ending a war that resulted in Akelios annexing a northern Veretian province, the death of Laurent’s father, the king, and the ascent of his uncle to the regency. Context the second, which a canny reader can intuit from various, increasingly obvious clues from the first book onwards, but which isn’t explicitly confirmed until the third: that Laurent’s uncle, a paedophile, abused him for years after his brother’s death – was able to do so without any threat of discovery or oversight precisely because Auguste was dead, and Laurent was left alone. And context the third, which leads directly to the whipping: after the rape-fight, whose conclusion involves Damen being propositioned by an underage boy, Nicaise (who we later learn is the uncle’s pet), Damen and Laurent have the following exchange:

“So my slave is bashful in the arena. Don’t you fuck boys in Akielos?”

“I’m quite cultured. Before I rape anyone, I first check to see if their voice has broken,” said Damen.

Laurent smiled.

This conversation happens in a bathing room, where Damen is shortly instructed to wash Laurent – not with any sexual overtones, but as a servile chore. Nonetheless, Damen becomes aroused, and when Laurent notices, this happens:

“Don’t be presumptuous,” said Laurent, coldly.

“Too late, sweetheart,” said Damen.

Laurent turned, and with calm precision unleashed a backhanded blow that had easily enough force to bloody a mouth, but Damen had had quite enough of being hit, and he caught Laurent’s hand before the blow connected…

Damen let his gaze wander downwards – wet from chest to taut abdomen – and further. It was really a very, very nice body, but the cold outrage was genuine. Laurent was not even a little amorous, Damen noted; that part of him, quite as sweetly made as the rest, was quiescent.

He felt the tension hit Laurent’s body, though the tone didn’t change overmuch from its usual drawl. “But my voice has broken. That was the only prerequisite, wasn’t it?”

Damen released his grip, as though burned. A moment later, the blow he had thwarted landed, harder than he could have imagined, smashing across his mouth.

Get him out of here,” said Laurent.

From Damen’s perspective – which is to say, the only perspective we’re given – Laurent is capricious, violent and cold: the kind of person who’ll whip a slave bloody for a minor infraction, or enter him in a rape-or-be-raped fight against a violent opponent for fun. He doesn’t introspect about Laurent’s motives, because he doesn’t need to: he only needs to hate him and survive.

From Laurent’s perspective, however, things are rather more complex. His abuser, who is currently engaged in a labyrinthine effort to see him discredited, dead or preferably both before he can take the throne in his own right, has just handed him the man he hates most in the world as a slave and publicly ordered him not to kill or harm him, such that any disobedience will see Laurent suffer. Trying to get around this injunction, Laurent pits Damen in the only kind of fight that won’t violate his uncle’s command – because it’s his uncle who encourages the rape-fights, though usually between willing pets – against one of his uncle’s men, who Damen subsequently defeats.When they then discuss this fight, Damen makes a joke about his own willingness to rape, which Laurent, a rape victim, construes – not unreasonably – as a threat. He reacts accordingly.

And it’s here, at the crux of this context, that we find the real reason I stuck with Captive Prince despite its rape-fixation – a device I find nominally abominable – and other problematic elements: the psychology. The steady reveal of Laurent’s motives and characterisation – accompanied, of necessity, by the similar reveal of his uncle’s monstrousness- is one of the most wrenching portrayals of abuse and gaslighting that I’ve ever seen. Damen and Laurent are both deeply flawed characters, and Pacat, in writing them, is aware of this. The point of their eventual romance isn’t to prove that either man was ever perfect, or to suggest that perfection is a retroactively bestowable state, but to engage with the psychological and emotional complexities their relationship presents, unpicking the reasons for their initial, mutual antipathy.

The fact that Laurent’s abuse remains opaque to Damen for much of the trilogy while becoming increasingly clear to the reader is a neat trick of characterisation and writing both. It simply never occurs to Damen, whose blind trust in the goodness of family is why his half-brother, Kastor, was able to capture and enslave him in the first place, as a possibility. For the same reason, Damen doesn’t understand the combination of tolerance, kindness and brutal honesty with which Laurent treats his uncle’s pets. When Damen rejects Nicaise, for instance, Nicaise becomes hostile to him; dangerously so. When Laurent appears both lenient with Nicase’s actions while criticising his person, it confirms Damen’s belief in Laurent’s cruelty; yet Laurent, in these moments, is speaking from awful experience, his words as cutting to himself as to Nicaise, though only he knows it:

“Do you take wine, or aren’t you old enough yet?”

“I’m thirteen. I drink whenever I like.” Nicaise scorned the tray, pushing at it so hard it almost overbalanced. “I’m not going to drink with you. We don’t need to start pretending politeness.”

“Don’t we? Very well: I think it is fourteen by now, isn’t it?”

Nicaise turned red, under the paint.

“I thought so,” said Laurent. “Have you thought about what you’re going to do, after? If I know your master’s tastes, you have another year, at most. At your age, the body begins to betray itself.” And then, reacting to something in the boy’s face, “Or has it started already?”

The red grew strident. “That isn’t any of your business.

“You’re right, it isn’t,” said Laurent.

Nicaise opened his mouth, but Laurent continued before he could speak.

“I’ll offer for you, if you like. When the time comes. I wouldn’t want you in my bed, but you’d have all the same privileges. You might prefer that. I’d offer.”

Nicaise blinked, and then sneered. “With what?”

A breath of amusement from Laurent…

“I don’t need you. He’s promised. He’s not going to give me up.” Nicaise’s voice was smug and self-satisfied.

“He gives them all up,” said Laurent, “even if you’re more enterprising than the others have been.”

“He likes me better than the others.” A scornful laugh. “You’re jealous.” And then it was Nicaise’s turn to react to something he saw in Laurent’s face, and he said, with a horror Damen didn’t understand, “You’re going to tell him you want me.

“Oh,” said Laurent. “No. Nicaise… no. That would wreck you. I wouldn’t do that.” Then his voice became almost tired. “Maybe it’s better if you think I would. You have quite a good mind for strategy, to have thought of that. Maybe you will hold him longer than the others.” For a moment it seemed as if Laurent would say something else, but in the end he just stood up from the bench and held his hand out to the boy. “Come on. Let’s go. You can watch me get told off by my uncle.”

Reading this scene the first time, it’s easy think that Laurent’s perception of Nicaise is jaded, unconcerned – especially as the reader, like Damen, is still new enough to the fact of Nicaise’s status to be horrified by it. Nor does that final line carry the same resonance as it does on a reread, as the revelation of the Regent’s paedophilia is yet to be made. Knowing what comes later, however, many such early exchanges are rendered chilling. More than once, the Regent criticises Laurent for being “childish“, repeatedly belittling him as someone unfocused, selfish, disloyal. That he still rebukes him like a child is an early warning sign, yet similarly easy to miss on a first pass:

The Regent’s expression changed. “I see you can’t be talked to. I won’t indulge your current mood. Petulance is ugly in a child and worse in a man. If you break your toys, it is no one’s fault but your own.”…

“I heard you killed your horse.” [said Damen]

“It’s just a horse,” said Laurent. “I’ll have my uncle buy me a new one.”

These words seemed savagely to amuse him; there was a jagged, private edge to his voice.

The reveal, when it comes, is a suckerpunch precisely because it’s been so long in building: we know that the Regent is trying to outmanoeuvre Laurent, but not what the history is between them. And then, having backed Laurent into a political corner – enabled, in part, by Laurent’s decision to protect Damen, who just saved his life – in full view of the court, this happens:

“There. It is done. Come,” said the Regent to Laurent, extending his right hand…

Laurent came forward, and knelt before him gracefully, a single kneecap to the floor.

“Kiss,” said the Regent, and Laurent lowered his head in obedience to kiss his uncle’s signet ring…

After a moment, Damen saw the Regent’s hand lift again to rest in Laurent’s hair and stroke it with slow, familiar affection. Laurent remained quite still, head bowed, as strands of fine gold were pushed back from his face by the Regent’s heavy, ringed fingers.

“Laurent. Why must you always defy me? I hate it when we are at odds, yet you force me to chastise you. You seem determined to wreck everything in your path. Blessed with gifts, you squander them. Given opportunities, you waste them. I hate to see you grown up like this,” said the Regent, “when you were such a lovely boy.”

In this moment, Laurent is utterly alone; is revealed to have been alone ever since Damen killed his brother and protector. This doesn’t excuse his mistreatment of Damen, but it does contextualise his rage, and as a reader, there’s something powerfully compelling about telling an abuse survivor’s narrative this way: as a trauma whose consequences, even when witnessed by others, are frequently misunderstood by them. Laurent’s soldiers repeatedly describe him as “frigid“, referring to the fact that he never takes lovers; like Damen, they assume he’s emotionally cold, not that he’s protecting himself. Throughout Prince’s Gambit and Kings Rising, during their scattering of emotionally and/or sexually intimate moments, Damen frequently reflects on the odd gaps in Laurent’s knowledge without ever realising their cause. Or rather, he knows part of the cause – that Laurent, in every aspect of his life, is someone who wants to remain in control, while physical intimacy requires both trust and negotiation – but not the base reason why. It’s an exquisitely consistent piece of characterisation, and one that Pacat writes with absolute believability.

That Pacat is able to take the hostile dynamic between Damen and Laurent presented in the first book and make anything legitimately romantic of it, let alone something quite affectingly so – even to a reader both conscious of her elisions and critical of the premise – is nothing short of astonishing. Though Damen notes Laurent’s physical charms in Captive Prince, there’s no hint of romance or genuine attraction between them until the power imbalance is addressed in Prince’s Gambit, and the two begin to engage in something approaching equality, with no consummation until the two are on an even footing. This is a vital point: whatever blunders Pacat makes with regard to slavery and despite her racefail, she is scrupulous in acknowledging the pitfalls of a power imbalance on a nascent romance.

At the same time, her skill in this respect also serves to cast her failures into stark relief. Returning to the issue of Akeilos being a slave culture while Vere, despite its initial appearances, is not, we’re put in the unfortunate position of reading a narrative in which our primary slave character is a man of colour, with slavery as an institution is predominantly enforced by his own (mostly POC) nation. Particularly given the later reveal – again, in Kings Rising – that Laurent is a secret abolitionist, something which had hitherto only been hinted at, there’s a jarring dissonance in the realisation that Damen, an enslaved character, has been more accepting of slavery throughout the books than his putative (white) master. Which… yeah. To use a technical term, that is super fucked up.

And yet (and yet), for all the series fails to examine slavery as an institution, there’s a very real examination of power imbalances, abuse and self-perception. Even when legally and physically enslaved, Damen always considers himself a prince: he never adopts a servile mindset, nor does he ever become, in the emotional sense, a victim, remaining instead a warrior in enemy territory. After the regent makes a failed attempt on Laurent’s life at the end of Captive Prince,  Damen and Laurent are forced into an uneasy alliance: Damen will try to keep Laurent alive in order to prevent a bloody, pointless war between Akielos and Vere, and by the start of Prince’s Gambit, though still technically a slave, Damen is no longer subject to the powerless indignities of the first book, but is treated in all important respects as a soldier and advisor. His servility thus becomes more theoretical than practical, and though he ultimately emerges as someone distressed by and opposed to slavery, the experience doesn’t touch his fundamental confidence.

Whereas Laurent, by contrast, has spent the years since his brother’s death effectively fighting a rearguard action, trying desperately to protect himself from his uncle without any friends or allies. Though perceived as cold and calculating, his position has been a source of fear, not confidence – fear of abuse, of abandonment, of murder. The more Laurent comes to trust Damen, the more his confidence in his own judgement unravels: he can’t believe he’ll be treated kindly, let alone find pleasure in anything they might do, which leaves him more fundamentally vulnerable – both around Damen and otherwise – than Damen ever is, despite his ostensibly greater position of power.

Ultimately, the Captive Prince series is a deeply problematic but nonetheless highly compelling narrative: one in which both protagonists are intrinsically flawed, and where certain of their actions, both independently and towards each other, are morally reprehensible, regardless of whether the narrative always recognises this fact. And yet their characterisation, the contextualising politics and the underlying psychology of their interactions is deft enough to make them both sympathetic; to  transcend their horrific beginning in the service of a romance that is genuinely affecting. Or so it felt to me, at least – as ever, Your Mileage May Vary, and as stated at the outset, I’m not going to argue with anyone who finds the fundamental problems with the story too glaring or painful to like anything else about it.

 

Though the first book is the weakest of the trilogy, Pacat writes a superb long game, where successive revelations cause our  understanding of the characters and their situations to turn on a dime. She is also, in every technical respect, an extraordinary writer. Her prose has a lyrical, graceful economy that’s utterly enviable, her characterisation ripe with psychological nuance: the same story in lesser hands – the same devices in lesser hands – would have nowhere near the same effect. Indeed, I’m still slightly baffled by how much I enjoyed the books despite my criticisms, and yet whenever I open them, I fall right back into the story. For all their failings, I already know these are books I’m going to read again, and while I can’t recommend them without significant racefail caveats, their success – both in terms of fanwriters moving into the mainstream and as a prominent example of queer romance – is representative of the changes currently overtaking the genre.

I can only hope we continue to do better.

Comments
  1. art says:

    Great review, captures some of the feelings I have around the books. As someone who took part in the early fandom days when Captive Prince was a serial I can say, yes, it was pre-figured by a list of content warnings, and in fact they are still in place if you are curious to see what they were. (http://freece.livejournal.com/39701.html)

    Interestingly and importantly, Damen was not originally read by fans as a POC or intended to be read as a POC. Olive skin and dark hair are often coding for (white) southern European, such as Greek or Italian. For context, the author herself is an olive-skinned Italian. Early fandom read Damen as white, and that was the default author/reader position.

    Reading Damen as a POC is relatively new and has arisen largely out of a movement on tumblr. I personally think there are a lot of issues to unpack around fandom choosing to fancast the slave as a POC, and the fanart and imagery that fandom generates, all of which I find uncomfortable at best and creepily racist at worst.

    • Hana says:

      This is a brilliant review, and I thank you so much for taking the time to analyze the Captive Prince trilogy to come up with such a deeply nuanced analysis. I too strongly felt that the criticism of slavery as an institution was underdeveloped, but that the power dynamics between the relationship of Laurent and Damen were well-handled.

      What I wanted to say is in response to your other comment stating how Damen was meant to be seen as white. The author CS Pacat has publicly said that Damen is brown and that the fandom whitewashing of her character made her uncomfortable. Moreover, there are numerous textual evidence to support the claim that Damen is dark-skinned, like when he’s described as “brown as a nut” in Prince’s Gambit.

      A while back I did come across this post. (http://certainbouquetjellyfishblr.tumblr.com/post/142610874997/i-keep-seeing-posts-about-cs-pacat-being-a-white) I don’t have much opinions on it– well, I do, but it’s conflicting; then again, that might just be my American-ingrained way of thinking about race– but I thought perhaps you might be interested.

      • fozmeadows says:

        Like Pacat, I’m Australian, so when I was thinking about race in the books, I did consider the fact that Australia has a very different classification of race than the States, as per your link, to say nothing of the fact that we lack America’s particular awful history with slavery. Except that we also kind of don’t, given how the White settlers enslaved, chained and whipped the dark-skinned Aboriginal populace (also rape, genocide, child theft – all the really vile stuff). So while certain obvious (to American) parallels re race might not have occurred to Pacat up front, I didn’t think that was reason enough to give her a pass on the basis of being Australian, because we’ve done some fucked up stuff, too, and she should’ve known at least that.

      • art says:

        Pacat has not said publicly that Damen is brown. She has stated over and over again that he is southern European.

        The comments you are talking about were in reference to lightening his skin colour from olive to fair, where Pacat said that skin colour shouldn’t be lightened “even a shade”, because that can be seen as a political and oppressive act. In her own cultural context as an olive skinned Italian in Australia lightening olive skin to white skin is an act of ethnic erasure (“wog” is an ethnic group here that spans Greek, Italian, Lebanese and other ethnic identities as explained in the link you provided). It does not make Damen a POC. Pacat has never used the term brown or POC to describe Damen.

        The only time that Damen’s skin is ever described as brown in the books is when it is described as “sun darkened”.

        Usually, I support race-bending characters in books, and usually I support reading characters with descriptions like “olive skin” as POC (such as Katniss) even against clear author intention.

        But in this case reading a Greek-coded character – from a country with a Greco-Roman culture, written by an olive-skinned Italian, who is obviously writing from and about her own ethnic identity – as a POC, does more than just ignore author intention. It introduces a racist dynamic into the construction of slavery that is not present in the book itself. A Greek or Roman slave written by an Italian woman is very different to a POC slave with a white owner.

        Why do people keep insisting that the slave character is a POC? Why do you want this dynamic? Why make this assertion, which to me seems racist? I wish fandom would stop casting black men as Damen and then drawing fanart of black men in positions of subjugation to a white owner. It is racist imagery that has no basis in the books. In the books Damen is simply not black or a POC. At absolute most, you can argue that he “could” be read as POC, by equating “olive skin” with “brown skin” and ignoring all of the Greek coding, up to and including his Greek name. But why do that? Why do you want a POC slave owned by a white man so much that you will ignore the book itself and the author’s statements? To me it is the fandom that has created this racefail dynamic and fandom that revels in it. And not all of the fandom, just recent, tumblr fandom, who shouts down every person – including all of the Greeks and Italians! – who try to say that they read Damen as Greek, or that Damen is obviously Greek coded.

        • fozmeadows says:

          Several points, in no particular order:

          – It’s not a question of ‘wanting’ Damen to be brown; it’s a recognition of the fact that “olive skinned” is a descriptor both legitimately and frequently used in reference to people of colour, such that visualising Damen as brown is an easy, obvious thing for many readers to do, regardless of where they’re from, and particularly if *they* are POC themselves. I’m Australian with a degree in history; I pictured Damen as brown. I mean, listen: you want to talk about Greco-Roman racial identifiers in a historical context? The ancient Mediterranean was a goddamn melting pot. Rome conquered Carthage, which is in North Africa; various Roman emperors were black, and the Egyptians certainly were. The fact that modern Australia has a unique and particular construction of Mediterranean race contextualises Pacat’s writing, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the world is obliged to share it. Someone who’s Greek American, for instance, may well have a very different concept of their own race and/or POC status than someone who’s Greek Australian, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

          – The fact that Akelios is based on Greece doesn’t mean readers are under some sort of moral obligation to picture the characters as nothing but Greek – it’s still a fictional goddamn country, and one whose denizens share a genetic heritage with a country based on a France that didn’t exist for centuries, at that. (And France also had POC at the time, SO…) I mean, really: you might as well argue that it’s impossible or unreasonable to picture any characters in European-inspired fantasy novels as anything other than white.

          – Even if you’re picturing Damen as Greco-Roman, and even if your personal construction of race means that you don’t consider him a person of colour, I’m sorry, but the story still involves a white-skinned character enslaving someone darker, and given the clear, close associations between race and slavery – to say nothing of skin colour and social status – both historically and in the modern era, that is ALWAYS going to press some ugly buttons. You don’t get to pretend that away by saying, “oh, but he’s not REALLY brown”: the image of a white man whipping a darker man is still really fucking provocative, okay? Even if you want to try and sidestep the whole issue of American slavery – which, yeah, that’s a pretty fucking big thing to ask anyone to sidestep, especially if and when it involves someone’s personal history and a legacy of ongoing racism – in the Greco-Roman period among those of Greco-Roman descent, pale(r) skin was considered aristocratic. Slaves tanned darker because they worked outside in the sun, which created an association between slave/servant status, menial labour and darker skin; but if you were wealthy or had a non-menial job, you could afford to shade yourself indoors, and would thus stay lighter. Hell, it wasn’t so long ago that people who were dark Irish or Italian experienced discrimination on the basis of their skin colour, and don’t even get me started on modern colour/lightness politics. Point being, there are enough historical precedents – and enough present-day racism by people who consider any skin shade other than white to merit mockery or abuse – that the dynamics of a light-skinned white man subjugating someone darker don’t magically vanish even if you account for Pacat’s nationality and the Australian construction of race.

          – Damen is called a cur, a brute, a barbarian and a savage in the books. Those are slurs with a deeply entrenched history of being used against POC in the modern era. Of COURSE that’s going to ping as racist! Like, really? Do I really have to explain this one?

          – The very first marker we’re given about Damen’s skin is in Chapter 1, when Jocaste is taunting him. She says – and I quote – “I see why you prefer pale skin. Yours hides the bruising.” Meaning, Damen is dark enough for bruises to appear faint. It’s also deliberately contrasting his own tone to paleness – he is not pale. Later, after he’s been beaten, we’re told “his olive skin did not hide all the bruising” – meaning, he was beaten badly enough that these bruises, unlike the earlier ones, can show through. Against this, we’re told constantly about Laurent’s “very fair” skin. We’re meant to picture Laurent as being very, very white, and Damen as noticeably darker. So reading him as a POC? Makes sense.

          Bottom line, it doesn’t matter if you, personally, code Damen as being POC or not, or even whether Pacat says, as Word of God, that he isn’t. He can be legitimately read that way even if you’re sticking firmly to an ancient Greco-Roman heritage, because that milieu absolutely includes POC, but more to the point, you’ve still got Laurent as the white master of someone who is very definitely darker, and THAT is a problem.

          • art says:

            Olive skin is not brown skin. Olive skin is not QED a person of colour. Olive skin occupies a different space in the wider discussion about race and ethnic identity to brown skin. There are some countries where olive skin is constructed as white (like Greece, Italy and Australia). There are some countries where it is not. Whether an individual with olive skin identifies as white or not can depend on many factors. People with olive skin have different levels of privilege to people with brown or black skin, and their own different issues of race and ethnicity to navigate.

            Substituting brown skin for olive skin not only removes all of that difference, it also strips the book of the author’s ethnic identity and her ethnic intentions. I don’t think that is a positive thing to do, particularly considering she is writing as an Australian ethnic minority herself (a “wog”, as linked), exploring issues of her own ethnicity and heritage.

            I have just been to Q&A with Pacat where she talked about writing Damen as a Greek-inspired “wog” because as a wog herself she wanted to write wog-inspired characters that are heroic, since in Australia wogs are often stereotyped figures of fun, or portrayed as comedic or joke characters in Australian media.

            If nothing else, reading the book with the author’s true intentions in mind can deliver more interesting readings. You start to see things like how Pacat is engaging with wog identity, that she wrote Damen as a prince to counter the working-class connotation that wog has in Australia. That when he enters a northern or Anglo-European country he experiences a class shift and is viewed as low culture, despite the high classical culture of his home – again the wog experience in Australia. Or that (to use the words from that linked post) his being marooned in a northern-european country and feeling sense of ethnic difference as well as a sense of cultural isolation, is an analogy for the wog experience living in australia for greek, macedonian, maltese, italian, etc.

            Sure you CAN ignore all of that and impose the American identity construct of POC. But why? Why make Damen black or brown when he is not stated as black or brown in the books? Why ignore the books exploration of Australian ethnicity? Why throw out the dialectic around wog in exchange for that of American POC? You said “someone who is Greek American may have a different understanding of their POC/identity to Greek Australians” but Greeks, Italians and Macedonians are not POC in America, they are white, even if, like Australian wogs, they experience ethnic prejudice.

            [[The fact that modern Australia has a unique and particular construction of Mediterranean race contextualises Pacat’s writing, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the world is obliged to share it.]]

            Sure, but your review didn’t say, “From an American standpoint” or “It is nevertheless possible to read Damen as POC, and if you do it raises these issues “. It said unequivocally Damen IS poc. Damen IS brown. You repeatedly describe him as a “brown skinned man” when his skin is never described as brown in the books. You say nowhere that Damen was intended by the author as a southern European with olive skin. Or that the author herself is a southern European with olive skin.

            [[The very first marker we’re given about Damen’s skin is in Chapter 1, when Jocaste is taunting him. She says – and I quote – “I see why you prefer pale skin. Yours hides the bruising.” Meaning, Damen is dark enough for bruises to appear faint. It’s also deliberately contrasting his own tone to paleness – he is not pale. Later, after he’s been beaten, we’re told “his olive skin did not hide all the bruising” – meaning, he was beaten badly enough that these bruises, unlike the earlier ones, can show through.]]

            Yes, because olive skin has green/yellow undertones that hide light bruising, but is not dark enough to hide purple or black bruising.

            Damen’s olive skin is explicit. “Olive skin” is the exact words used to describe his skin colour, multiple times. If Pacat wanted Damen to be read as brown, she could have used the word brown skin. She didn’t. The words brown skin appear nowhere except in the context of “sun browned”. Olive skin is coding for ethnically southern European, and literally everything about Damen’s country is coded Greek. Greek and Italian people have olive skin.

            [[The fact that Akelios is based on Greece doesn’t mean readers are under some sort of moral obligation to picture the characters as nothing but Greek – it’s still a fictional goddamn country, and one whose denizens share a genetic heritage with a country based on a France that didn’t exist for centuries, at that. (And France also had POC at the time, SO…) I mean, really: you might as well argue that it’s impossible or unreasonable to picture any characters in European-inspired fantasy novels as anything other than white.]]

            I didnt argue that. I said that usually I support reading characters as POC. But in this case I think fancasting Damen as black or brown against the text itself is racist because it makes slave = POC. It gets worse when the fandom fancasts Damen as black and then eroticises black slave imagery in fanart and fanfiction. I find it racist and distressing. When it comes from white readers, it is incredibly disturbing to me. I don’t want to think about why white readers are imagining a POC slave with a white owner. PARTICULARLY when you can read Damen as Greek/southern European instead – and particularly when that is the author’s primary intention.

            [[Hell, it wasn’t so long ago that people who were dark Irish or Italian experienced discrimination on the basis of their skin colour, and don’t even get me started on modern colour/lightness politics.]]

            This is incorrect. Italians and Irish were not discriminated against based on their skin colour. They were discriminated on due to their country of origin. They experienced ETHNIC prejudice, not racial prejudice. There is a difference. You can experience ethnic prejudice while still being white and in receipt of white privilege. In Australia, yes, Italians and Irish historically received extreme ethnic prejudice. Italians were in internment camps in Australia post WWII, so the level of ethnic prejudice was not trivial. Their white privilege was that they were allowed to come here at all, under the White Australia Policy for migration, when brown and black people were not.

            I say this because I feel the same way on this topic that I feel about Captive Prince: It is incorrect to conflate the issues of ethnically Italian, Greek and other southern European countries with the issues of black and brown people.

            [[the image of a white man whipping a darker man is still really fucking provocative]]

            I agree, but this is what I mean when I say it is incorrect to conflate the issues of Italian, Greek ethnicity with the issues of black and brown people. The image of one white man whipping another white man with darker shade skin is VERY DIFFERENT to the image of a white man whipping a POC. Constructs of whiteness matter. Ethnically Greek and Italian people do not have the same race issues as black and brown people, and they operate at a different level of colour privilege. That is meaningful. An Italian woman writing about a Greek guy has nothing to do with POC, and is totally different in implication to a white woman writing about a POC.

            • fozmeadows says:

              I’ve just made a similar response elsewhere, so rather than repeating myself, I’m going to leave the link here: http://fozmeadows.tumblr.com/post/145829586971/captive-prince-trilogy-review#notes

              Bottom line: yes, I understand what you’re saying about Pacat’s race and intentions, but that doesn’t mean there anyone who reads Damen as POC is imposing something unreasonable on the text, or that there’s nothing problematic in the language/dynamic regardless.

              • art says:

                It’s not “cognitive dissonance” to say that assuming the slave is a POC has racist overtones, when your reasoning is literally, “he gets called cur, and animal, he must be a POC.”

                You now say on Tumblr “It’s racefail because Pacat should have telegraphed more clearly to me that Damen was Greek-inspired, her simply giving everyone Greek names isn’t enough” which considering that the guy wears a chiton, lives in an acropolis, has slaves who play kithara, and eats a what is essentially a dolmathes in the first chapter, just makes you seem unobservant.

                BTW thanks for taking the discussion over to tumblr and starting a giant race wank there that is triggering/upsetting to both POC critics AND POC fans of the series.

                • fozmeadows says:

                  “he gets called cur, and animal, he must be a POC.” – THAT IS NOT WHAT I SAID, oh my god. I said those are words that are *still used as slurs against POC*, and that seeing them used in reference to Damen while he’s enslaved can be understandably evocative of racism and ugly personal history to a lot of readers.

        • Hana says:

          CS Pacat may not have explicitly referred to Damen as a POC (to my knowledge), but she HAS clarified that Damen is not white. Usually I take “not white” to mean “person of color.”

          Gifs of what she said here. http://queercontent.tumblr.com/post/138771778049/arranbyrn-how-you-feel-about-whitewashing-of

          Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0z-UYz-V6A

          Do you have a source of CS Pacat saying Damen is from Southern Europe? The most I heard was when in an interview, when asked who she would cast as Damen, she responded something like “a new, up and coming actor around the Mediterranean Basin.”

          I would type more but to answer your long line of questions, it is important to me because Captive Prince offers us a diverse fantasy book where Akielos, a kingdom of primarily people of dark skin (as illustrated by how often it’s re-emphasized how rare fair and pale skin is) is just as formidable as the kingdom of Vere. And also because Damen is so much more than the premise of the first book – he’s straightforward, honest, intelligent, and resourceful. He’s a good person, a wonderful strategist, and a respectful lover. In a day and age where, tiringly, almost every multifaceted character is white, Damen being brown is important to me.

          Also because I legitimately believe Damen is canonically brown, and because I’ve seen enough whitewashing for a lifetime.

          Racial implications will always exist, and Captive Prince, at the very least, offers us the chance to critically discuss matters of race in fiction, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of books.

    • Jessica says:

      Exactly my thoughts. As a Greek person myself I’m always uncomfortable when people are portraying Greeks as dark skinned and dark-haired. Despite the cultural exchanged with Africa, Syria etc in ancient times, there is still a very dominant belief that Greeks are dark skinned from their time of subjugation by the Ottoman empire for 400 years; as such, it’s actually insulting to us to be equated dark skinned because of the race mingle. I won’t defend my country as free of racism, not by far. If you want to equate the Greeks’ distate for described as dark skinned as racism, go ahead, when it’s in fact a very cultural pet peeve, a way to protect our heritage.

      There’s the same problem in The Song Of Achilles, with Patroclus being portrayed as olive skinned and people fancastinh him as a POC. I will never belittle people for seeking and demanding more representation; I’m happy when people with unambigous skin colour can be seen as POC (Hermione in Harry Potter). Though it’s a very sensitive and fine line when it comes to Mediterranean countries, most especially Greece, where being seen as dark skinned/POC forces us in a cultural-erasing vacuum.

  2. kunidon says:

    I think it’s clear that Damen is supposed to be Greek, and am baffled by people who project onto him that he is a POC and then criticise the book for racefail on the basis that he is a POC.

    I’ve been around long enough to remember the first wave of race critique about Captive Prince from readers like Sunita from Dear Author, who all took the position that Damen was white, and criticised the book for having a noble, white Greek hero character contrasted with a corrupt, decadent Veretian society that they thought was based on Persia or the Middle East, and therefore saw as orientalist.

    I disagree now as I disagreed then. Thinking about Vere as Middle Eastern is maybe interesting to explore, but it is by no means the only way to interpret Vere, which the author based on France and intended to be French. The same is true for the Damen-is-POC reading. It is interesting to have some race discussion around the idea of Damen as POC, but it is not the only way to read his character. Arguably it is not even the dominant way to read his character, and as with Vere, you can’t ignore that the author intended him to be Greek-European in your discussion.

  3. : says:

    i am a brown fan of the series and i’m really upset by this review, by your words on tumblr, and everything that is happening

    i saw on tumblr that you are white, and so i want to say, first, no, you are not the first person to raise race of captive prince, fans of color have been talking about the race themes in the books from beginning, and second, if your heart is in the right place, i really wish you had talked to some fans of color before writing this review

    its hard to see a white writer with a large platform create the narrative that captive prince is a ‘brown slave’ book or to use the words i saw on your thread on tumblr ‘brown slave fetish bullshit’, when to me, and to many readers of color, that is the opposite of what the book is doing

    i’m not good at writing my thoughts so i am not going to explain well what is i mean. but even you calling over and over damen as ‘the slave’ is upsetting to me as a reader of color. he’s not ‘the slave’, he’s a king. captive prince is a story about his rise to power. ‘the slave’ is not his identity. he goes from prince, to prisoner, to slave, to commander, to king in the first two books. for the entire last book he is a king in full command of his people

    this book is important to many of us because the character of damen, because he is a hero, and because the race theme is complicated.

    i am not explaining well but if anyone reads this and wants to read captive prince race thoughts i hope you will read the posts of fans of color like Jelly or dxmianos who see things in a more full way, and not think this simple idea like that this is brown slave racefail

    i dont want to say this on tumblr because the everything from this article happening there is so hurtful already i will just put this here and hope that someone will read it

    • fozmeadows says:

      I apologise for upsetting people, and for focussing so predominantly on the one issue as to fail to discuss Damen properly as a person; that’s a fail on my part, and thank you for calling me on it. He’s loyal, adaptive, clever, commanding and a great tactician, and as someone who’s bi, I really appreciate that aspect of who he is. The vast majority of my issues are with the first book specifically; Prince’s Gambit and Kings Rising are both very different, and do much, much more with the characterisation and worldbuilding than I’ve dealt with here. It’s why I enjoyed them; why I want to read them again; why I’m going to look out for whatever Pacat writes next. But I *was* disquieted by the racial implications of the slavery in book one; those early abuses aren’t really dealt with later on, and I didn’t feel I could in honesty discuss the series without trying to unpick them, and so that became the focus of the review. And precisely because I’m aware that the first book deals with issues which I know for a fact cross hard limits for a large number of friends to whom I’d otherwise recommend the series, I wanted to try and be as up front about that as possible.

    • Hana says:

      As a fellow POC, I think you voiced your opinions perfectly well and I completely agree. Thank you for voicing what I had trouble doing. I feel that many people from many different sides raise valid points, but it’s upsetting personally when people act like Damen’s time as a slave is all there is to his character. Damen never saw himself as a slave and neither did I. He was a noble, warrior prince turned king who prevailed in the end, gaining a wider and less naive world view than the privileged outlook he had at the beginning.

      Criticism of book 1 and its implications is perfectly valid, because, yes, the abuses of the first book should not be swept away, but seeing fans and haters alike focus on Damen’s subservience only is hurtful.

      (which, by the way, is not directed to the author of this review. i’m more referring to both fanartists who focus on damen’s subjugation as well as those who openly send hate towards fans of the book for being racist, terrible, and defensive of abusive relationships.)

      I love Captive Prince. Reading it brought me so much more joy than any book had in a long time, and it inspired me to start reading published fiction again. However, involvement with the fandom is so tiring that I can no longer recommend it as passionately as I did before. But that’s just life, I suppose.

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