Review: Prince’s Gambit by C.S. Pacat

Posted October 9, 2017 by Kim in books, review / 0 Comments


Prince’s Gambit by C.S. Pacat
Series: Captive Prince (#2)
Published: July 7th, 2015
Publisher: Berkley Source: Purchased
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With their countries on the brink of war, Damen and his new master Prince Laurent must exchange the intrigues of the palace for the sweeping might of the battlefield as they travel to the border to avert a lethal plot. Forced to hide his identity, Damen finds himself increasingly drawn to the dangerous, charismatic Laurent. But as the fledgling trust between the two men deepens, the truth of secrets from both their pasts is poised to deal them the crowning death blow . . .

If writing a reactionary review is the result of twisting a mangle of emotional garble into a semblance of articulation, then the difficulty is inevitably compounded when you have let months past by before putting words in the draft.  When a story of any medium worms its way into my heart, it spurs me into my “fangirl cycle,” which is an unflattering name for my pattern that I rinse and repeat:

  1. Look up pictures. Lots of pictures. Obsessive new fancies are one of my few excuses to scour the depths of Tumblr.
  2. Write the names of the characters everywhere in calligraphy, because really, what else are the expensive brush pens for?
  3. Tell a friend. Hopefully, she reads.
  4. If said friend is unfortunately but definitely uninterested in your rants and feelings, look up other people’s feelings. Hopefully, they’ll match.
  5. Once I feel less alone in my new found adoration, I venture somewhat hesitantly into the realm of critiques. It might be less reading and more peeking at words through the gaps of the fingers covering my face, but it’s the way I like to round off my experience. I don’t usually love things less when someone doesn’t love it more, but I learn a lot and I am often confronted with the realization that I have a tendency to miss a lot of things.
  6. Re-read. It’s great.

Not that any of the above has a direct relation with Prince’s Gambit by C.S. Pacat, but in a roundabout way I’m trying to express that the book was great. Loads of fun and entertainment. And more importantly for my individual taste, there’s enough quick wit to bring a smile to my face when I think back on it.

He dispatched men to take Touars’s nine-year-old son Thevenin and hold him under house arrest. Laurent was developing quite a collection of sons. (288)

Out of context, it makes little sense. Even having read the source material, I am struggling to recall the reason why Laurent is supposedly amassing children like my pitiful third grade attempt to build a personal selection of rocks. (The extent of the I-want-a-pet-rock phase might have involved my impressive efforts of pocketing one and promptly removing it. I guess I didn’t actually want that pet rock, and I definitely didn’t want a collection of them.) C.S. Pacat’s writing has the quality of being compulsively readable, often because the bluntness with which certain characters speak is so refreshing that it forcefully pulls the corners of my lips upward. In simpler terms, Laurent doesn’t give a two shits. Yet it is soon made abundantly clear to the reader that Laurent’s talent for sly maneuvers and mind fucks is evenly matched by his adherence to a fundamental honor code. It’s less grandeur and more-so something that Laurent seems unable to shake despite whatever logic whispers to him. If you’re looking for the chance to engage a substantial character study in this series, you’ll find an abundance of content to help you along.

‘When this campaign is over, I think—if you are a man and not a worm—you will attempt to gain retribution for what has happened to you. I expect it. On that day, we roll the dice and see how they fall. Until then, you serve me. [..]’ (18)

Admittedly, I am ill-equipped to discuss particular aspects that the Captive Prince trilogy addresses. In whatever capacity it may affect the individual reader, this series has its share of potential trigger warnings. Although the Regent remains a largely absent antagonist, the events of the Prince’s Gambit are constructed with the underlying warning that Laurent’s uncle can extend his influence anywhere and at any time. The Prince of Vere is suppose to be as clever as he is cold, but even he is supposedly a weak match for the Regent’s cunning ability to stay several steps ahead of every person alive. I guess such a skill is a necessity when trying to hold on to power that never belonged to you to begin with. It did not escape my notice that the Regent obsessively fetishizes the concept of youth being linked to beauty. He takes only catamites for pleasure, and the Regent’s disturbing practice did not develop recently. Though Laurent puts his response crassly, it’s a stark reminder that we have only grazed the surface level of Laurent’s psyche.

‘And if you want a personal message,’ said Laurent, ‘You can tell my uncle boykiller that he can cut the head off every child form here to the capital. It won’t make him into a king, it will simply mean he has no one left to fuck.’ (358)

The Regent’s pedophilia and the ultimate effect it took on his nephew, who lost almost all his immediate family at once, is only implied through words forced grudgingly out of Laurent or Nicaise. However precocious Laurent might have been as a boy, the sentiment that family is safe is naturally attractive. Without the guidance of a beloved brother or a watchful father, it is not difficult to imagine why a child might turn to one of his last living relatives without any idea that a large scale power usurpation is at hand. The political game might have begun, but it’ll take years for Laurent to figure out plausible ways to keep himself alive in the long run.

‘It’s the game I like,” said Laurent. [..] ‘Look, I’ve learned a new trick.’ When he opened his hand, it was empty, as if by magic. A second later, the coin dropped out of his sleeve onto the floor. Laurent frowned at it. “Well, I don’t have it quite yet.” (92)

Damon follows it was a sarcastic quibble, which I always appreciate, but this otherwise harmless scene is reflective of the trilogy as a whole. Though Laurent’s tug-of-war game with his Uncle began long before Captive Prince opens up with Damen’s narrative, Laurent hasn’t mastered it down to an art form. At the end of the day, our callous “cast-iron bitch” (63) prince is still human and still very much subject to emotional sway. Nobody wants to believe that the people who share their blood would actively try to kill them through whatever means available.

For readers that enjoyed the first book, Prince’s Gambit is an incredibly satisfying sequel. Holistically speaking, this series is at its best when delving into the nuances of its characters and their gradual development. Just as Captive Prince was not, to put reductively, a romance between a master and a slave, Prince’s Gambit focuses on developing a realistic shift in power dynamics between two naturally opposing people. An equal playing field isn’t out of Laurent and Damon’s realm of possibility, but any conscious compromise on the part of Laurent especially will require an irrefutable ability to trust the loyalty of the other person. As far as the Prince of Vere is concerned, it’s a dangerous game to place blind faith in anyone who can be subjected to his uncle’s influence, much less a man who hails from the country that murdered his brother. The romantic scene I was waiting for happens eventually, but the journey there is slow. So slow that you might often wonder if you’re really mistakenly projecting the label of romantic to the tangible tension and doubting if you’ll really see the culmination of the fledging trust Damon and Laurent are developing in the second book.

Though I might have been a true sucker for slow burn romances already, I still have to say that the way it unfolded here was everything I wanted. It tested my ability to withstand anticipation and didn’t appear to sacrifice parts of the characters in order to fit in a kissing scene. (I love kissing scenes though okay I am shameless.) When it finally happened,  I met it with a sea of giddy excitement and embarrassing dances around my room. (Think twirling with the poor book raised high above me bye.) It was good because such time and care was taken to painstakingly change Laurent and Damen’s relationship so they can meet as two rightful kings rather than Damon being in forced subservience. Don’t think I’ve forgiven you, Kastor. You’re just irrelevant to me right now. All the secrets may not have cleared up between them, but that chapter—you know, that chapter—was made even better because Laurent doesn’t want to admit that an Akielon is the most trustworthy person at his side and the author’s commentary on youtube gives so much insight that it’s not a stretch to say: I love this series.

Rating Report
5 star rating
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Overall 4.75 stars

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