Laurent, just turned twenty, and possessing an elaborate mind with a gift for planning, detached it from the petty intrigues of the court and set it loose on the broader canvas of this, his first command. [Prince's Gambit
I read the first two volumes of this trilogy (Captive Prince and Prince's Gambit) last summer, but wanted to read this final installment before reviewing.
Captive Prince starts with Damianos (known as Damen), heir to the throne of Akielos, betrayed by his half-brother and sold into slavery. A very particular kind of slavery: he's sold as a 'pleasure slave' to Laurent, the prince of Vere, whose own brother Damen killed in battle some years before. Does Laurent know the identity of his new slave, or is he just being cruel for the sake of cruelty?
I confess I nearly gave up on Captive Prince after the first few chapters: sexual abuse, whippings etc.(I have no problem with the same-sex erotica: it's the BDSM and slavery I objected to.) But a friend had recommended the books on the basis of Laurent's characterisation*, and I persevered. And as the relationship between the two protagonists became somewhat less imbalanced, and Damen (the viewpoint character) began to understand a bit more about Laurent, I grew more interested in the story.
Because there is a story: it's not just a fantasy romance. The world of Akielos (Greek-influenced) and Vere (European Renaissance) is that rare thing, a fantasy world without apparent magic. It has plenty of the usual power-plays, wars for territory and resources, interpersonal conflicts played out like chess games, etc. And there is a palpable sense of history, of cultures diverging, of distinctive social norms.
Damen is not always the most observant of viewpoint characters, but he has heart: Laurent, who is impossibly twisty and complex, is generally several steps ahead, which makes his befuddlement at Damen's insights all the more compelling. Their dialogue is delightful: they strike sparks off one another, and there's a strong sense of friendship as well as all the other stuff (rivalry, misunderstandings, differing agendas, lingering grievances, sexual tension) that informs their relationship.
This third volume resolves a great many plot threads from the previous books; introduces some new obstacles; and lets both men finally break free from the Gordian knots of their respective families. The series started out as a LiveJournal serial, and Pacat has an active online presence and a lively fan community: it's interesting to read her posts on the progress of the series, and on her writing process. To me, this trilogy feels like an intersection of mainstream fiction and fanfiction: it's not, and never has been, fanfic, but it has the same 'open source', online-community feel to it, and the same joy in sharing creation.
* G is also a Dunnett fan: and so, it turns out, is C S Pacat. "My favorite writer is a writer called Dorothy Dunnett. I’m ridiculously fannish about her Lymond series and it also was a big influence on Captive Prince." [source].