Thursday, May 5, 2016

#CBR8 Review #10: Prince’s Gambit (Book 2 of the Captive Prince Trilogy) by C.S. Pacat

After reading the first book of the Captive Prince series, I was not exactly sold on it, and considered just stopping there. But after a little commenting back and forth with Narfna (aaayooo!) who had indeed read the rest of the series, I was convinced to keep going. And you know what, it has definitely improved and peaked more of my interest. There are still some things that I’m a little unsure of or uneasy about, but I am beginning to see a bigger picture that makes me want to know how everything is going to wrap up in the final book. Some of the “inevitabilities” and other things that I predicted in the first novel have indeed come to be, but there is still a lot that leaves me wondering, as this second book in the series was a lot more plot-driven and filled with so much political intrigue and interplay that I would never have anticipated (much like our protagonist Damen did not anticipate himself either?)

The previous novel in the series focused on Prince Damen of Akielos, who had just been usurped by his brother and sent to be a slave for the Prince of Vere, Laurent. Vere and Akielos have had a longstanding conflict, but at the current time there is tentative peace and treaty action. Regardless of this, Damen has been in danger trying to keep his identity secret, as he knows that if his true identity is discovered in enemy territory, this would likely be the end of him. Yet over the course of the novel, the cold as ice Prince Laurent has slowly come to trust Damen’s judgments and values his knowledge of Akielos, which may come in handy for him as he faces conflict with the King Regent (Laurent’s uncle) which is playing a game in attempts to garner himself more power.
 Where this second novel begins is exactly where the previous one left off, and I’m just going to go ahead and give a *spoilers warning* for everything following this point, though they will be very mild (at least I think they are mild):

Laurent and his troops are now riding to a fort which Laurent has command of for some patrol duties, at the insistence of Laurent’s uncle. Damen is coming along, as he knows some of the area near Akielos in the south of Vere better than most of the other men. Laurent and Damen, having spent so much time together begin to trust one another slowly, as they try to keep control of an unruly and little-trained group of soldiers who were given to Laurent by the Regent in a very strategic manner. In essence, this novel is entirely a huge game of chess between Laurent and the Regent, trying to constantly outmaneuver the other. Both slip back and forth between having the upper hand, and Damen is always the last to figure out the strategy upon strategy, which sometimes made it a little confusing for me as the reader, always being one step behind everyone else. It also does not help that I had taken a bit of a break between this novel and the last (reading a few in another series that I hope to finish and review altogether soon!), so I had forgotten a few of the characters names and positions, and therefore their importance in certain regards. That was my mistake, as I think it would be better to keep reading these all through as one, as they do continue on as one big story from one book to the other.

The political intrigue and movement of the army, including a few different battles makes this novel a lot more plot-driven than the previous one, so while there was a bit more confusion on my part, it was also a lot more interesting to see where everything was going to go next in terms of action. The setting was also removed from the atmosphere of the Vere court which improves things significantly for me, as the culture there made me a little uncomfortable in the previous novel. While I do think there is likely an end-game to this, or message regarding how normal things can seem when you are brought up in a particular culture, at the time it just came across as shocking for the sake of it.

Yet there was still a lot of unnerving tension, sexual violence and manipulation that makes me a tad uneasy in this novel as well, particularly in regards to the treatment of the young Aimeric, and also how is always so calculating in all of his moves. There is such a coldness and manipulative nature there that makes it hard for me to like him, even though his hard exterior does come down at some points. It is because of this that I am still conflicted about the relationship between Laurent and Damen (which I had thought was pretty inevitable to develop in the previous novel, even though I did not enjoy the prospect of this one bit). I can see how they could come to know each other and trust each other easily after spending so much time together, but Laurent is always so cold and has so much hidden that it’s hard to know what is honest and what it strategy. It is clear that he has suffered in his life at the hands of his uncle but there is still such a sting to everything he does and it’s hard for me to get past some of his actions (as well as those of Damen) to truly be okay with them coming together. But I guess that is kind of the point: they both have a lot of baggage and conflict between them that it’s hard for them to come to realize and accept how they feel about one another. And of course, Damen, from whom we get the point of view of the book, does not have all of the information at any given point, which makes it hard to know what exactly is true, exaggerated, or entirely at play at any given time.  

And so, I am definitely going to find out what happens at the end of this series! There is just so much interplay going on with double-cross over double-cross and strategy after strategy. So while I am perhaps not entirely sold on some of the relationships and interplay with characters, I am quite engaged now by the overall plot and want to see how this all plays out.

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