C. S. Pacat
If there is such a genre as the gay sex slave political fantasy thriller, then Melbourne author C. S. Pacat is surely its new queen. Her debut novel Captive Prince, the first in a projected trilogy, is as scintillating and addictive as it is disquieting and weird.
This might accord with its hero’s first impressions of Vere, the land where Prince Damianos is banished as a slave when a bloody coup in his own kingdom divests him of his throne. In Vere, where this captive prince is known only as Damen, the high-born keep “pets” of the same gender to reduce the risk of producing bastards.
It’s a homonormative kingdom, and it’s a fascinating place. It’s also deeply, wonderfully ridiculous, a place where slaves are paraded around in collars made of gold. In other words, psychological realism this is not; the court of Vere is a hallucinogenic carnival.
Details such as these are important in a book that seeks to build a twisted love story out of a culture of slavery and rape. An author might typically explore such grave topics with great seriousness but, in this case, she instead throws up her hands and wrings as much overheated kink from them as she possibly can.
The will-they-or-won’t-they drama is between Damen and Laurent, his cold, entitled, bratty master, whose features have a “marmoreal expression”. Laurent enacts a number of schemes meant to break Damen’s will. But because Laurent doesn’t know Damen is a prince – incredibly dangerous information in Vere – the plots seem suspiciously elaborate.
Does Laurent just happen to be a particularly sadistic master? Or might Damen have awakened in him something a lot like love that he expresses in various unconventional, and non-consensual, ways?
Call it revolutionary or just call it refreshing. Either way, it’s fun to read a pornographic drama in a fantasy landscape populated almost entirely by men. In one scene, the very masc Damen notices another slave’s hair is “not the buttercup yellow of Laurent’s”. Few fantasy novel heroes devote much time to their impressions of other men’s hair. Perhaps they ought to.
It’s a backhanded compliment to say a book transcends its genre, and Captive Prince certainly doesn’t try. Instead, it’s a well-written fantasy with a willingness to prod at the boundaries of its genre’s norms. If the next two books are just as lurid, just as fun, and just as strange, then long may C. S. Pacat reign. CR
Viking, 304pp, $19.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 4, 2015 as "C. S. Pacat, Captive Prince". Subscribe here.