C. S. Pacat
Let us begin by briefly praising the speed of C. S. Pacat, whose first book in the Captive Prince Trilogy was published in April last year – and now it’s just 10 months later and the final book is here, a show-stopping conclusion to this steamy drama of gay sex, occasional swordsmanship, courtly intrigue and varyingly consensual sexual slavery.
You will know from that sentence whether this series is your bag. But if it isn’t – why not? It’s so clever and dishy, as well as straight-up weird and fun. All year, publishers will be trying to sell you the next literate beach read to feed the mind and quicken the pulse. Don’t trust them – trust only C. S. Pacat.
A recap. In Book One, Prince Damianos of Akielos was betrayed and sent to a strange land where he had to pose as a demure(ish) slave, for Prince Laurent, if he were to learn who Damen truly was, would surely enact a steep and bloody price (Damen happens to have recently slain his brother). This would complicate the true business of Pacat’s books, which is the simmering romance between Damen and Laurent, who is a classically savage, inflexible ice queen. It would all be more disturbing, and certainly more clichéd, if Damen had not been sent to a homosocial society where the gender tropes of fantasy are a bit like the olives in a molecular cocktail: they’ll be there alright, but not as we know them.
If you plan to read these books, stop reading this review here…
…because Pacat shifts the status quo 40 pages into Kings Rising. “Did you think,” says Laurent imperiously, “I wouldn’t recognise the man who killed my brother?” Well, there are many reasons Laurent might not have recognised this person, but the point is that he’s known Damen’s identity all along, including the time they had proper sex. It is a remarkable and unnerving authorial decision, which defuses the primary generator of the tension that has so effectively been pushing forward the novels.
Politics ensue, but who cares about that? This bombshell leaves Damen and Laurent in the twilight zone of two busy, talented people trying to work out what they can and cannot offer each other. Kings Rising now becomes a study of the raw-nerved emotional lives of the slightly repressed and hyper-competent. Bring an open heart and a sense of fun. Gold-plated whips are supplied by the author. CR
Viking, 384pp, $22.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 27, 2016 as "C. S. Pacat, Kings Rising". Subscribe here.