Writing as much as I do, I don't get nearly the reading time I'd like to have. So I tend to be a really picky reader. Book club selections and research materials for my own work dominate my reading list, but every once in a while I get to completely lose myself in something indulgent...that also happens to be really worthwhile. I have yet another cold (keeping score, I've been sick for a month and a half with various colds/flus/etc.) so I spent much of the weekend devouring the Captive Prince Trilogy by C.S. Pacat.
I've seen this trilogy recc'd for a while in the comic fandom, and I've read some really smart commentary about it. Turns out, it was all well-deserved.
An easily-defined, tightly-boxed tale it is not. Here are my favorite aspects:
The main storyline centers on the rightful heirs of two fictional kingdoms. There's been war between the nations before, and the uneasy truce is threatened my the machinations of two wannabe kings trying to outmaneuver one another and get rid of their respective princes: Laurent and Damen.
A love story, yes - and an emotional, complex, delicately-balanced one at that - but there is so much going on in this trilogy. From political intrigue, to sword fighting, to cross-country adventure. The author plays with big themes in a layered, effortless way: family, inheritance, brotherly love, legitimate vs. illegitimate heirs, forgiveness, honor, loyalty. All the relationships are complicated, the conflict multi-faceted. Truly a never-a-dull-moment kind of book, with a pleasing symmetry between the lives of the two main characters.
I LOVE the way the author uses dialogue. The way, as in real life, it's subtle, uncluttered, and usually hiding the character's true feelings. The language used by the characters manages to be eloquent without being pretentious. I love that the precise word choice delivers a deep emotional punch. The dance of tension and relaxation - but mostly tension. Really top notch.
You know me; the characters make or break a story for me, and everyone in this trilogy is richly-drawn. Flawed, insecure Laurent hiding behind his cool arrogance and wicked tongue, and faithful, strong Damen struggling through his circumstances with more grace than any of us could lend to the situation. Supporting them is a cast of three-dimensional secondary heroes and villains, fleshing out a fantasy world that feels tangible.
There's no info-dumping here. The author paints us a portrait of her world through organic story-telling, rich with details, but never bogging down in unimportant minutiae.
The best books are the ones that seem to end too soon, and that's definitely true here. Highly recommended.