Book Review: “Captive Prince” Trilogy


‘Love Conquers All’

I am sure most people are familiar with that expression. While it may sound cheesy and a bit worn out, in my opinion it describes the plot of Australian writer C.S. Pacat’s trilogy Captive Prince perfectly, even though the story is anything but cheesy. 

The novels follow Prince Damianos (Damen) of Akelios, who is supposed to inherit the throne after his father. However, he is captured by his half-brother, who wants to seize the throne, and is then sent to the enemy country Vere as a pleasure slave. In Vere, nobody knows about Damen’s identity, but he is also unable to reveal himself since he is on enemy territory. Apart from that, his new ‘master’ Laurent, the Prince of Vere, would kill him instantly for personal reasons. So, Damen is forced to endure captivity until he gets entangled in Vere’s political situation and a fight for the Veretian throne. Over the course of the novels Damen and Laurent have to work together in order to survive and to save their countries. But things get even more problematic when they start developing feelings for each other and secrets are slowly being revealed.

Their love story has many great hurdles. They are both crown princes to their rival nations, so they are under a lot of pressure from their courts and councils. But first and foremost they are battling their own demons from the past and present. Damen, who was sold out to the enemy by his own brother has to deal with the aftermath of his slavery including torture, humiliation and sexual assault through Laurent and other Veretians. Additionally, he is thrown into a different culture, in which a different language is spoken and which has in – Damen’s eyes – unspeakable customs. Laurent’s trauma started when he was a young boy just having lost his father and his older brother Auguste. He was sexually abused and manipulated by his own uncle, the Regent, who tried to seize Laurent’s birthright: the Veretian throne. So basically their traumas reside for a great part with each other. One the one hand Laurent being the one using, humiliating and nearly killing Damen and on the other hand Damen being the one killing Auguste during the war and therefore being one of the reasons for Laurent’s assault. This is why a great part of the story deals with guilt. Damen feels guilty for falling in love with Laurent despite his enslavement but also because he believes Laurent to be unaware of his identity. Laurent, however, knew who Damen was from the beginning and therefore feels guilty for falling in love with his brother’s killer.   

I chose this trilogy because, to me, it is simply awesome. The plot is very intricate and has, in my opinion, many unseen twists. Additionally, the characters and their development are portrayed well. I also like the setting since I am a fan of kingdoms, courts, royals and their politics. Of course, I also like it because of Damen’s and Laurent’s love story, which I think is a great realization of the trope ‘enemies to lovers’. Be warned though, the story contains a lot of crude language and explicit depictions of violence (torture), slavery, trauma and (non-consensual) sex, so it is certainly not for everyone. 

But ultimately I love this story because it was not so much about two men falling in love, which many other (queer) romances focus on, but rather about two people caught up in their dark pasts, weaving through intricate deceptions and mind plays to in the end learning to forgive themselves and accept their feelings for each other.

Pacat, C.S.. Captive Prince. New York: Berkley, 2015. Print. 

Pacat, C.S.. Prince’s Gambit. New York: Berkley, 2015. Print. 

Pacat, C.S.. Kings Rising. New York: Berkley, 2016. Print. 

“The rest of the world is spinning” – Trauma Theory in “Summer Bird Blue”

Summer Bird Blue

Akemi Dawn Bowman’s novel Summer Bird Blue follows the young girl Rumi who deals with the aftermath of a car accident in which she lost her younger sister Lea. Therefore, a large part of the novel deals with trauma and how to move on, which is especially showcased for Rumi’s character. 

Rumi’s Various Traumas

There are different traumas that play a part for Rumi, a childhood trauma, the trauma of losing her sister and her mother’s abandonment. Her memories which she describes throughout the novel, force her to think about her childhood and past issues with her family (cp. 20). I would argue that her childhood trauma is one of the reasons for her behavior after Lea’s death and her mother abandoning her. Rumi and Lea’s father left the family when Lea was still very young, because he did not want to be tied down by a family since he was not sure what he wanted from life (cp. 182). Rumi’s memory of the day her father decided to leave and the conversation between her parents is incredibly detailed considering she was very young herself. She was very upset when her father said that he would have maybe stayed if not for Lea (cp. 183 ff). After their father’s abandonment, Rumi had to be and act more like a parent than a child, since she had to take care of Lea while their mother worked. Rumi is rather unsure about what to do with her life after graduation, while Lea and most of their friends already know what to do. Which is why she is often afraid she will turn out like her father (cp. 276) or is already too similar to him. Therefore, Rumi always thinks her mom liked Lea better because of Lea’s very different personality. While she does not want to die after losing her sister, she repeatedly thinks she should have died instead of Lea, because she was nice, likable, confident and knew what she wanted to do with her life (cp. 106).

The Death of Lea

At the beginning of the novel, Rumi refuses to acknowledge her sister’s death (cp. 12) and describes a feeling of emptiness. She does not cry after the accident but shows other physical reactions, such as throwing up, shaking, panic, a pounding heart and a racing mind. One of her biggest issues, however, is her anger towards the situation. Rumi gets angry very fast, she screams at people, makes ruder comment than usual and destroys things (cp. 79). I would argue that her frustration and the resulting outbursts all stem from the same problem: Rumi prefers to ignore her trauma instead of speaking about it (cp. 116), which is one of the main points in Pederson’s trauma theory. He suggests that a way to overcome and heal after having experienced trauma is to speak about it (cp. Pederson 338). Therefore, Rumi’s constant refusal to talk to anybody is, in my opinion, the source of her behavior and the reason she cannot look forward. In turn her bottled up emotions show themselves in angry outbursts, where she often hurts the people around her, be it with words or actions. She also does not believe in therapy (cp. 122) and is trying to cope by herself (cp. 126) rather than seek out help. 

Rumi lost her ground without her sister and her mother (cp. 13) and she even lost the joy music once brought her. Right before the accident happened Rumi and Lea were working on one of their songs but after the crash Rumi cannot remember the song and their music notebook is gone. She thinks of a situation when they were kids, Rumi promising Lea to fulfill three wishes. After the accident Rumi is thinking about what her sister would have wanted her to do as her last wish and decides to finish the song ‘Summer Bird Blue’. But the music always reminds her of the loss (cp. 31) and she describes it as haunting (cp. 33). She calls herself selfish many times throughout the novel. She thinks she deserves that she has been abandoned by her mom, because she can’t fulfill Lea’s last wish (cp. 108) and thinks she let Lea down for not being able to finish the song (cp. 82). However, when she does start to play music again, she sees her sister’s ghost whenever she tries to play or sing (cp. 133) and Rumi comes to the realization that the music keeps her sister alive (cp. 221). She does not want to let go of Lea, because most of her life revolved around her sister (cp. 141) and she feels like she does not know how to be herself without Lea. 

Rumi’s Road Towards Healing

Eventually, Rumi starts talking about Lea consciously and realizes it helps (cp. 259), prior to this she told people her sister died but without really taking it in. Yet she is still in conflict with herself: she wants to stop feeling so empty but feels selfish for trying to move on (cp. 85, 212) and she is still not ready to say good-bye even after she starts talking (cp. 274). However, after Rumi starts talking about her sister, she admits that she remembers the accident (cp. 282) and is aware of her repression as her coping mechanism (cp. 283). McNally, a renowned trauma theorist himself and also Pederson’s basis for his own theory, says that “traumatic amnesia is a myth, and while victims may choose not to speak of their traumas, there is little evidence that they cannot.” (McNally 334). This is why Pederson also proposes that new trauma theorists should, different to their predecessors, focus on “both the accessibility of traumatic memory and the possibility that victims may construct reliable narrative accounts of it.” (Pederson 338). He continues that “a victim’s understandable desire not to dwell on a painful event” (Pederson 337) should not be mistaken for amnesia (cp. Pederson 337). This fits Rumi’s situation quite well: She does remember but chooses not to in order to protect herself. 

When she finally realizes that her sister is really gone she cries (cp. 347). Her emotions return, she talks about the trauma with her mother and also agrees to therapy. Finally letting go of her repression of the memories surrounding the accident, Rumi realizes that Lea’s last words were actually her mom calling out to her after the car crash (cp. 359). Which is consistent with what both Pederson and McNally suggest in their trauma theories as Pederson talks about McNally’s suggestion that memories of traumatic events can appear distorted or warped (cp. Pederson 339-340). A trauma victim may remember everything but sometimes these memories are muddled. So, in Rumi’s case she remembers someone calling out to her after the crash, but only later when she explores her trauma it becomes apparent to her that it had been her mother and not Lea. 

Ready to Live

In terms of further research, one could take a look at trauma connected to other characters. For example, one could look at the novel’s trauma from the perspective of Rumi’s mother, who was left by her husband to be a single mother and then lost one of her daughters. Similarly, I would say Mr. Watanabe would be an interesting character to look at in terms of trauma as well because he lost his wife and his son. Rumi, in the end, learns that she can cope with her trauma but admits it will take time (cp. 354). “I think I’m ready to live” (cp. 368) is, in my opinion, Rumi’s most important realization and closes the novel well.

Works Cited

McNally, Richard J.: Remembering Trauma. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 2003.

Pederson, Joshua. “Speak, Trauma: Toward a Revised Understanding of Literary Trauma Theory.” Narrative 22.3 (2014): 333–353.

Narrative(s) and Structure in Gillian Polack’s “The Time of the Ghosts”

Something that immediately caught my eye while reading is that Gillian Polack’s novel The Time of the Ghosts consists of three different narratives: the main story, Kat’s blog and the ‘Tales of Melusine’. All three narratives have their own content, structure and narrative situation and they take turns throughout the novel. While the narratives differ in these aspects, they ultimately combine into one narrative. 

The First Narrative

The first narrative, the main narrative of the novel, follows the story of the three old women Lil, Ann and Mabel who take in the rebellious young girl Kat, who was homeless. Kat forms relationships with her “grandmothers” and together they explore the world of ghosts, spirits and monsters. This narrative has a third person narrator but what is important to note is that most of it is told from Kat’s perspective, which makes her the main focaliser. The novel uses several spaces and a black line, to indicate that a certain scene is over. The following part of the text then is a time skip, a change in location, one of the ‘Tales of Melusine’ or one of Kat’s blog posts.

The Second Narrative

The second narrative is Kat’s blog. It is asynchronous, as she is writing her blog rather irregularly throughout the novel and the entries are not closely tied to the surrounding narrative. Mostly the topics of her blog include research she has done on monster and ghost sightings, reviews of the ‘Tales of Melusine’ she has read so far or a journal of events involving her grandmothers. Kat calls her infrequent posts “snippets of lives” (p. 162) and compares them to the ‘Tales of Melusine’ (cf. p. 162).  Sometimes she writes about her past, her family and her nightmares. In this narrative Kat is a first-person narrator. That, and the fact that she is writing about her own experiences, gives the reader a much closer look into Kat’s character compared to other characters in the novel. For this reason, I found it easy to connect with her character more deeply. Another important thing to note is that her blog posts are unlabeled. They do not have a title and, as mentioned above, are mostly identifiable through breaks in the text and a switched narrator. Therefore, at first glance they may look like a continuation of the main narrative but these posts have their own voice. As Kat is a fifteen-year-old girl and she is also writing a blog rather than a literary mode, her language is more colloquial and she is often voicing her opinion on whatever she is writing about. 

The Third Narrative

The third narrative consists of the ‘Tales of Melusine’. They are little snippets of the life of the fairy Melusine, later revealed to be Lil, over the last 500 years and they are written like fairy tales. I would argue that the novel wants the reader to see them as such most of the time, as some tales which appear in the novel start with “once upon a time” (p. 13). Another special feature is that the tales are, unlike Kat’s blog posts, labeled and sequenced, yet also achronological. For me this was interesting as in some tales there was no indication in which century they took place, which made them seem more mystical and mysterious. What these tales also do is point at issues connected to Jewishness and Jewish-Australianness. The tales are written in third person narration and have Melusine as the focaliser. Looking at these tales in terms of narrative structure, I would say that they are an embedded narrative, a story within the story so to speak, with the main narrative as the frame narrative.  

In the end, the three narratives combined make for a great novel. While the switch of narrative often felt pretty random, one still sees the connection of the narratives by the end of it. The change in perspective, writing style and narrative elevates the mysteriousness of the story and while sometimes the order or the switch of the narratives seems illogical, by the end of the novel one still got the feeling everything made sense and the mysteries were solved.