Review: The Prince's Captive

When I first received the ARC for The Prince's Captive by Celeste Baxendell, I thought that it was her entry for the upcoming Once Upon a Prince series. However, I quickly realized that it is the first book from her newest fantasy series, Runes of Pain and Peace. Her gender-bent fairy tale retelling, The Wicked Prince, is yet to come. The Prince's Captive is quite a bit longer and more intense than a light-hearted fairy tale retelling. It tells an original fantasy story for young adult readers that gives off Romeo and Juliet vibes in a world with mages who cast spells using runes similar to my own fantasy trilogy. Though it was a riveting book, the circumstances behind the romance were so troubling that it felt like a guilty pleasure. The female lead was a prisoner like Belle from "Beauty and the Beast," Yet that story is rather tame compared to the level of torment that Marcella suffers in this book.


Marcella's appearance is both a blessing and a curse. She is fortunate to look nearly identical to her clan's leader, Hypatia, who she idolizes. However, when Hypatia has a vision of getting captured by the enemy on her wedding night, Marcella is the only person who looks convincing enough to stand in for her. It is Marcella's duty and privilege to pretend to be Hypatia, even if that means getting brutally maimed to replicate her leader's scar and suffering all of the torture that the Inimicus clan have in store for her. Marcella is surprised to learn that her primary captor, Gavril, is intelligent enough to figure out her true identity. She is even more surprised to learn that he is not willing to reveal her secret to the rest of the clan so they can dispose of her and instead chooses to protect her in any way possible, including performing a marriage ceremony to make her his wife. He does this by convincing the clan that marrying "Hypatia" himself would prevent her marriage alliance with another clan. Their language barrier and cultural differences prevent Marcella from understanding the significance of the ceremony.

This book does a fantastic job of portraying a love story between two people from different cultures who speak different languages. It rarely incorporates words from their own languages that would only read as gibberish and instead uses broken English to reveal the little parts of each language that Marcella and Gavril understand from each other. The broken-up dialogue makes it easy for the reader to sympathize with both characters and how little or how much they are able to understand, which makes it believable that Marcella doesn't realize that Gavril married her. It also makes Gavil's love for Marcella all the more endearing as he works hard to protect her despite her hatred of him and his lack of ability to understand her. Instead of trying to force her to speak his language, he devotes all of his time and effort to getting better at her language and learning more about her likes, dislikes, and customs that differ from his own culture. It would be a beautiful metaphor for an interracial marriage if it weren't for the fact that Marcella does not realize they are married and is Garvil's prisoner for the majority of the story.

Though I found this book to be a thoroughly enjoyable and captivating love story, I couldn't help but feel uncomfortable about Marcella's situation. It is explained multiple times why Gavril is unable to grant her his freedom due to his duty and loyalty to his clan, but he still allows his people to lock up and torture her whenever he is not with her. While he does his best to stop them whenever it is in his power, he never goes so far as to betray them entirely in order to liberate her from her miserable state of being. He also never reveals to Marcella that he made her his wife despite having ample opportunity to do so because he is worried she will be angry with him, which is likely correct. These are things that will probably be addressed in the next book from this series, The Prince's Mage, but it is troubling to enjoy a love story so much when one of the characters holds so much power over the other. Marcella suffers immensely throughout this book and winds up in some horrifying situations that give her PTSD. As much as Gavril tries to comfort her, it is simply never enough.

In light of the intense and complex dynamics portrayed in The Prince's Captive by Celeste Baxendell, the novel delves into the intricate themes of power, language barriers, and the struggles of two individuals from different cultures. Despite the discomfort that may arise from the unequal power dynamics between Marcella and Gavril, the story captures the audience's imagination and emotions, leaving them eagerly waiting for the next book in Runes of Pain and Peace. Readers of this series must critically engage with the complexities presented, understanding that it provides a safe space for exploring challenging narratives and pushing the boundaries of our own understanding. The Prince's Captive undoubtedly sparks important discussions about love, loyalty, and the lengths one will go to protect those they care about, prompting us to ponder the blurred lines between captivity and affection. Due to the nature of its themes, I would recommend this series to older readers who are in the mood for something dark and heavy.

Comments

Sugar said…

I have always been interested in exploring those themes of fiction, the "I love you but it's complicated" trope, however within romance, although there is a specific genre that addresses dubious relationships, Stockholm syndrome, falling in love with a villain is usually a genre that is not I would read because it mixes a lot with erotica and horror, so I prefer to explore these plots through novels or Korean manhwa since their way of narrating is usually more emotional and not sexually explicit. The books that are reviewed in this blog are not usually very vaporous, so I am interested in reading this saga.
This book and those that follow are seen as a good alternative for those of us who want to see how a story like this is handled without getting into too dark places of fiction.
Lisa Dawn said…
Oh yes, the email that the author sent with the ARC said:

"The Prince's Captive is an Upper YA (16+) Fantasy Romance, due to the level of violence and certain subjects, but like my other books the romance contains no explicit content and it's the same level of kissing as my previous books."

I found that too be pretty accurate upon completing the book.

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