Sunday, June 11, 2017

Thoughts Inspired by Captive Prince, Volume 1: The Hate-At-First-Sight Couple

In Black Sun, Leonard's request surprises
even Jamal, who couldn't be sure Leonard
didn't feel only hate.
A common trope in romance is the protagonists who loathe each other. Although I loved this trope when I was younger, the older I get, the more unlikely I find it. It reminds me of those dreadful chick-flick movies--not Bridget Jones, which is a high-energy, aren't-we-having-fun? pastiche--but those dreadful concoctions in which a single revelation destroys the relationship (until it is unlikely resolved at the very end).

If the couple can't make a go of it in the face of a "oops, I screwed up" or "oops, I forgot to tell you" moment, then the relationship wasn't meant to be. Better to leave it alone then force it through a series of hoops and this-is-what-is-supposed-to-happen romantic demands.

Pride & Prejudice is an exception of course although I side with those critics who claim that Elizabeth and Darcy didn't suddenly discover their mutual attraction; they were interested in each other from the beginning. They also make peace before they begin their final courtship. The relationship develops organically, however riddled with issues.

So . . . the  daggers-drawn relationship can be fun and captivating, if handled correctly.

C.S. Pacat handles her (literally, in some scenes) daggers-drawn relationship correctly.

--Slight Spoilers--

First, Damen and Laurent have legitimate reasons to distrust and even hate each other. The hate-at-first-sight couple which hates based on "the wrong ya done my family!"--only to discover later that the wrong was never really done--is tiresome at best and highly irritating at most, usually because the whole matter could be cleared up with a bit of "hey, did you know?" communication at the beginning of the story.

Medieval Jamal and Leonard under-
stand each other because they speak
the same language of honor in battle.
But Damen and Laurent have true problems to overcome--and forgive. On a far less extreme note, Darcy and Elizabeth have true petty meanness to overcome--and forgive.

"It was only a mistake!" is not enough. For the hate-at-first-sight couple to work, the protagonists must have something to work through. Far too many writers try to argue that their characters are wonderful and perfect and sweet--it's the big, bad hate that's getting in the way; once it's gone, their characters will recognize each other's wonderfulness and have no more problems.

Writers who give their characters flaws and struggles, on the other hand, provide the possibility that those flaws and struggles can be overcome.

Second, the legitimate reasons for Damen and Laurent to hate each other are BIG. Yet from the point of view of history, especially the assumptions and viewpoints embedded within ancient cultures, they are not so outrageous that they can't be overcome.

Granted, this is easier to do when the culture--invented or otherwise--provides rituals and a mental framework that make overcoming the transgressions a likely possibility.

Pamela's near-rape by Mr. B is rightly inexcusable in our own culture--and nearly in her own. Yet the context of servitude within her own culture provides a framework of understanding. Without that framework, there is nowhere for Mr. B and Pamela to go.

Likewise, in C.S. Pacat's fantasy world, the codes of honor, duels, and to-the-victor-go-the-spoils provide a framework of understanding even something as large as "you killed my brother in battle." These aren't random, sociopathic reasons; these are comprehensible reasons.

Third, Damen and Laurent get along from the beginning (although they don't realize how much).*

Like Darcy and Elizabeth--who enjoy talking to each other almost before they realize it--and Fili and Tauriel, Damen and Laurent have an easier time communicating with each other than anyone else.

One of my favorite scenes in Volume 1--and the one where I knew I would read on to Volume 2--occurs after Damen promises (tentative) obedience if Laurent will look after the slaves from Damen's own country. They then attend a party together:
Laurent used . . . the propensity of courtiers to fall back in reaction to Damen's presence as a means of extricating himself smoothly from conversation.

The third time this happened, Damen said, "Shall I make a face at the ones you don't like, or is it enough to just look like a barbarian?"

"Shut up," said Laurent calmly.
I started laughing. It wasn't merely the banter (which starts much earlier in the volume), it was that I could see the same conversation happening under very different circumstances.

--Way More Spoilers--

Speaking of Hamlet, Hamlet and Horatio are also a unit.
I knew by the middle of Volume 1 that Damen and Laurent would end up together--no way was I reading through three volumes to find everyone strewed across some floor somewhere full of holes at the end a la Hamlet. And I was amused because I could absolutely see Laurent using Damen in exactly the same way as a fellow king--to extract himself from a diplomatic conversation and/or turn that conversation to his and Damen's interest. And I could see Damen being equally amused and exasperated and even, since he would know Laurent better by then, willing to go along to see what Laurent was planning. (All this is way more interesting than everybody dying, anyway.)

In a good hate-at-first-sight relationship, the couple are already functioning as a unit before the hate is resolved.

*C.S. Pacat captures this idea of Damen-Laurent as a-unit-before-they-realize-they-are-one in her short story "Green But for a Season." She also captures the outside-versus-inside perspective of the couple. Jord perceives the unit-nature of Damen and Laurent's relationship when they are working over the map without fully understanding what he sees.