Monday, July 17, 2017

Thoughts on Captive Prince, Volume 3: Some Criticisms

I should state immediately that I am a huge fan of this series. Not only do I admire the characterizations and the plotting, I admire the writing. It is smooth, unpretentious, intelligent.

By "writing," I am referring to plotting but also to style: the sentences flow; the dialog is quick and non-clunky; the exposition is evocative yet not heavy-handed.

I am equally a fan of C.S. Pacat's short stories, which avoid the longwindedness and lack of cohesion of so many novel writers' "stories" plus Pacat's stories have arcs! This is so remarkable it bears emphasis: good short story writing is an art.

Having said all the above, I was puzzled by Captive Prince, Kings Rising. The first half is similar in tone and pacing to Prince's Gambit, Volume 2. The middle section is entirely not. The final confrontation and pay-off match the first half.

It is almost as if Pacat merged two books into one.

*Slight Multiple Spoilers*

The change in approach is understandable. Prince's Gambit's plot is concise and complex; it is also highly stressful. Although there are a few lively and entertaining moments, the overall tone is serious. Laurent is carefully, cleverly, and desperately plotting how to survive his uncle's inevitable countermoves. Reading Prince's Gambit is rather like reading Hamlet, only this Hamlet spends way less time wandering around graveyards and pontificating about the meaning of life. Laurent is far too responsible to waste time--he has to make new friends whilst arranging his pawns and capturing his enemies. His mental and physical landscape is a chess match.

Pacat has the ability to write delightful comedy--in particular, to show Laurent and Damen enjoying themselves on merry (though important) romps (for an excellent example check out her short story "The Adventures of Charls the Veretian Cloth Merchant": great pay-off and fantastic final line!). Having a merry romp in the middle of Volume 3 is understandable but confusing. Soooo gathering the army and making political peace between Damen and Laurent's troops turned out to be...unnecessary? (Okay, okay, I know it wasn't, but still...)

However--and I hate to admit this--my biggest problem is the baby.

I simply don't believe that these men in these cultures would alter all their plans for the sake of a baby. That sounds awful. But it sounds awful because of how us moderns think.

It isn't that ancient or medieval people (the cultures from which Laurent's and Damen's derive) didn't love their babies, as Antonio Fraser successfully illustrates. The problem is that babies didn't have the same meaning as "people" as they do now.

Granted, Drarry Fanart's Laurent, Damen, and baby
are adorable . . .
Neither Laurent nor Damen show the slightest interest in babies throughout Volumes 1 and 2, a characterization that I find utterly believable. Damen never wonders if he has fathered any bastards (and it is highly unlikely that there wouldn't be more than the one). Laurent, coming from a culture with such a low opinion of bastards, seems to consider their existence as unlikely as him wanting to produce one.

Both men do show concern for teens, the age at which both of them suffered extreme loss. Adolescents and prepubescents are real to them in a way that babies and toddlers are not. Should Damen have fathered a child in his late teens, know of that child and be paying for its maintenance (entirely typical behavior in his culture), the use of that older boy by the usurpers would bother him and Laurent in the extreme.

An unmet, practically imaginary baby of doubtful origin? Not so much. 

. . . still, I think Damen would behave more like Jamal
towards Effendi: Okay, kid, time for the adults to talk.
In any case, I'm not sure a baby/child was even necessary. I found it entirely likely that Damen and Laurent would take the conclusory "trial" as an opportunity to end the conflict without bloodshed. They could use the army to get to the capital in order to attend the trial, turning it from a kangaroo court to an opportunity to present legitimate evidence.

Consequently, I classify this volume as containing coincidences that I can ignore because the outcome would have occurred anyway.

And in all honesty, the merry romp in the second half is fun.