Narrated by Stephen Bel Davies
The Captive Prince Trilogy caught my eye when the previously released e-book version gained quite a popular following on Goodreads as can be evidenced by its over 29K ratings at just under a 4-star rating. This is a large number of ratings for any romance, but when you factor in that this book is an M/M dark romance, I was instantly intrigued. After having finished the first book, Captive Prince, I am definitely beginning to see what the buzz is about as this story is chock-full of entertainment with politics and leadership lessons and societal dynamics among classes being largely in play. The fact that it is also set in a medieval like fantasy world with knights and servants (including love “pets”) certainly also adds a mythical and titillating allure to this story. Unfortunately, the one area where this audiobook did not fully deliver was in the narration department. Additionally, it is worth noting that Captive Prince is really only the introduction of the story – in fact, the romance doesn’t even get started in this book – and books 2 & 3 must be read or listened to in order to get the entire story.
When a coup by his own illegitimate half-brother (Kastor) sends Prince Damen, the rightful heir to the throne of Akielos, to the enemy territory of Vere disguised as a slave, Damen’s life is completely altered. Once trained and groomed to be a king, Damen is an accomplished and legendary military hero in his own right. In fact, it is Damen who single handedly led the battle that killed the former King of Vere. His being banished to Vere disguised as a slave is therefore no coincidence but merely all part of now King Kastor’s sadistic plan for doing away with Damen and any further legitimate claims that might take away his throne. Left with no choice and subsisting in a very precarious position, Damen accepts his subservient position (a difficult feat for he is clearly an alpha male) and adapts to his new reality by concealing his identity while laying in wait for the perfect opportunity to escape, seek his revenge and gain back his rightful place. If he can also manage to inflict further pain on the new heir to the throne of Vere, Prince Laurent, or his uncle the Regent of Vere, before leaving enemy lands, so much the better.
What Damen least could have expected, though, after being drugged and beaten, is that he would be placed in the service of Prince Laurent himself (as his personal pleasure slave). Mind you in this alternate fantasy world only same sex relationships are accepted out of wedlock because the thought of having children of illegitimate birth is avoided at all costs. All that said, Prince Laurent seems anything but interested in Damen, instead treating him with great disdain and vehemence. Laurent hates everything that has anything to do with Akielos especially the former Prince Damen who killed his beloved older brother (the former King of Vere). Though their general approaches to political strategy and human interrelationships are completely different, Damen being generally good and altruistic (the good prince) whereas Laurent is cunning, calculated and vengeful (the evil prince), the one thing they both share is a common hatred for one another and what the other prince’s kingdom represents – the classic battle of good vs. evil. What could possibly come of the joining of these two people who so greatly despise one another? Moreover, all is not well within the Kingdom of Vere itself. As is frequently the case when the leadership of a nation is in flux (the Uncle Regent is supposed to turn over the kingdom of Vere to Prince Laurent once he reaches majority age which is scheduled to occur in less than a year), there are multiple factions – those that support the Regent and those that support the Prince Laurent. Does the Regent truly have Laurent’s best interests at heart?
While Stephen Bel Davies may be a fine narrator for other genres, his narration just did not fit my mental image of what this fantasy medieval world should sound like. For starters, in my head these foreign fantasy kingdoms had a British styled accent, but Stephen Bel Davies narrates with an American accent. Truth be told, I kept hearing Alex Wyndham or Shane East or a male narrator with a similar style as the perfect voice for this story. Perhaps more significantly, however, I found Mr. Davies’ narration much too bland and lacking in emotion to match the feel and grandness of this Game of Thrones styled epic saga. In fact, during the first couple of hours I even struggled with the thought of discontinuing my listen – I just could not get into any kind of flow and found myself constantly rewinding the book as this a book that requires great attention to detail to understand the fantasy world building.
At about half way through though something miraculous happened and the story really started to grab my attention, so I decided to speed up the audio to 2X speed and really just focus on the words rather than let the narrator enact the scene as I am usually accustomed to in romance audiobooks. I found that with this resetting of expectations I was finally able to settle into the listen though I’m sure that my enjoyment of the story would have been even greater with the right narrator.
All in all, Captive Prince is a great beginning to what promises to be an intriguing and politically engaging strategic world of rivaling kingdoms. Though I must admit that book 1 ended somewhat abruptly and certainly could have been combined with book 2 for a fuller story, I’m also looking forward to book 2 where I expect the romantic almost love/hate tension between Damen and Laurent should really start to gain prominence as part of the driving story line.
Book Content: B+
Steam Factor: For your burning ears only
Violence Rating: Fighting, Domestic violence
Genre: M/M Erotica/Dark Romance
Publisher: Audible Studios
Captive Prince was provided to AudioGals by Audible Studios for a review.