Damen is a warrior hero to his people, and the rightful heir to the throne of Akielos, but when his half brother seizes power, Damen is captured, stripped of his identity, and sent to serve the prince of an enemy nation as a pleasure slave.
Beautiful, manipulative and deadly, his new master Prince Laurent epitomizes the worst of the court at Vere. But in the lethal political web of the Veretian court, nothing is as it seems, and when Damen finds himself caught up in a play for the throne, he must work together with Laurent to survive and save his country.
For Damen, there is just one rule: never, ever reveal his true identity. Because the one man Damen needs is the one man who has more reason to hate him than anyone else . . .
THESE BOOKS. Woooo what a ride. I read this entire series over three days, which isn’t actually hard to do since each book is relatively short and highly engaging.
Now, let me go into this with a huge caveat. When my friends mentioned this series to me, and since then throughout them trying to convince me to read these, I had been warned about book one. ‘The first book will seem really bad, like a lot of bad stuff happens from one of the characters that you might think you’re supposed to like but just keep reading it because you’ll see how things go.’ Okaaaaaay. Well, I’m SO glad I got this warning because I’m not sure if it influenced my opinion of the first book but it definitely mean that I was paying a lot more attention to things that weren’t being said, stuff that was going on in between the lines.
So, let me rewind a bit. The series starts out when a crown prince, Damen, is betrayed and sent into slavery with a bunch of other slaves to the neighboring enemy kingdom. Not only that, but to be a personal slave of the prince of that kingdom, whose older brother he had killed on the field of battle years before. So, if his identity were discovered things would go from bad to worse for Damen. He’s really not having a good day, to say the least. What follows through book one is Damen’s time in slavery at the palace under Laurent, trying to figure out how to escape back to his own kingdom but also trying to figure out Laurent. So, let’s get into all the warnings. In this book we have slavery, pedophilia, rape, physical and mental torture and abuse. There are a lot of fucked up things in this book. And since a lot of people go into this with the idea that it’s a bit of a love story between Damen and Laurent (it is, but that comes later and it’s also not without its fucked-up-ness), well, book one will definitely leave a reader going ‘WTF’.
Not only are there lots of fucked up things in this first book but Laurent is seen to be the perpetrator of a lot of the bad things that happen (and it’s not that he is a total innocent here even after certain truths come to light, let’s be honest). But, an important note here: we only see things from Damen’s POV. Damen is a character who is very straight forward. He doesn’t have a devious mind–even after he’s been betrayed by a member of his own family he still maintains of sense of trust in the world that everything is as it seems on the surface. The problem for Damen (and thus, readers) is that everything is NOT as it seems. There are things constantly in motion, pieces at play, and if you pay attention you can pick up on some clues as to some of the truth. Damen has found himself suddenly inserted into a long standing chess match in progress but he either doesn’t realize he’s part of a game or, at best, thinks it’s checkers and is waiting to get back to his side of the board so someone can king him. Either way, because we’re seeing things from Damen’s POV we’re limited as to what we’re able to glean about what’s really going on in this fucked up court. If we’d seen things from Laurent’s POV as well then perhaps we (the readers) would be able to be more forgiving. But then that takes away the mystery and all of the revelations, not being able to see all the machinations works best for this type of book. Would we have loved Ocean’s 11 as much if we’d known exactly how they were pulling off the heist the entire time? Part of the fun is finding that out later and looking back at all the things you didn’t pick up on and going ‘oooohhhhhhh, now I get it’. Same here. I love a book that keeps me on my toes and guessing and this book is perfect for that. What is Laurent’s deal? Why is he so cruel? Why is he so guarded and controlled, seemingly without emotion? Is he a robot in disguise?
Now, if you make it past the first book without wanting to throw the book into a bonfire, congratulations–the truly great stuff is about to begin. Having left the palace we go on a road trip with Laurent and Damen and a very small army to secure one of the border forts. There are still some fucked up things that happen in this book but I also love a good road trip! Also, in this one, we get to see Damen being a good leader as he helps out with training the men as he and Laurent form an uneasy alliance. Slowly, more and more things come to light. We see little glimpses of Laurent and maybe we’re getting to know him. Then again, maybe not because Laurent is in that eternal chess match and everything he does seems to be so carefully planned. Laurent is like water, you can’t grasp him. But here we do start getting some excellent development on both characters and their story arcs. We also get a bit of a caper on a side-quest which was a lot of fun and helped to bring Damen and Laurent together. So of course when you think things are finally going good, BAM. Wtf, book! Why you gotta do me like that?!
After the end of the second book, the third installment picks up and you may go into it with a hint of bitterness and a lot of hope like I did. Will Laurent be able to redeem himself this time? Was he ever redeemable? We still don’t know everything that’s going on although, in this one, we finally do get two tiny scenes from Laurent’s POV which open up our eyes a bit where he’s concerned. Especially when we see how things go down and then we see how he let’s others believe things went down–you get to see a bit of him at work here. I appreciated that and I also think it’s the perfect time in the story to let us in on some of his thoughts. Damen feels a bit lost at first but he’s also still Damen so he wants to believe the best of what he’s come to know, even though evidence might be showing him something different. This is where his naivety comes in handy. He is still clueless about a few major things until the very end of the book which made me go ‘come on man, it was right in front of you’ but also, once again, he’s Damen. This stuff is horrific so who would want to believe it? Even if there were hints you might think ‘nah, that couldn’t be’ so you look the other way. It happens all the time, it’s why good people don’t notice things that those more cynically minded might pick up on.
As for the villain of this story, he’s a completely depraved and disgusting thing. I’ll admit it’s been a while since I hated a villain in a book so much. Regal from the Farseer Trilogy comes to mind. Like Regal, the villain here seems to constantly get away with things and elude any traps set for him by our protagonists. He’s always getting away and it’s soooo frustrating. Even more frustrating is that (also like Regal) the public perception of him is rather good. This dude is like Teflon–shit won’t stick to him. He’s too powerful. The other thing that makes this incredibly frustrating is that it’s not so unbelievable. I mean, just look at that monster Jeffrey Epstein–an incredibly rich and powerful dude with a lot of connections who kept getting away with horrific shit. Master manipulators with a lot of charisma, money, and power are recipes for disaster. Anyway, when I say frustrating I mean it in a good way because even though you’re angry (so, so angry) that he keeps slithering out of things it puts a fire in your gut where you’re rooting for the protagonists just that much more.
I was, in the end, so happy with how everything concluded in this story and I’m looking forward to reading some of the shorts. A few other notes about the books – there’s not so much intrigue but a TON of behind the scenes machinations, there’s a good amount of humor (surprisingly), the character arcs are amazing, the romance (while kind of fucked up at times) is also lovely, it’s world-building lite but I love it (it’s not so much fantasy with magic as fantasy that takes place in a made up world without magic), the pacing and suspense are fantastically on point, and overall these were really great reads. If you decide to check these out I strongly recommend that you go into the first book with the knowledge that things are going to look really bad but they’ll start looking up in book 2 as that’s where the character development really starts kicking in. As for me, I loved these books and I’m kicking myself a bit for not reading them sooner. 5/5 stars.