I’m restraining myself forcibly from liveblogging this Captive Prince reread in exactly the detail I gave to the Lymond books; 1) I have read Captive Prince already, 2) a lot of it would be fawning and gushing which is much more boring, 3) I think the audience is a little more limited, 4) it would reveal exactly how tenuous the boundaries are between my heart and Francis Crawford of Lymond.
But that said— while I’m noticing a lot of shit Freece stole directly from Lymond this time around (I’m looking at you, Margaret Douglas, whose name was changed to Jokaste in the print release, which only makes it funnier), Laurent is a lot less like Lymond than I’d remembered.
Spoilers follow, as well as pretty considerable tw for rape.
First of all, Laurent is, in what we see of him, actually not that witty. What he is is incredibly well-armed. He appears to have come up with potential lines of assault for every given situation, many of which are verbal, but the Elegant Lines Of His Face framing the exchanges disguise the fact that half the time he’s just being disarmingly crude, blunt, or silent. It’s Damen who comes up with the quick, well-constructed jokes on short notice, and Laurent who says things like “Shut up” about them.
Second, Laurent TELLS PEOPLE ABOUT THINGS, QUITE FREQUENTLY ACTUALLY. Oh, he’s cagey, but he is planning a coup, so that’s kind of understandable. But compare his treatment of Nicaise to Lymond’s of… literally… anyone. He tells Nicaise everything he can, about his own treatment, about his goals, about what will happen to him, about what could happen to him if he just kept his head down and survived till Laurent was king. It’s not his fault Nicaise is thirteen. He’s even pretty honest with Torveld, and not in the game-playing, “I tell the truth but a ha it is a lie!!” way that Lymond is when he’s undercover. He plays a long and complicated game, but where people trust Lymond because he’s superhuman and charismatic, people trust Laurent because they know from what he says and does that he’s on the level. It’s so refreshing.
Third, Laurent is disconcertable and quite capable of being wrong. He is continually wrong, for example, about Damen. Not just his personality— he’s also shit at predicting his actions, much worse at predicting his actions than Damen thinks he is. In the first half of the book, the only way he uses Damen is to go in and manually provoke him to do shit (breaking his chain, swearing in his face, etc) and then indulge in the consequences of the action, but just as soon as he tries to let Damen out to wreak some havoc, Damen goes haring off to do his own thing, and Laurent is left furrowing his brow. Also, he has a bogeyman-like assessment of Damen’s power. He believes that Damen, for example, informed on him about the beating to the Regent, when what actually happened was the Regent came to his rooms, discussed his wounds in hushed tones, and asked Damen exactly one question which he was obliged to answer. Short of Damen pleading for forgiveness, nothing would’ve turned the Regent’s power-play aside. But in Laurent’s head Damen is the all-powerful far-striding prince of Akielos; the fact that Damen is also, you know, chained in his freaking basement is irrelevant.
As a side note, I don’t think it’s possible, flat out, that Laurent didn’t know who Damen was at the start of Book 1. I think it’s quite possible he’s talked himself out of it, but if Laurent doesn’t know or guess who Damen is, then he’s being repeatedly, horrifyingly cruel to a slave who looks a little bit like a dude he doesn’t like— and Laurent doesn’t do that. Laurent doesn’t get off on exerting his power over those who are powerless through sadism. Laurent, in fact, is engaged (invisibly to Damen) in trying to protect as many people as possible all through the first book.
Which isn’t to say that Laurent doesn’t do unforgivable things even so. He does. Assuming he knows who Damen is, there’s a fucked up but understandable course of revenge where he essentially decides to torture his brother’s killer to death by putting him in the ring with Govart; is completely blindsided by Damen’s insistence that he doesn’t hurt innocents and won’t rape Nicaise; tries to forget all of this by staying as far away from Damen as possible before presumably being like FINE!! LET’S TEST THAT!!! by going into the baths with him; reacting instinctively and totally to the fact that Damen tries to assault him and having him beaten half to death… This is explicable. The point at which Laurent decides to be briefly a monster is when he has Damen raped by Ancel. He already knows he can’t get away with having Damen executed; he’s doing it for his own vicious satisfaction, doing what, in point of fact, he seems to have the absolute most horror of for himself (for obvious reasons) and in others.
The great thing about the way the plot is constructed is the very next thing after Laurent decides to try his uncle’s tactics out for an evening is Damen announcing that he will do anything to free the Akielon slaves. Can you imagine? No wonder Laurent spends until they go on the road quietly losing his shit.