Title: The Winner’s Curse
Series: The Winner’s Trilogy (#1)
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Genre: high fantasy, YA
In short: an interesting world, characters I grew to like, and a great second half – not without problems, but not without triumphs.
Sidenote: I meant for this review to go up before my WoW post about the sequel. Unfortunately, my internet had other ideas. Sorry!
Goodreads: Winning what you want may cost you everything you love
As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.
One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.
But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.
Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.
All right, so I liked this book. It’s been a while since I read it, but I do remember this: my insane love for the second half, and my not-so-positive feelings for the first. It’s that first half that really brings this book down. Anyway.
Kestrel is Valorian, a race of warriors and soldiers who are slowly conquering the world. But Kestrel isn’t a warrior herself—she’s a strategist, and she’d prefer picking tunes out on her piano to fighting. Shameful, since Valorians look down on musicians. Not going into the army, though, puts a worse option on Kestrel’s plate: marriage. I tried to like Kestrel, honestly. I hate this weird trend in YA fantasy that to be a ‘strong’ heroine, said heroine must be some kind of mystical, tough-as-nails warrior. I don’t think to be ‘strong’ is the same as being physically strong, and I really appreciated that in Kestrel. The problem was that Kestrel’s lack of interest in warmongering somehow came off as wimpiness and indecisiveness, the very opposite of what it should’ve done. She seemed very passive, especially when it came to Arin. Come on, this guy is your slave, but he’s the one who acts like he owns you! Of course slavery is wrong, but in a society that doesn’t think so, Kestrel’s spineless reaction to Arin isn’t very believable.
Now Arin is Herrani, a slave Kestrel buys on impulse. Arin’s whole tortured, broody thing didn’t appeal to me very much either. As far as I remember, his perspective was brood, brood, sing, brood, plot, brood.
But then the second half.
Here is where the setting and the atmosphere and the plot really took off, and the action catapulted both main characters to the realm of hmm I like you! The setting was great from the start—anyone who knows me knows I will gobble up a high fantasy with a pretty setting, and The Winner’s Curse is no exception. I thought the political plot was done very well too. I love me some intrigue with my rebellion. Just because it’s YA doesn’t mean authors can afford to dumb down political machinations, and I love that Marie Rutkoski does not. Also, despite my initial dislike for both Kestrel and Arin, I did like the way their relationship progressed—even if I don’t like declarations of love (yes, I know it’s high fantasy and perhaps the suspension of disbelief can be applied here, but let’s not throw the three little words around for no reason) I think their dynamic is really fascinating and I look forward to reading about them in the sequel!
Overall, I don’t think it was a great book (and it was a super-hyped one) but I think if you’re willing to stick around after the slow-paced first half, you’ll definitely enjoy the second. Fingers crossed that the sequel continues in the same vein as the ending!