Title: The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy #1)
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
Summary: 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.
This is my second book in a row without some stupid insta-love or an awful love triangle. Maybe YA authors are finally starting to step it up.
The Winner’s Curse follows Kestrel, a young, brillant, strong willed young woman who purchases a young slave at an auction, only to have him be more than she bargained for. Stubborn and full of hate for Kestrel’s people, Arin works as a blacksmith in her home, but is hiding a deadly secret. As they become closer and Kestrel starts unraveling his secrets, her world is turned upside down and she has to ask herself where exactly she stands.
First of all, can I just say how much I really loved the plot of this book? Set in a world that seems part historical fiction and part fantasy, there are so many twists and turns. The politics kept me intrigued and the suspense, holy shit, the suspense had me burning through the pages so quick that I got a headache. The power struggle between the Valorian arisocrats and Herrani slaves really brought you into some intense shades of gray. You kind of hate everyone at some point because it’s war and sacrifices must be made, but there are lines that both sides have crossed and both sides prove that they are malicious and bloodthirsty. I like that’s really brought into perspective, with views from slaves who want to be free and those who don’t even know what they would do with their freedom. Kestrel’s beliefs were being throw all over the place, switching loyalties and sympathies so fast that I felt bad for her.
Kestrel is now one of my favorite heroines. She was so quick and intelligent, raised by her father to be observant and to understand her enemies. I love that she isn’t really a mega bad ass, although she can definitely defend herself, but uses what she knows she is good at to her advantage. She learns from her mistakes and presses forward to attack her next problem with determination and smarts. I love that she knows she has to constantly make hard decisions, and she does because she refuses to give up. She is loyal to her friends, but most of all the is loyal and true to herself, never giving up the things that mattered to her, no matter what other people thought.
I loved Kestrel more than Arin, which was surprising since I’m usually head over heels in love with any fictional boy. Arin was stubborn and definitely an ass through most of the book. But what I liked was that his rude behavior was actually warranted. Usually in a book, when the guy is rude to the girl, it’s because he is angry he is so attracted to her or something equally as ridiculous. In this book, Arin hates Kestrel because her father basically destroyed and took over his country, slaughtered a lot of his people, and now they are all enslaved because of it. Even though you could argue that it’s not Kestrel’s fault, this is the world she lives in, but she still chooses to keep slaves and order them around. That seems like a pretty good reason to hate someone. And I loved seeing Arin battle with this, starting to love Kestrel but hating her kind and not knowing how to handle his mixed emotions.
To be honest, I’m glad that Kestrel and Arin started smooching it up, but the romance wasn’t a strong point for me. I loved them as individual characters, not as a couple. I had no problem with them getting together, but I didn’t see the romance build up as much as in other books, which was actually a plus because it focused more on other points of the plot that carried this book and made it so amazing. I’m just hoping to see their relationship grow and develop more in the next book, and to see the romance fit in a bit more.
To be honest, another character I actually really liked was Kestrel’s father. I feel like I wasn’t supposed to like him, since he is kind of the bad guy, destroying and enslaving countries and everything. But I found him to intelligent and caring. He admits that he doesn’t always agree with the things he does, but it’s not his place to question orders. He supports his daughter when she offers compromises to her joining the military, and encourages her to be cleverer than others and to stand strong. And I really loved that even when he found hadn’t won a fight in the traditional way, choosing to use her brains over brawn, he was proud of her for winning in the way she recognized that she could. He definitely isn’t the best father, but he might have been what Kestrel needed to be the woman she is.
I really liked how women were actually given some rights in this book. Sure, they had to choose between marriage or joining the military, but at least they were given the choice. They weren’t just immediately destined to become baby making machines, ready with their husband’s home cooked meal the second he gets home from work. And women could go far in the military, they would never be held back because of their gender. I liked that women could carry weapons and challenge duels and were trained to fight, instead of being forced into being submissive.
This book was so well written and engaging, I couldn’t put it down. Seriously, I read until like two int he morning last night. Reading this book really made me think of when Mark Twain referred to the 1870s-1920’s as the “gilded age”, shiny and gold covered, but rotten to the core. Between the balls and huge estates and pretty dresses, the world seems beautiful. But underneath it all, their lifestyle has been won through bloodshed and the slavery aspect of this world is despicable. I could see everything so vividly as I read, thanks to the author’s beautiful writing, and the ending was the perfect set up an exciting sequel!