The Winner's Curse
Series: The Winner's Trilogy #1
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Publication date: March 4th 2014
by Farrar Straus and Giroux (BYR)
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.
-A copy was provided by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group for review-
I was quite nervous going into The Winner’s Curse. It was one that I was quick to request solely on that gorgeous cover, but upon getting it and looking into what it was about I didn’t think it would be for me. I am happy to report that it worked incredibly well for me and ended up being a book that I was actually angry at for ending. Fantasy is most definitely not my thing, especially when you mix that with a historical-like society, but this book was AWESOME.
The world of The Winner’s Curse isn’t the most upbeat of worlds. There is a war that is leading to the Valorian people taking over most of the world. Where we meet our MC Kestral is in the land that once belonged to the Herrani people but has since been taken over by the Valorian’s who force the natives of the land to be their slaves. What struck me as a stand out point of the novel is the world building. I was completely immersed in this world and it’s history. Through scenes where Kestral is reading, or ones where she is talking war strategy with her father we get a very clearly painted picture of the history of this land and how the pecking order came to be. What’s great about the reader’s exploration of Rutkoski’s world is that the pacing doesn’t suffer at all from the information we get. I actually felt in the final quarter of the novel that things were moving a bit too fast for my liking. I would be in one scene, turn the page and BAM an attack was beginning just when I wasn’t expecting it. I can forgive most of that rushed feeling of the end because other parts of the novel never felt rushed at all, which was perfect (more on that later.)
What sealed the deal on my love for this story is the characters and the romance. Kestral was such a strong girl, she wasn’t afraid to do what she thought was right and she was quite cunning in finding ways to achieve her goals. I liked that she didn’t bow down to what society wanted of her and she held her head high even when she was being knocked down. One of the ways that Rutkoski enforced this side of Kestral was with her playing of the game Bite and Sting, this game seemed to me like the poker of this world and Kestral excelled at it. She would play with the boys and take their money almost every time, these parts of the novel were so exciting to me! The game also serves as a sort of vehicle for Kestral and Arin opening up to one another, which made the games that much more intense.
Arin is a Herrani slave that Kestral purchases at the beginning of the novel at an auction. It becomes clear to the reader early on that Arin is really planted into Kestral’s house, or more accurately the house of the Valorian General (Kestral’s father), to put into motion some sort of Herrani uprising. It was interesting to me that despite Arin’s ulterior motives he was still someone that I wanted to see Kestral fall in love with so badly. I think this feeling came from the great development of the story, I could see both of their motives and understood them. Their romance is slow burn at it’s best, (no rushed feeling here, folks) they feel each other out with questions here and there and don’t really start having a romance for quite a while. The lengths that these two go to for one another and how what they feel for one another is never really proclaimed in a cheesy way, made this romance perfect for me.
The ending was one that had me flipping and hoping to find more pages of the story hidden behind the Author’s Note at the end and yet it did still feel very conclusive for the story. I want more and I want to see where Arin and Kestral go from here in this new world that they carved out, but at the same time I feel like I read a whole story and am satisfied with the note it left off on. That probably makes no sense at all, but it does in my head and I am sticking to it! Marie Rutkoski has hit a home run with The Winner’s Curse, I don’t think it’s one that anybody should miss, believe the pretty cover here people!