Series: The Winner's Trilogy #1
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) on March 4 2014
Genres: Dystopia, Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
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.
I honestly cannot believe it has taken me so long to read The Winner’s Curse. It has been sitting on my Kindle since April last year and, to be completely honest, I am kicking myself for not having read it sooner. I have seen many favourable reviews and I had an inkling I would enjoy it, but for some reason I kept putting off reading it.
The Winner’s Curse is the story of a young girl called Kestrel, the daughter of a well-respected General. Living in a conquered land, Kestrel lives a life of wealth and ease. Aside from her father trying to push her into following his footsteps, she has very little direction except for knowing that she unequivocably does not want to join the military. The other option is to get married but Kestrel is not keen to do this either, even though her best friend Jess’s older brother Ronan would marry her gladly.
Everything changes for Kestrel the day she sees Arin in the slave market. For some unfathomable reason she bids very high to purchase this Herrani slave (the aforementioned winner’s curse) and then does not quite know what to do with him. He is put to work in the forge, but it soon becomes clear to Kestrel that this young man isn’t just a simple blacksmith.
Arin has secrets of his own. It was never his intention to develop a friendship with the daughter of the infamous General responsible for the enslavement of his people. Yet it soon becomes clear that the two of them have more in common than circumstances would have led them to believe.
As their relationship develops, Kestrel and Arin face more than a few obstacles but the true test is yet to come. Each of them could hold the key to the other’s salvation… or ultimate destruction.
It is really difficult to recap this story without giving away massive spoilers (which I really do not want to do). This book kept me absolutely hooked and I couldn’t put it down (yup, I read it in one sitting – sleep be damned!). It was incredibly addictive – I just had to keep reading the next chapter, and then the next… well, you get the picture!
Told in dual perspective from the character’s of Kestrel and Arin, you really got to see into their psyche’s and their unique perspectives on the events that were unfolding. It was interesting to get the perspective of both the conquering side and the those who have had their lands taken from them and been forced into slavery. You never knew whose side to be on and I found myself sympathising with both.
Kestrel was a very interesting protagonist. I very much liked that no one batted an eyelid about a woman being able to hold a position of power and join military ranks but I also liked the fact that Kestrel rebelled against being forced down that route. She was very capable and smart but fighting wasn’t exactly her forte, and she struggled with the fact that she was unable to live up to her father’s expectations of her.
I struggled with Arin as a character a little bit more. I certainly felt empathy for him, but wondered how he managed to integrate into the life of a slave when he acted nothing like one. I am not in any way saying he should be cowed and broken (I do not agree with slavery in any way, shape or form) but he was supposed to be blending in and he just… didn’t. It was a little bit incongruous that he was allowed that much freedom by his captors, even with Kestrel’s influence.
That was probably the only thing that took me out of the story though. I was very intrigued by the world and the political machinations though I wished there was a little more of that and a bit less of the developing love story. I think that this book is setting the scene for the next one though so I fully understood why there was so much devoted to Kestrel and Arin’s burgeoning relationship.
I felt like I got to know Kestrel so much better than Arin though and I would have appreciated a little more time given to developing his back story though the element of mystery at the beginning did work to draw me into his character and want to know what makes him tick.
Although the beginning was quite slow-paced while we got to know the setting and the characters, the book really began to get very exciting around the half-way point. This is where the story really began to shine and I have very high hopes (and expectations!) for the next book after THAT ending!
I was very much impressed with Marie Rutkoski’s writing. Her prose is absolutely stunning and she really does have a gift for making the reader feel like they are part of the story itself. The world-building is expertly done and the landscape that she has created is one that really gripped my attention. The slow-burning romance was also well very done and I could feel the chemistry between the two leads.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes their fantasy low on magic and high on political maneuvering and games of deception and wit. Definitely a very intriguing start to what looks to be an amazing fantasy series.