I received this book for free from Publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!! This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner's Trilogy #1
Published by Farrar Straus and Giroux on March 4th, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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.
The Winner’s Curse is easily the most hyped up 2014 release so far, and it’s not hard to see why. Indeed this book is fantastic, and it will appeal to pretty much every young adult reader out there. Although I feel like the hype did raise my expectations too high, and it was impossible for the book to live up to that perfectly, I definitely loved this book.
The Winner’s Curse comes out swinging, with a fantastic main character. Kestrel is extremely intelligent. Though she isn’t that powerful physically, her gift is her mind, which she uses to analyze the people around her and strategize to get things her way. I absolutely loved that. She has a snarky side that I definitely appreciate, and overall it was really easy to find a connection to her. I mean, she’s also a music lover and a piano player. Props to you, girl. I loved being in her head. And I loved seeing her interact with other characters, like Enai and Jess. The secondary characters overall were really well fleshed out.
It took me a tiny bit longer to get used to Arin, from whose point of view we also get to read. He is the slave that Kestrel buys, and, as the blurb indicates, finds growing affection for his mistress. I liked the uniqueness of that premise – the forbidden romance, the mistress and her slave. It was definitely new and intriguing, at least for me. In any case, it was wonderfully executed. Arin starts off dark and surly, but gradually begins to lighten up. I was definitely intrigued by him, because he’s clearly hiding quite a few secrets. So it’s fair to say that he grew on me as time went by.
This romance is set in a beautifully depicted world. Kestrel, a Valorian, is a native of a vast empire that has been conquering and colonizing much of the world. She lives in the land of the Herrani – who were obliterated in a war, with any survivors placed into slavery. Now the Valorians live like royals. Picture your basic historical fiction read with social calls, courtly duties and intrigue, arranged marriages, balls, dancing, duels, rumors, gossiping, etc. Now, while I really liked the setting that we got, I was under the impression that this was a high fantasy. It’s not. It’s fantasy in the sense that it takes place in a world that doesn’t exist. But there’s no magic, no magical creatures, none of that. So. Just FYI.
The plot was interesting too. I really appreciated getting to see more political aspects in such a fantasy world, and the scheming that takes place behind the scenes. Kestrel gets a good view of this, as her father is the general, and she’s grown up being fed military strategy and history. Fantasy doesn’t usually go for that kind of side so I appreciated it. There was a fair bit of action too (though I expected a bit more) — moments where Kestrel shows exactly what a badass she is. Overall, however, the book is not action-based – it delves more into the characters, their emotions, and their relationships. It’s more introspective, which I enjoyed, even if it wasn’t quite what I expected. It gave a great message about slavery, racial tension, and human rights; and of trying to see things from someone else’s perspective.
I think for this book to have is full “blows you away” effect, you have to be a majorly heavy shipper of the romance. And I guess that’s what’s holding me back from fully being over the moon about it. It really took quite a while for the romance to grow on me. I can’t exactly pinpoint why. But it just wasn’t as beautiful as I expected? In the face of some amazing OTPs that I’ve already found this year (Nyx and Ignifex; Will and Vicky) this one pales a bit in comparison. The dynamic between Kestrel and Arin took a while to appeal to me. I felt like, for me, it wasn’t that effective because it seemed to try to go for a hate-to-love route, but it skipped some crucial steps, and right away was more on the love side of things. But towards the end of the book, I was definitely a fan. Yay for awesome kissy scenes. Yayyyy.
I have to say, the ending made me very excited, because for sure the next book will delve more into the politics, scheming, manipulation that I kind of expected to see more of here. (Here, there was just a bit too much time spent with the characters sitting around or locked up – to let the romance blossom.) I think that’s mostly what I was waiting on in this one that didn’t quite deliver. I’m familiar with the winner’s curse, as a business student, so it’s not like that part was particularly eye opening or mind blowing to me. I wanted more scheming. And, of course, in the sequel the forbidden romance will for sure get good. That ending was awesome, totally not a cliffhanger, and very promising. So I’m pretty darn pumped.