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.
Why did I chose to read this book? The HYPE. There is so much hype surrounding this series, especially now that the second book, The Winner’s Crime, has just been released. I heard “fantasy” and “romance” and all the people raving about it, and I love fantasy and am becoming more of a YA romance fan, so this sounded promising. Plus, the cover is beautiful and I am known to read books purely because of their covers (who doesn’t do this every now and then?). I’ve had my eye on this book for some time now.
The Winner’s Curse starts off relatively slow and stays that way for a good long time. Not until the sneakiness and deception and planning we’re privy to finally takes action. Then the book rockets off — only to come to a dull stop when roles are reversed and our heroine, Kestrel, has to make one of two dire choices. (I’m proud of her decision but also sad because of what it meant she was leaving behind.) I actually didn’t mind the slow buildup to all the action. (The world, which reminded me of Ancient Greece or Rome, was interesting, and Kestrel was reasonably cool. She wasn’t a loveable character, but I did find qualities about her I really liked.) However, it was the lull after and during all the epic action that made me frustrated. Up until then Kestrel and Arin’s relationship was believable, scandalous (socially, not physically — it’s not that kind of book), and filled with either amazing or terrible tension (I can’t decide which), but then the book turned into something… I don’t know what. I also really hated how Cheat (gosh, what a douche) treated Kestrel, and the one scene where she was, um, a damsel in distress and actually needed saving just wasn’t for me. But those were the only real big gripes I had with the book: Just how it brutally came to a crawl and how Kestrel was powerless at one point.
Kestrel was a good protagonist, like I previously mentioned. She’s the daughter of one of the Valorian war generals, and she’s grown up wealthy and privileged. She has a spark to her, though: For what she lacks in physical combat (yay, a heroine who isn’t super talented at fighting) she makes up in brains, and her father desperately wants her to join the military. She doesn’t like the idea, but the only alternative isn’t too appealing, either: get married. Kestrel likes playing games and strategizing, she likes wandering the city by herself without an escort, and she doesn’t really care what people think of her and her actions. She even uses blackmail! I also liked how she never stopped scheming and trying to escape during her imprisonment.
Let’s talk about the love interest, Arin. In the fantasy world the story takes place in (which is less fantasy and more historical in feel), slavery is practiced and has been since the Valorians conquered the Herrani. Kestrel has grown up with slaves seeing to her every need, but views them as people, not property, for the most part. When she rashly purchases Arin at an auction, her world starts to crumble. She finds herself befriending him and enjoying his company. Her feelings begin to go deeper, as do his. Arin has his own secrets that are slowly brought to light, and it was rather fascinating when the story touched on his past at a few points; I would have liked to have learned more about him. Arin and Kestrel had so much freaking tension between them, and their relationship changed and went all over the map (hot then cold, then hot again, then freezing cold. Just, ugh), but I never really felt a true connection between them. I never really connected with them. I certainly never went “awww” and thought “I ship!” Kestrel had some life about her, but Arin was uninspiring and brooded way too much. I mean, I understand why he was brooding and being all huffy, but still… I didn’t start to like him until all the action happened, and by then I was really conflicted about what I should feel towards him and Kestrel. But Arin did grow on me.
To wrap it up… The Winner’s Curse was a great fantasy without much fantasy (*grumble*) that went by a lot faster than this review makes it sound. It’s well written and has very conflicted main characters and it’ll be very interesting seeing what happens in the sequel. I didn’t love it, but I really did enjoy it and highly recommend giving it a try. ♦
So tell me…
Have you read The Winner’s Curse? If you haven’t, would you be interested to? What was the last book you read about conquering nations? Or that featured slavery, historical or not? Comment below letting me know! And, as always, happy reading!