the first book in the The Winner’s Trilogy
published on March 4, 2014 by Farrar Straus Giroux
fantasy | romance | historical fiction | dystopia
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.
*There might be very mild spoilers. Maybe.
“How you negotiate the strengths of your opponent is more likely to decide the battle than anything else.”
Before going into this novel, I’ve read tons and tons of glowing reviews for this one. I guess you can say the hype made me do it! And that synopsis–no sane human could ignore how intriguing that sounds, right? I love historical settings with slaves, princesses (although they don’t have those here), high-ranking officials and those things, so this book was definitely of interest for me.
Let’s get into the wonderfully done setting. I loved how people were separated in sort of a caste system, but less complicated. There are the Valorians (the beautiful and powerful), and then there are the Herrani (the former in-power people until they were captured by the Valorians and are currently slaves/workers). Although I definitely don’t approve of these kinds of discrimination (sort of) in real life, I adore them in books and The Winner’s Curse was no exception. Everything was explained really well (but being a narrow-minded person, I still got confused at times) and I was never bored throughout even the longest explanations.
That brings me to another thing–the pacing. The novel moved at a fairly slow pace, probably because of all the descriptions and development going on, which was fine by me. I wanted to speed things up a bit sometimes, but it was generally okay in terms of pacing.
Our main character is Kestrel. As a Valorian, she has to choose to either get married and be a good housewife, or join the military to help her father and be his strategist. I found her to be just an okay character. In the beginning, I actually pegged her as someone stupid, considering she never thought about giving her slaves all sorts of freedom in which they could easily find ways to betray her. I mean, it’s great that she thinks about their rights and stuff, but maybe she should limit their freedom, hm?
There’s our guy–Arin. *Insert a happy, fangirl-y sigh here.* I’ll admit: it took some time before Arin grew on me, but when he did, he glued himself to my heart. I can’t seem to shake him off! He was really, really supportive of the Herrani and he did what he could to help. He fought for their rights. He put himself in danger for a plan to help his kind get their power back. But he also had a sweet, sensitive side that I loved equally.
Overall, it was an enjoyable read for the most part. I would recommend it to all fans of high fantasy and historical fiction. A lovely piece of work, this one is. Watch out, though! That ending’s going to make you want more. *Devious wink*