Author: Marie Rutkoski
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Release Date: March 4th, 2014
Standalone/Series: First book in the Winner’s Trilogy
Genre: Fantasy – Young Adult
My rating in stars: 3,5 stars
My rating in words: I liked it.
What it’s about:
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 when you come out on top of the bid, but only by paying a steep price.”
I really liked this book, though I must admit that I was expecting more from it. I thought the first half suffered from some issues, but the second half did redeem it and got me excited to read the sequel.
Let me get some of my issues with the first half out of the way and then we can continue gushing about the second half, which is much more fun anyway.
My expectations were extremely high for this book. Perhaps a bit too high. I had heard nothing but glowing reviews about this series and the premise sounded interesting so I was pretty sure in advance I would love it. In all honesty, I think I was also comparing it too much to another fantasy book about slaves that is pretty much one of my all-time favourites (*cough* Captive Prince). So my expectations were unreasonably high.
And while I liked the general premise of this story, I thought the first half moved way too fast. I did not understand the characters and I did not even like them that much. I did not think their interactions were fitting with what we knew about their character or the world building. I thought the romance part moved too fast and lost some credibility due to that. Everything just moved at a pace that was not getting me invested at all and I was pretty disappointed.
But then somewhere in the middle, the plot went and turned itself completely around when I was not expecting it in the least. And my disappointment turned into love and excitement.
The characters’ actions became understandable and I grew to appreciate them. Kestrel is actually a pretty great and original main character. She’s not your typical YA heroine, who’s all badass and courageous and skilled at fighting. Her strength comes from her analytical and manipulative mind. She’s always one step ahead of everyone else and I liked that about her. When that strategical mind of her came into play more in the second half, it also improved her interactions with Arin. Arin, who almost matches Kestrel in brilliance. Almost, though still not quite. They were actually a pretty great match and their interactions became so much more intriguing and felt more natural. And so did the romantic tension. And as almost everyone knows, the romantic tension is a VERY important factor to me in a book. Rest assured, this book had tons of it and it is goood.
While there is not a ton of worldbuilding (It’s a fantasy, but there’s no magic or special creatures or anything, it’s just an ordinary though imaginary world), the political aspect was pretty interesting and I believe it will come into play even more in the second book. The ending raises the stakes and I believe that both the plot and the characters will really have a chance to shine in the next part.
I did wish that the secondary characters had been a bit more developed. I thought they were rather flat and one-dimensional, though I do have hope that they will also become so much more in the rest of the series.
In general, I really liked this book. I give the first half 2,5 stars and the second half 4 stars, which averages at about 3,25 stars. But I enjoyed this and am excited about the rest of the series, which I plan to binge read as soon as possible.
“He knew the law of such things: people in brightly lit places cannot see into the dark.”
“You might not think of me as your friend,’ Kestrel told Arin, ‘but I think of you as mine.”
“The snow fell on her, it fell on him, but Kestrel knew that no single flake could ever touch them both. She didn’t look back when he spoke again. “You don’t, Kestrel, even though the god of lies loves you.”
“Survival isn’t wrong. You can sell your honor in small ways, so long as you guard yourself. You can pour a glass of wine like it’s meant to be poured, and watch a man drink, and plot your revenge.”
“Music made her feel as if she were holding a lamp that cast a halo of light around her, and while she knew there were people and responsibilities in the darkness beyond it, she couldn’t see them. The flame of what she felt when she played made her deliciously blind.”