The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Book One of the Winner's Trilogy
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
Rating: 5 stars
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 have seen this book floating around for quite a while on my Instagram account (@beentherereadthat), but never sought after it to read. Until, one day I saw BookOutlet had an amazing deal on a brand new hardback copy ($3...seriously, if you haven't you need to check out www.bookoutlet.com). I bought this book along with 4 others, but found myself wanting the package to arrive solely for this book! I DEVOURED this novel in a single night. Yes, all delicious 368 glorious pages.
“You don't, Kestrel, even though the god of lies loves you.”
What I liked:
The two main characters Kestrel, and Arin are two of my favorites. Kestrel is a strong heroine, who ironically isn't strong at all, at least not physically.
Kestrel struggles throughout the novel with any physical battles. Sparring lessons her general father insists upon never go well for her, but where she seriously lacks physical strength, Kestrel makes up for it in brains. She is sly and observant. Kestrel makes military strategy plans her vested army father doesn't even think of. This was a big selling point for me, too many YA books these days don't focus on strong, smart young women.
Arin was also a really intriguing character from the start. Obviously we readers know there is more to him than many of the others can see because we know what he's thinking during the novel, and realize his intelligence from the start. Most other characters only view a slave with a bad attitude, we can see the cunning, intellectual man plotting revenge. Our observant Kestrel knows better though! She can also tell there is more to Arin than meets the eye, and it was so much fun to watch their relationship develop and see them start to understand each other slowly throughout the book.
That brings me to another point I LOVED about this novel, no insta-love. The romance is slow, and subtle. No "love at first sight" that automatically feels fake and forced. Kestrel and Arin start out in a very unromantic place. Which is understandable, and honestly expected considering the two's social positions of slave/owner. I loved that Rutkoski didn't let Arin be smitten with Kestrel the minute he set eyes on her. She BOUGHT him as her slave (we all know it's wrong to enslave people and you shouldn't love someone for owning you, Stockholm syndrome anyone?) and her father is the general (AKA conqueror of what was once Arin's childhood home). Arin's hatred toward Kestrel is what anyone in his place should be feeling. It is when the two get to know each other and come to realize they are both trapped, just in very different ways, that a blossoming relationship becomes a good thing.
"Arin smiled. It was a true smile, which let her know that all the others he had given her were not.”
Another HUGE winning point for The Winner's Curse was the amazing plot. I had no idea what was going to happen. ESPECIALLY during the second half of the book. Rutkoski lulls us in to the world, tells us the rules, and then changes everything. And I. Loved. It.
“People in brightly lit places cannot see into the dark.”
The Herrani are in the dark, forgotten and used while the Valorianns frolic in the light. In the thriving, ruthless empire, the Valorianns rule over the Herrani. They have won the war and taken all the Herrani captive. Instead of killing them however, they decided to keep them as their slaves. Forcing them to be whatever the Valorianns think they will be useful for, maids, cooks, laborers, farmers, etc. During the book we get comparisons of the two, the Valorianns, often viewed by the Herrani as 'golden' 'beautiful' 'savages', believe them the superior to the 'artistic' 'lazy' Herrani whose territory the forcefully took years ago. The Herrani have only two choices in the Valorianns' minds, serve, or die. All of this delectable set up makes for a truly unique and intriguing plot. Kestrel, a high Valoriann (her father is the general who fundamentally conquered the land), and an enslaved Herrani, Arin, who is tired of his people being treated so terribly and stripped of human rights, make an explosive combination that will have you salivating for the next book!
What I didn't like:There isn't a single thing I can pinpoint that I didn't like about this book. The world, characters, plot, everything was spot on. Rutkoski did an amazing job and has left me wanting more.
Book #2 The Winner's Crime is available for pre-order and will release March 3rd, 2015!
Amazon: The Winner's Crime
Bookdepository: The Winner's Crime