I moved The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski to the top of my TBR pile when I realized that it’s sequel, The Winner’s Crime would be debuting within a week and oh my goodness am I ever glad that I did! The top reason that I enjoyed The Winner’s Curse as much as I did is the fascinating plot coupled with Rutkoski’s extraordinary world-building. It starts out slow, but once I got into the world, I was really INTO it. The series takes place in a world with different classes where slaves exist. Our main character, Kestrel, is being pressured by her father to enlist in the Valorian army or get married, as all girls her age are forced to do in their society. Kestrel doesn’t have any desire to do either but later events in the novel force her into a choice. There’s a forbidden romance that forms between Kestrel, the daughter of the Valorian General, and Arin, slave she purchased who is of Herrani descent. I was very hesitant to pick up the book (despite the glowing recommendations from other bloggers) because the idea of reading about a world with slaves that’s heavily political didn’t really interest me but gladly, I was very wrong and The Winner’s Curse definitely broadened my horizons!
The romance between Kestrel and Arin was very atypical and didn’t feel like a romance at all. Their relationship was closer to a game of Bite and Sting (a popular tile based game played by Valorians) than a full blown Romeo and Juliet type of forbidden love affair. Their feelings for each other developed slowly and began mostly because Kestrel is intrigued by Arin’s brutal honesty with her and his interest in music which he denies. She begins to value his opinion and thinks of him as the sole truth teller in a world of people who feed her niceties in an effort to appease the general’s daughter. Because Kestrel puts so much trust in Arin, it hurts her when she learns that Arin is not in fact being honest about who he is or what his intentions are. You can almost feel Arin’s pain too when certain events occur because he does really cares about Kestrel and he’s obviously very confused about these feelings. The pair are drawn to each other against all odds and watching them try to figure out their feelings while other outside events that are so much bigger than them are occurring is heartbreaking.
Kestrel is an AWESOME heroine. She’s one of the sassiest teens you will ever meet and while everyone believes her to be well trained in combat since she’s the general’s daughter, it’s actually her cleverness that often gives her the upper hand. She’s strong minded and continuously strategizing outcomes of every situation. Kestrel really wants to understand her feelings, make her father proud, and live a life that isn’t chosen for her, a feat that seems like an impossibility. Arin, on the other hand, is blunt and borderline disrespectful but his attitude is justified in a world where his people lost everything they once had including their freedom. Arin is also highly intelligent and he knows how to push Kestrel’s buttons. Everything that happens in The Winner’s Curse is strategic. It felt as if I were reading a political thriller and Rutkoski did such a great job of developing both the Valorians and the Herranis that it was very challenging to choose a side to root for.
Final Thoughts: The Winner’s Curse is an intriguing read with compelling world-building. The political aspect and the forbidden romance keep you on the edge of your seat, especially once you get through the first 50 pages. I’m looking forward to more character development in the sequel, The Winner’s Crime, which hits bookstores tomorrow.
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. (via Goodreads)