Series: Winner's Trilogy #1
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) on March 4, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Source: Amazon Vine, NetGalley
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.
That sentence in the summary for THE WINNER’S CURSE is what caught my attention. Immediately I wanted to know what sort of world Kestrel lived in, that those would be her only choices. And I wanted to know what she would do, because I was sure it wasn’t going to be either one of those things. That wouldn’t have made for a very exciting book.
THE WINNER’S CURSE is a book with a lot of hype behind it. A lot of other readers have LOVED it. For me, it was a so-so book, mainly because I never got behind the romantic relationship. And as that relationship is pretty important to several of the events in the book, I had an okay reading experience. Not a great one, but I probably will continue this trilogy, because I do want to see what will happen next.
Kestrel is a Valorian. Her people have conquered the the Herrani, turning them into slaves in their own land. The Valorians are great warriors, especially Kestrel’s father, who was responsible for the victory over the Herrani. General Trajan expects his daughter to follow in his footsteps by joining the military, and while Kestrel is a brilliant tactician, she can’t fight very well and doesn’t want to kill anyone. But she doesn’t really want to marry, either. She wants to play the piano, but playing music isn’t something the Valorians regard highly.
When a slave goes up for sale, one who supposedly sings, but is defiant on the block, Kestrel impulsively buys him. You know what happens next: forbidden love develops between Kestrel and Arin. At least their relationship wasn’t insta-love, but I just didn’t feel any chemistry between them. They spend time getting to know each other, Kestrel asking Arin to always be honest with her, but … I don’t know. I’m not going to spoil the story, but as I said above, their feelings for each other turn out to be quite important, and because I didn’t feel the relationship, I was meh on a lot of the events.
I also wanted more worldbuilding in the book. In the Author’s Note, the author says she was inspired by the Greco-Roman period after Rome conquered Greece. Little bits of the world are revealed, such as all Valorians wearing weapons, or the wall color in a Herrani room signifying its usage. But I had a lot of unanswered questions, from where Valoria was located in comparison to Herran, to why Kestrel had to have an escort for going out in public.
THE WINNER’S CURSE does unfurl slowly, the story building layer upon layer. I did enjoy that aspect, as well as the writer’s style. Marie Rutkoski has a way of describing things in this book that I found poetic but readable. Here’s an example from Arin’s auction: “The bidding spiraled higher, each voice spurring the next until it seemed that a roped arrow was shooting through the members of the crowd, binding them together, drawing them tight with excitement (p. 14, ARC).”
While THE WINNER’S CURSE didn’t quite hit the mark for me, it wasn’t bad, and if you’re a fan of forbidden relationships, you might enjoy it more than I did.
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