Monday, December 16, 2013

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Curse
by Marie Rutkoski 
Read: November 18 - 19, 2013
Published:  March 4, 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) **UPCOMING**
Source: NetGalley - thank you Macmillan! 
Category: High fantasy, political intrigue, dual narration, YA
Series: The Winner's Curse book 1 of 3
Find: Goodreads | Amazon 

In the tradition of Kristin Cashore and Cassandra Clare* comes this brilliant, unputdownable, star-crossed romance about the curse of winning.

Seventeen-year-old Kestrel is an aristocratic citizen of Valoria, a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers. Here, a girl like Kestrel has two choices: join the military or get married. Despite her skills in military strategy, Kestrel’s real passion is music.Which is why she feels compelled to buy Arin, a slave with a talent for singing, at auction. It’s not long before she finds herself falling in love with Arin, and he seems to feel the same for her. But Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for Arin is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a new world, The Winner’s Curse is a story of wicked rumors, dirty secrets, and games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

* I wouldn't compare this book to Cassandra Clare, but I would compare it to high fantasy by Melina Marchetta, Megan Whalen Turner, Cat Hellisen and Rae Carson. They are some of my favorite fantasy EVER, which means high praise for this book. 

Five reasons you should preorder this book for Christmas and then count down the days until it releases in March: 

1) A girl buys a boy at a slave auction.

The first thing I heard about The Winner's Curse was that above statement, and it hooked me immediately. When I started reading, I was worried the story wouldn't be as compelling as its set up. Instead, it exceeded my expectations.  If you love fantasy, intrigue, political maneuvering, romance, or good books in general, this one is for you. 

Kestrel is an aristocrat and a Valorian, a people who are known for their military might. Even more, she is the daughter of the well respected general who conquered the peninsula where she lives. That means even more power and wealth. What Kestrel doesn't have, though, is a whole lot of freedom, because girls in her society are expected to either marry or join the military when they come of age. Kestrel doesn't want to do either option. But until she is forced to decide makes a decision, she's is not allowed out in society without a chaperone. Thankfully, Kestrel is able to count her best friend as a companion. One day Kestrel and Jess are out shopping, and they end up stuck at a slave auction that is happening in the center of town. The event makes Kestrel uncomfortable, but when a boy comes up for sale, and the auctioneer says he can sing, Kestrel finds herself buying him. 

Several years ago the Valorian military conquered this peninsula, subjugating the native Herrani people in the process. Arin is one of the conquered, whom the Valorians treat as hardly better than animals. He is a slave trained as a blacksmith and will be valuable in Kestrel's father's home where there are guards and weapons being made. That's why Kestrel buys him, or rather why she tells herself that she purchases him. She doesn't want to admit that it's because she learned of their shared love of music, even though Arin refused to sing at the auction when prompted, and the Valorians look down on Kestrel's piano playing. Maybe she likes his defiance a little bit too.  

2) Kestrel is as strong and kick-butt as your favorite heroine, but she's not a great fighter, and Arin is more than just a slave. 

One of my favorite things about Kestrel is that she's not your typical kickass heroine. As much as I love reading about girls who can beat any man in a physical fight, Kestrel is power is her mind, and she's better off for it. Her ability to outthink almost anyone is her most valuable asset. She is basically unbeatable at gambling and games, much to the dismay of the wealthy Valorian guys she knows. She doesn't care that they get angry when she beats them, and continues to focus on her music, despite the fact that everyone thinks she's strange for it, making her a bit of an outsider. Of course her father's influence trumps most negative comments, but Kestrel doesn't really care about how she's seen. 

My favorite thing about Arin is that he is an observer. He pays attention and for that he gets to understand Kestrel very well, which in turn shapes his entire world view. His ability to see through her haughty demeanor and understand her, even though he is a slave and very much below her, in turn makes Kestrel reexamine what she's always believed about herself and her people. Arin is also pretty good at strategy himself, and Kestrel is less able to outmaneuver him, which is definitely a source of frustration for her. 

3) Power shifts between the characters. 

Kestrel purchases Arin at a slave auction. Her family owns him. But despite her obvious control, power manages to shift between them in interesting ways. Sometimes it is subtle. Sometime's it's not. How these shifts happen, Kestrel and Arin's reactions and the ways their relationship changes when they have the perceived advantage or disadvantage, is one of the things I adore about this book. 

I was also very angry at both of these characters at various places in the story for how each treated the other. But I could also perfectly understand their perspectives. I really like that dichotomy in a book, and the inner struggle it creates. Especially when it brings out m
oments when you wonder whether their actions are meant to hurt or protect each other, and we get peaks at their true feelings. 

4) This book is rife with political intrigue.

Even though they grew up on the same peninsula, Kestrel and Arin are from vastly different groups with opposing positions in society. They are also each loyal to people with differing objectives. Throughout the course of this book, both get caught up in political intrigue and games of war that are much larger than themselves. It makes for thrilling and nail biting reading at times. 

Kestrel has the opportunity in this book to use her abilities as a strategist in both minor and life threatening situations. But despite her mental skills, Kestrel isn't the only person in this book who is good at strategic thinking. She does some excellent out maneuvering but she likewise is out maneuvered, to both exciting and horrifying affect. 

5) Slow moving, painful romance, with all the FEELS. 

The Winner's Curse features my favorite type of romance. It is slow moving and painful at times. Kestrel and Arin are completely different in their circumstances and goals, but the more I read the more it was clear that they are actually identical to each other and perfectly suited. They have matching intellects and heads for strategy. If only he wasn't her slave and she wasn't his master. And he didn't resent her and her people for killing and subjugating his own. As much as they start to care for each other, it may never be enough. Or maybe it's what will save them all.

Bonus! The Winner's Curse is part of a "heart cracking trilogy"

You will appreciate this statement when you get to the end of this book and find out the brilliant but cruel place we leave these characters. Then you will desperately want to email the author to find out when the next book releases. Rest assured, it is part of a series. The Winner's Curse is filled with political intrigue, power struggles and an aching romance, and I predict lots more of all to come. This book is so good that you definitely want to read it now so that you can discuss it with friends, and then read it again before book two releases. 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Medium - No immediate danger, but may be somewhat emotionally stressful (or possibly exciting, depending on your perspective). The Winner's Curse is the first in a trilogy. 


  1. Phew, I'm so relieved you enjoyed this one, Lauren! I know this author's previous works have been hit-or-miss reads with a lot of my trusted bloggers, but this is one I was really looking forward to and I keep fearing that someone isn't going to enjoy it and, consequently, I won't either. But, considering how similar our tastes are, I really am thrilled this was a winner for you. It sounds like the perfect type of novel for me and I'll definitely be pre-ordering a copy this Christmas!(; Lovely review, Lauren!

  2. OMG. This sounds AMAZING!! While I do love a kick-ass girl, I also love one who's smart enough to outthink those around her, like Kestrel. And, even though it's a trilogy, at least there isn't a major cliffhanger. So, yay! (I'm now wondering if I requested this from Netgalley or not. Hum...)

  3. "5) Slow moving, painful romance, with all the FEELS. "

    That's all I really need to know Lauren! All the other numbers are bonuses:) I'm so nervous to pick this one up because I don't want to be left with tears and snot and my heart in a million little pieces and then have to wait a full year before the next book comes out, but at the same time, I can't not read this one since I haven't come across a single bad review for it. CANNOT WAIT!!!!

  4. I don't think I've read one negative review of this book, it sounds amazing. Political intrigue, slow moving, painful romance with all of the feels...sounds like my kind of book! Also, I like the fact that Kestrel uses her mind, reminds me of Sydney from the Bloodlines series. But that ending...emotionally stressful (or exciting)? That makes me nervous. Series are killing me right now! Great review! ~Pam

  5. No love triangle yay! I'm so excited, it sounds amazing and such a gorgeous cover to boot! I'm always in need of high fantasy with all the feels. Lovely review!
    Cyn @ Bookmunchies.

  6. Seriously, the more I read about this book, the more convinced I am that this is a total "Amanda book." The fantasies I love have to have political intrigue and power struggles. And I totally get your point about wanting some kickass heroines who don't necessarily kick physical ass. And I am so intrigued by Kestrel's character and Arin's character. And I want a copy of this book to read right now. Because seriously. This sounds awesome. :)

  7. Wow! This sounds so perfect, Lauren! Your in-depth explanations have officially sold me on this book, especially the part about the romance! I hope it's the the type of romance that continues to build at an unhurried pace, and readers are treated to a relationship that occurs somewhere toward the end of the series; it'll keep readers burning for it! I don't think this type of slow-moving romance occurs too often in YA, but please do correct me if I'm wrong. Still, I know I'd love to see this happen, if not in this book, in someone else's! What is your prediction? (If you can give anything away without spoiling). Will the romance take off in book two or will we have to wait longer? :)

  8. Lauren this review is absolutely gorgeous! I've had my eye on this book for the longest time ever, and I am so happy to see that it delivers it so many aspects. I love how different this book sounds to the many books already out there, I love the gorgeous cover. I love how you've described the change between our characters, how kick butt Kestrel is, but most especially the romance, it sounds to die for! I will definitely be pre-ordering a copy of this immediately! :)

  9. Everyone is loving this book and I'm over here dying to read it! She's coming here in May so I'm super excited to pick up a copy and read it when it comes out! So glad it will be a trilogy too. I love how you described the romance. :)

  10. Oh, Laurel. You and Christina (Christina Reads YA) are making me so jealous that you have both read this pretty already. I love the premise! Honestly, I wasn't really into this when I first saw it, but now that all these awesome reviews are starting to surface? Hell yes I want this! I love the fact that the girl MC isn't a fighter. Usually none of us are and it's not said without reason that sarcasm is the best defence in the world. If you're not a born fighter, be a kick-a charcter ;) I hear you with the feels. Everywhere I turn, everyone's talking about the feels of this book. Plus, the power shifts intrigue me. It's not often when that happens. So glad that this doesn't have a love triangle :) Also, booooyah (is that what Americans say? :D I saw that in a youtube video with Tom Felton once where they talked all things American with MTV I think :D) for a trilogy. I hope that the sequels will be as much to your liking as this one. Gorgeous, thorough review, love!

    1. WTH. I typed Lauren. Ignore Laurel. I have a slight fever still. I'm hallucinating. I'm I'm I'm.. yeah. My bad. My fingers that type with the speed of light have no control over them -.-

  11. I CANNOT STOP FLAILING! I would die to get this book. I was basically sold (ha!) at the first point, but all your other points make me a raving lunatic (in the best possible way). I want zee feels!

  12. I sincerely cannot wait to get around to reading this one! I'm glad that it turned out as fantastic as it promised to be for you, and I LOVE the way you laid out things that I would consider VERY important in your review.

  13. Oh Lauren. I love when you write reviews like this - ones that both clearly articulate what you loved about a book but feel so enthusiastic and so passionate. I have heard nothing but great things about this book, but I think your review has made me most excited for it. It sounds absolutely fantastic, and I'm really thrilled about the five elements you highlighted here. Definitely pre-ordering this one!

  14. I want this so bad now. BUT I AM POOR.... But, I think I'm going to buy it anyway.

  15. I just love this book! I'm such a sucker for historical/medieval-esque books! The whole wealthy family, oppressed peoples, and blacksmiths---they all feed to my interest in those types of stories. I'm eagerly anticipating its release. :D

  16. What is perfect is that even though he's a slave he still has power over her, and I love how you said in your review that there's a lot of analysis about power in general - with one group conquering another, with people having power in love. Love that they have a slow romance!!

    Lovely review :) Thank you :)

  17. This sounds so good! I love books with political intrigue. This is one of your best reviews too.

  18. I'm usually not one for anything to do about war-themes, but you made me want to read this book!! thank you!!!

  19. Oh my gosh that ending. I'm re-living it right now and remembering the actual tears that I had when I got to certain parts near the end AND the visual-ness of it, how we talked about how it played out like a movie? I think I want to re-read this sooner than I initially thought. And possibly audiobook it. It was so much fun to read it and discuss it because it is one of the more discussable books we've read, I think, and I'm DYING to know what comes next. Especially with the 'color' hint the author gave in your interview! MAN. Loved this one.

  20. World building is epic for me and this seems like a book I can get engrossed in and feel like I am in a whole new world.

  21. YES!!! I knew it. Honestly, I haven't read a bad review for this book. And even from trusted reviewers. This sounds like exactly the book I need right now. Brilliant!

  22. I love love love a heroine who is kick-ass without ever actually needing to physically kick an ass. Physical prowess isn't the only definition of strong. Also YAY to no love triangle!

  23. I wasn't sure about the cover (girls in dresses), but hearing more about the book, I think it is something I might like to give it a try, especially given that it seems to be getting really good reviews.

  24. I hate to admit it but I often judge a book by its cover and the kind of dull not so bright colors of the cover would have been discouraging if not for the awesome title the synopsis is awesome and your amazing review just sealed the deal. I can't wait to read it!

  25. I've read tons and tons of reviews on this, but this one is honestly the best. "Slow moving, painful romance, with all the FEELS." Your top 5 reasons give ME feels!

  26. Political intrigue, power shifts, and slave auctions? That SO sounds like the perfect read for me. ;D
    Especially if it makes you feel ALL THE FEELS. I need a book like that in my life. :D

  27. I want to read this so bad! I have seen so many great reviews for it and I'm going crazy waiting for it to release! I'm so glad to hear it hooked you immediately, I have a hard time with books that have slow starts.

  28. Oooh, in all the reviews I've read, I never read on with the political setting so well described. I love it. Really, power & political stuff are on their best when there is a pailful confusing romance going on.

  29. I love fantasy and it's exciting to see this element at play in this book. Real curious how it turned out. Wonderful review.

  30. Those reasons are more than enough for me! And coupled with the other shining reviews I read, I know that I neeeeed this book more than any other book in the universe. It just sounds so perfect.

  31. Sounds like a thought-provoking novel filled with just the right amount of romance, adventure, music talent and twists! Can't wait to read it!

  32. I want to read this one and was so disappointed that I missed it on Netgalley. I got an email invite but was to late. :( And now people wonder why I frequently check my email!!! :) I am glad to hear that you liked it.

  33. This book sounds fantastic! I read the chapter sampler from Amazon and I was hooked instantly! "A girl buys a boy at a slave auction"? Color me intrigued!


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