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
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
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 moments 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: NoneCliffhanger 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.