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 finally picked up Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse and I finally see why everyone was raving about it! While there were some parts that tended to drag and I couldn’t truly see what was to come, I found I enjoyed the journey. The tension, there were secrets being planted and pretty soon action took hold of me and it was quite a rush! Even then, the tension and secretiveness didn’t stop and the ending was quite surprising as well!
In this world, we have Valorians and Herrani, the former is the royal sort while the latter are slaves. One day, while in the market square or whatnot, Kestrel buys a slave. She didn’t need one, but there was something about the boy that drew her to him. And when she takes him home, things aren’t as chaotic as you would think. Kestrel is the general’s daughter and has a pretty high ranking for herself. So her choice was warranted, and what you could say approved.
In this book, we get both Kestrel and her slave, Arin’s point of view, told through third person. And once we get inside Arin’s head we quickly learn that this boy is hiding something. The auctioneer who sold him, Cheat, are in cahoots. They are planning something and it becomes quite evident exactly what that is. But in the meantime, Arin must act ever the dutiful slave.
Right away, I could figure out that Arin and Kestrel were bound to have romance, but I was quite surprised by how slow building it was, but at the same time, not. The book moves through time seamlessly, but time does go on. Several smaller events happen, and all the while, Kestrel is trying to fight her growing affections for the slave boy.
I love that Kestrel isn’t your dainty heroine in need of saving. While her father urges her to either enlist in the army or find someone to marry, she rather do neither. She’s not what sure she wants out of life just yet, and I found this decision very realistic. Though, eventually she and her father make a deal that has her needing to make a decision sooner rather than later, but it benefits her to some degree as well. Kestrel may not be a supreme fighter, but she does have some skills and she’s got smarts. Lots of smarts and it’s usually her brain that can get her out of sticky situation rather than her fists and weaponry, but she is prone to using her knife that’s usually always at her side.
In the last third of the novel, we see a drastic change and it led to even more shocking mini events and then that epic ending! One that will change everything these characters know. I was surprised by some of what we saw, and then again, not overly shocked. But it’s the smaller events that gave me the most surprise!
Other characters that brought this story to life were Kestrel’s best friend Jess, who one you gotta love because she has an awesome name (LOL!)! And the fact that Jess is very devoted friend. There comes a time when most of the society kind of gives Kestrel the stink eye, but Jess sticks by her side no matter what and I loved that! Jess had quite the spunky personality as well and always brought laughter and light to situations. Then there was Ronan, Jess’ brother and though we didn’t get as much of him as one could hope, he was still an amazing character as well. He took stuck by Kestrel’s side during her “shunning”. There was that hesitant fear of a love triangle coming up, what with Ronan vying for her affections and Arin just being there all mysterious and treating her like no boy has ever treated her before (and that’s a positive, so don’t think it’s a bad thing). But thankfully that love triangle notion was squashed just as it arises.
I rather enjoyed the pacing to this one as well. While at times, it felt like we weren’t really going anywhere, we knew that something big was on the horizon and I initially thought it would come about towards the near end or the next book, but it actually takes place in this one! And even then the excitement and dangerous moments don’t stop.
I was quite surprised by the topics broached in this book. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that had slavery depicted so vocally in it. While we don’t get many details on the history of that slavery, we get vague notions and it’s enough to give cause to certain events and such. Even the buying of slaves at an auction seemed harsh. I realize these are things that did actually happen in history, but even that always cut me deep when I learned about it in school. Different times and all that I suppose. But I felt like Rutkoski handled this heavy topic with flourish! She really knew how to weave it into the story and make it her own, yet leave some similarities that we can all be familiar with. Again, it’s such a taboo topic almost, but I felt like it was really done well here in this fictional story.
I’m not sure why I waited so long to read this series. I guess I didn’t think it would fit with what I enjoy most in reading. And while there wasn’t anything paranormal or magical about this read, I still found myself enjoying it. There’s a nice dose of political intrigue woven into this one and it wasn’t as overwhelming as previous reads have been. I’m anxious to see where this series will go and I am super glad I have the next two books lined up for reading!
Overall Rating 4.5/5 stars