The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Book One of the Winner's Trilogy
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (BYR)
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
Rating: 5 stars
Source: ARC borrowed from a friend (thank you, Jess!)
Summary (from Goodreads):
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.
What I Liked:
Let me be clear: I most likely will NOT be doing this book justice, with this review. I loved this book so much, and I already know that I cannot express just how much I love this book, or everything that I love about this book, in one review. But I'll try.
This is more of a fantasy novel than anything. I saw on Goodreads that there are labels such as "science fiction", "dystopia", and "historical fiction". The first two are really off, but this book does have historical elements - like, medieval elements. But it isn't set in a real historic period, if that's what people are thinking. It's fantasy - epic fantasy - like Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo.
Kestrel buys a slave on a whim, and everything kind of goes downhill from there. This slave, Arin, is part of a rebellion that is trying to start a revolution. Kestrel slowly develops a bond with Arin, but she has no idea that she has been played - that Arin and his group of rebels planned everything. And the revolution is happening.
I can't really explain the plot of this book, but it is so intriguing and twisting and engaging and interesting! everything is strategic and analytic and set in the story for a reason, for a specific purpose - even if readers don't see it at first. I LOVE this type of book, because I'm the really analytic type, so I enjoy figuring out puzzles and mysteries and looking for things beyond what is told or mentioned. Fun!
The book is indirectly split into two parts: the beginning is about Kestrel and Arin - and this has very little to do with romance or chemistry. YES, in this time, they develop a strange friendship, because Kestrel insists that he be honest with her at all times. Kestrel begins to depend on him and his opinion, and takes him as her escort to many places. The first part of the book is spent building their relationship, as well as their characters. Rutkoski does this very thoroughly, in a subtle way.
I really like Kestrel's character. She is clever, and in many ways. She has a mind for the military and political maneuverings. She is cunning and brave, even though she is not good with hand-to-hand combat and other forms of fighting. She thinks things over many times, and is rarely wrong. I like her. She is not soft, but she is kind to those she trusts and care about.
Back to the plot. The second half of the book is about the revolution. I won't be too specific, but basically, the second half of the book deals with the revolution and Kestrel's role in the revolution. I feel like we get to learn more about Arin in this section of the book, and we get to see who he really is. I find that even though he is a rebel, and on the opposite side of Kestrel, he is a good purpose. I can't see him as a villain. Rutkoski is a genius, because she has spun this story to make readers love both the heroine and the "villain".
So, I really liked Kestrel AND Arin. And I love their relationship. Rutkoski has their relationship develop differently from most YA relationships. They are only physically intimate TWICE in the whole book (i.e., the yonly kiss twice), and yet, I find the romance absolutely beautiful. This is a great example of how romance can be more sentimental or emotional, versus physical.
Of course, that's not stopping me from hoping from more steamy times in the subsequent novels.
Another thing I really liked was the writing style and the setup of the perspectives. Right from the beginning, Rutkoski demonstrates a gorgeous writing style. It was like poetry in freestyle - so lush and descriptive and BEAUTIFUL. And something that I was happy to see was that this book is in third person point-of-view, and while it is mostly limited to Kestrel's point-of-view, Rutkoski threw in Arin's point-of-view every few chapters. I like this!
Rutkoski has absolutely no mercy on her characters. She makes both of the protagonists suffer, and in different ways. Arin suffers under the guise of a slave, but he also suffers because he fell in love with a Valorian. Kestrel suffers, because she is constantly pressured to join the military or get married; to always have an escort; to give up her music; and physically, when she is hurt over and over. This is a very "real" part of the book - all the suffering that the two protagonists must endure.
The ending is not what I expected, yet, it makes perfect sense with the story. I know this is a trilogy, so I can't be disappointed. But I really cannot wait to read book two (and book three)! Because that ending... what an ending. Oh, my heart!
What I Did Not Like:
I can't think of anything at the moment - perhaps that I have to wait EVEN LONGER for the next book. That definitely has to be the one drawback.
Would I Recommend It:
Absolutely! If you love novels by Kristin Cashore and Leigh Bardugo will LOVE this novel! And even if you weren't a fan of those authors, or never read anything by them, TRUST ME - you will enjoy this book! Give it a shot!
5 stars. This is a 2014 novel, but it is definitely one of my favorite novels of 2013! Now, more please!
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