Title: The Winner’s Curse
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner’s Trilogy, #1
Publication Information: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), 2014
Genre: Young Adult – High Fantasy
Rating: 5 Stars
Recommended For: People who like fantastic world building, Roman-inspired settings, political intrigue, and forbidden love.
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.
(Summary from Goodreads)
THIS BOOK. I was not okay when I finished this book. I read almost all of it in one sitting, and that’s because of the setting, the complex characters, and the messy, messy conflict.
I loved the setting so much. The Winner’s Curse takes place in an empire not unlike the Roman Empire – an empire bent on conquering as much of the known world as it can get its hand on. That alone provided a source of conflict since the conquered people would probably not be cool with the whole conquest situation, but it just kept getting better and better.
Kestrel and Arin’s growing attraction for each other provided another source of conflict, especially after we learn what Arin’s secret actually is. I loved the two of them together because of how they served as constant reminders to each other that they whole conflict between their peoples wasn’t black and white. Also, I loved how it was their love for music and their intelligence that brought them together. It was a nice change from the “he’s so mysterious and dreamy” thing I see so often in YA. (I mean, Arin is mysterious for most of the book, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not the only reason Kestrel liked him.)
I also loved the characters. I loved that Kestrel was torn because she felt like the one thing she felt she was good at (music) was the one thing forbidden to her. I loved her father, Trajan, because it was so clear that he only wanted what was best for Kestrel, and also that he truly respected her intelligence and wanted her to put it to use – even if these things were also rooted in a desire to have someone carry on his legacy, and Kestrel was his only chance at that. And I loved Arin, whose big personal struggle in this book was figuring out how to open up to Kestrel when he’d spent so many years of his life hiding secrets.
TL;DR: An incredible fantasy read with a beautiful setting, complex characters, and more conflict than you can stand.