The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy #1) by Marie Rutkoski
Publication Date: July 3rd 2014 by Bloomsbury Childrens Books (UK)
Rating: 4 Stars
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
Find: Goodreads | Amazon
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.
It only took about 2 years but I’ve finally read this series. Admittedly the hype surrounding this series was intimidating but when it comes down to it, The Winner’s Trilogy lives up to all the hype. It’s a fantasy series that features no magic so it feels like you’re reading a historical novel. The book focuses on two races, both with separate belief systems, cultures and a lot of bad history between them. The Winner’s Curse focuses on Kestrel, the daughter of General Tajan, a Valorian warrior hailed for his conquest of Herran, and Arin, a Herrani slave Kestrel “accidentally” buys at auction.
The Winner’s Curse is definitely a character driven story. There’s not a lot of action and the action we do get is served as a means of exploring the way our characters react to them and how it shifts the dynamic between them. It’s a smartly constructed book that focuses on the intricacy’s of human nature and political movements. Despite being the daughter of the most influential Valorian military figure, Kestrel is not skilled in battle. No, her strength lies with her mind. She has a strong mind for strategy, one that her father wishes to utilise, but she is also independent and is not one to conform to the expectations of society. She stays true to her principles, even if they do lead her into some trouble along the way. Her thoughtfulness also sees her learning and in a sense embracing quite a few of the Herrani tradition, something that is very much frowned upon by her peers. That does not mean that she does not have any faults and Rutkoski does a great job at having Kestrel own up these faults.
We also have Arin, the slave Kestrel accidentally buys at an auction in the beginning of the book. Kestrel meets her match in Arin. He too has a very sharp mind and isn’t afraid to challenge Kestrel, something she grows to appreciate. Having said that, we have a strong cause to be suspicious of Arin but as the story progresses we see his sincerity and affection towards Kestrel fester. The romance between these two seems impossible. There is no love lost between the Herrani and Valorians and the conflict between these two races stands between Kestrel and Arin being together. There was no denying the connection between them but the circumstances around them made it near impossible to act on those feelings. It was frustrating and hearbreaking but also beautiful at times.
The world building in this book was incredible. Rutkoski does a marvelous job at distinguishing both the Valorians and Herrani from one another. There’s a distinct identity to both these race and throughout the book we learn a lot about the conflict between these two. The world wasn’t as fleshed out as it could have been but it gave us a solid introduction to the history of the world, something that is expanded upon in the following books.
In the end, The Winner’s Curse is one of the strongest Young Adult fantasy novels in existent. With strong, complex characters, a well established world, and a romance that will capture your heart.