The Winner’s Curse is written by Marie Rutkoski. It was published in 2014 by Farrar Straus Giroux. Rutkoski’s website can be found here.
“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 imaged.”
What I Liked:
So, I usually tend to say if the writing is good or bad in a book that I read, but let me just expand a bit on what, to me, constitutes good writing. I’ve commented in the past on Lauren Oliver’s writing and on Ally Condie’s writing, both of which stood out to me in their respective dystopian trilogies. Rutkoski’s writing was like theirs, in a way, in that it stood out to me, but it wasn’t as beautiful or as poetic. Not in the same way, anyway. It was beautiful for a different reason: because for the first time, I felt as if every sentence had been carefully considered, that every word had been carefully chosen. It’s not a feeling I get at all in other books, and as a result that which would be cheesy in other books is not so at all here. Regardless of anything else in the book, this is a winner because of the writing.
When I first read the summary, I thought, “Oh, no. This is going to be one of those books where the girl falls in love with the enemy and then joins his side after realizing how bad her own side is.” However, Rutkoski mostly manages to avoid that, although she resorts to some pretty formulaic stuff to do it. Kestrel is still on the Valorian side and Arin is still on the Herrani side. They just make it so that the two sides stop fighting each other, at least for now.
I’m very curious to see the direction in which this trilogy goes. I can’t actually see it as a trilogy yet, and I’m interested to see what happens in the next book that makes the story go on for another.
I liked the world that Rutkoski created; very reminiscent of the Roman Empire age (which was her inspiration, according to the author’s note).
My main problem is that YA books always seem to romanticize romance and make the love interest too perfect, and this book follows that trend to a T. Usually, the rules of the fantasy world set it up so that it’s plausible that a teenager would be more mature than his or her’s real-world counterpart, but there are way too many perfect boyfriends. It just something that stands out to me again and again as I read YA.
Recommended Age Range: 16+
Warnings: Violence, war, a few intense descriptions of kissing.
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
The price was now more than Kestrel had in her purse. The auctioneer looked like he barely knew what to do with himself. The bidding spiraled higher, each voice spurring the next until it seemed that a roped arrow was shooting through the members of the crowd, binding them together, drawing them tight with excitement.
Kestrel’s voice came out flat: “Fifty keystones.”
The sudden, stunned quiet hurt her ears. Jess gasped.
“Sold!” cried the auctioneer. His face was wild with joy. “To Lady Kestrel, for fifty keystones!” He tugged the slave off the block, and it was only then that the youth’s gaze broke away from Kestrel’s. He looked at the sand, so intently that he could have been reading his future there, until the auctioneer prodded him toward the pen.
Kestrel drew in a shaky breath. Her bones felt watery. What had she done?
“What a stupid thing for you to do. Why did you do that? Why would you do such a stupid thing?”
She thought of his claim that Enai could never have loved her, or if she had, it was a forced love.
“You might not think of me as your friend,” Kestrel told Arin, “but I think of you as mine.”
The Winner’s Curse has beautiful writing, the best I’ve read in a while. The plot had turns at every step until I had no idea what was coming next; these weren’t jaw-dropping, shocking twists, but Rutkoski proves that you can do twists without making them twists. I’m curious to see where the next book goes, and it’s sad that I have to wait a year for it.
You can buy this here: The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy)