Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: The Winner’s Curse
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Release Date: March 2014
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:
I absolutely loved this book. It reminded me a lot of The Eagle (the movie, not the book) but less gay (and you know that I say that with affection). In fact, When I mentioned this to the author when I had the chance to meet her last month, and while she said there were some similarities, she found the movie kind of boring (it would have been better, she said, if it was actually gay, instead of just subtext. I do agree with that!).
This books is set in a world that is based off of Ancient Greek and Roman culture, particularly Roman. The culture is very war oriented and their conquered enemies become their slaves. And by enemies, I mean everyone, since the whole point of the empire is to expand as far as possible.
Kestrel is a great characters. She’s quick witted and strong, though not fighting strong. She can hold her own, but her strengths lie more in planning and tactics. I really like that, because a lot of YA books take “strong female character” to mean physical strength and fighting/weapons ability. There’s a scene in this book, in which Kestrel is badly losing a physical fight, but she uses her wits and observations to end up winning the fight (though she still does get majorly injured).
Arin is very similar to her. He is stubborn and clever, but life has made him very hard and angry. The start to form an interesting relationship while he is her slave, but then…things are flipped around. The tables are turned, and Kestrel and Arin have to figure out where they stand in society and with each other. Maybe they don’t need to be on different sides. And maybe, the right side is actually somewhere in the middle.
What I Didn’t:
Kestrel loves her father, but it was really hard for me to understand why. I mean, yes, he is her father. But he isn’t affectionate to her, spends most of his time away from home on military campaigns, and constantly gets on her case about either joining the army or getting married. He’s not the worst parent ever, but it would be understandable for Kestrel to have a more difficult relationship with him.
As far as warnings for this book go, I will mention that the slavery aspect may make some people uncomfortable. It is not made out to apologize for slavery or make it look like a good thing. And, as mentioned before, this is Ancient Greek/Roman style slavery, which was still terrible, but a very different thing from slavery in America. There is also an attempted rape towards the end of the book. The heroine makes it out alright and her attacker is dealt with.
This book was really great. I loved the characters and the complex questions that the plot raises. Even if rebels are fighting for a good cause, do innocent people deserve to die? Are people considered not to be innocent if they come from privilege? The masters are wrong, but when put in power, will the slaves be any different. This book is at time uncomfortable and challenging, but other times romantic and exciting. The world building is solid and brings to life a fantasy world that feels like it could definitely be real. I highly recommend this book, especially for people who enjoy Throne of Glass series.
My Rating: 5/5 (LOVE!!!)