Published: March 14, 2014
Publisher: Farrar, Strous and Giroux
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Pages: 355 (Hardcover)
My Rating: 4.5/5.0
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.
I have put off reading this series for so long because I’m always skeptical of the ravenous fangirl hype that some books get. I thought this would be another stereotypical YA fantasy, just another book in a sea of books. Imagine my surprise when I actually loved it too! Rutkoski’s writing was engaging and she told such an exciting story. My heart was pounding, I ignored people for hours, and AT LAST I finished reading. And then I ordered the rest of the series. I am so addicted and I’m trying really hard not to binge read the whole series because I have other books I need to finish first. Sometimes I admire my self control.
The winner’s curse is when the winner of an auction or bid pays a steep price to obtain the prize. Basically, you lose money even though you got what you wanted. Kestrel is the daughter of the famed Valorian General Trajan who conquered the Herrani people. The Herrani are now enslaved and young, clever Kestrel finds herself in a slave market, bidding on a Herrani man with defiance in his eyes and a blacksmith’s skills. Of course, she pays a great price for the blacksmith. Everyone says has the winner’s curse and then the whispers begin. Why would she pay so much for this man? Society sees a scandal at her every choice, but it doesn’t stop Kestrel from doing what she wants.
But wait! THERE’S MORE! Arin (the blacksmith) isn’t just any ol’ common blacksmith- he used to be nobility, though he was a child when the invasion occurred. He’s been planning a rebellion with Cheat, the man who ran the slave auction house and he was specifically marketed to appeal to Kestrel to spy on Trajan’s household. I enjoyed the characters immensely and thought Kestrel and Arin were both clever, though he was subtle and Kestrel liked to show off.
The Valorian society of warriors was interesting- they had little regard for music and fine arts and held martial skills above all else. Kestrel must pick a life in the military without her music or marriage to a man she considers a friend but nothing more, by the age of twenty. The Herrani people value music, are knowledgeable herbalists, and had a golden empire prior to their defeat. They are enslaved, though their masters don’t keep a close eye on their activities, considering they were subjugated fewer than twenty years before. I was surprised by how much this didn’t feel like a young adult genre book- it felt more mature or well developed compared to others of similar theme.
All in all, I was impressed with The Winner’s Curse. It had pretty much everything that I look for in a book, and very little that I didn’t care for. Arin and Kestrel end up being in love, but on different sides of the game board- very predictable, but things like that are like a guilty pleasure. I do wish YA books would take more time in their telling. Things can feel a little hurried, like the escalation of Arin and Kestrel’s feelings for one another and the sudden rebellion.