Title: The Winner’s Curse
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Published by: Bloomsbury Childrens Books
Publication date: 3rd July 2014
Pages: 359, paperback
Genre: young adult, fantasy, romance
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 was quite excited to read this book, as I know it’s very popular, and it’s just the sort of fantasy YA I love. I was expecting a five-star read, and honestly, this was quite disappointing. Did I enjoy it? Yes, I did – if fact, I read it in one day. However there were just so many things about this book that frustrated me, so please excuse me if this review sounds slightly like a rant (and be warned, there will be some minor spoilers!).
First of all, I found Kestrel so infuriating. Firstly, from the beginning of the book, it’s clear that she’s supposed to be ‘different’ from all her wealthy, superior friends – she set her maid ‘free’ when she was a child, and is uncomfortable going to slave auctions. However, this display of empathy ends here, as she literally shows no care for any of the other slaves throughout the rest of the book. For me, this just made it seem as if the author added this brief bit of information about her character to show that she is better than the rest of her people, and forgot about it shortly after. Also, I understand that the whole reason she buys Arin is because there’s some sort of connection/attraction between them, but to me, it just seemed as if she was doing it because he was hot. This again, completely contradicts the fact that she is supposed to be sort of uncomfortable with slavery.
At times, Kestrel could also be unbelievable mindless, which created even more inconsistencies. A huge part of Kestrel’s character is that, whilst she is not an amazing fighter, she is incredibly cunning and intelligent, and is able to outsmart her opponents. However, (*spoiler*) she fails to notice that Arin is a rebel, which is made completely obvious throughout the book. One of the reasons she noticed him in the first place was because he was being rebellious for crying out loud! Not only that, but she continues to give away crucial information to Arin without a second thought – considering that she is meant to be the intelligent daughter of a leading general, I thought she was really foolish, and it frustrated me so much! On the other hand, I really liked Arin: even whilst he is falling in love with Kestrel, he still recognised that he had to put his people first, and not do anything to help Kestrel that would compromise them. I really felt that he had his priorities straight, and to be honest, I began rooting for him rather than Kestrel.
A positive aspect of this book was the writing – I thought this book was very well written, and there were elements to the plot that I found addicting. This book also proved to be a very good form of procrastination, as it was a fairly fun, easy read, so I kept picking it up instead of revising physics (after I’d turned my phone off to stop myself from being distracted). Another thing I enjoyed was the romance element of this book – it was quite slow burn, very angsty, and a little cliché. Exactly what I expected from the book, and exactly the kind of romance I felt like reading at the time. However, I do feel that the world building suffered, as the love story was emphasised a lot, rather than the other elements of the book. As a romance, I was hooked, but as a fantasy, I found it slightly lacking.
I decided to give this book three stars, because it evoked quite passionate feelings from me, even if I was exasperated most of the time. The story had potential and was nicely written, but I just felt let down by the protagonist and the plot at times. If this is a genre you enjoy, I would still recommend you give this a try, and if you have read The Winner’s Curse, please let me know what your thoughts were!