Date of Publication: March 4, 2014
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.
This whole book is one beautifully formulated and devious game; a Winner’s Curse.
Themes are an integral part of all stories, but it is not often that they are done well, though most are on par. The Winner’s Curse took this to another level. The theme was the story, it was a web woven into the plot and the web grew larger and more clear as the book advanced.
Marie Rutkoski has created a vivid and contagious new world in this book. It’s a familiar world, one of conquests, hierarchies, and societal gatherings. It is a world very close to what ours has been like in the past millennium.
The focal point of the world however, was the history between the Valarians, Herrani, and the rest of the known world. I was fascinated to read about the people and their contrasting outlooks on life and each other. This was made more interesting due to our main characters who came from diverging factions: one, a Valarian highborn, and the other a conquered Herrani slave.
Kestrel, our protagonist, was a treat. She was so intelligent and quick-witted, nothing like the high society ladies she associated with, though there weren't many.
I especially appreciated her courage to stand up for herself. In her society, a woman has two options, marry or enlist and as the daughter of the decorated General Trajan, she knows what is expected of her. However, she can’t help but wonder why there can’t be a third or even fourth option. I related to this because we all have expectations placed upon us in life and there are times when we wonder if there are other possibilities.
The only shortcoming occurred in the second half of the book, when I felt Kestrel loitered in her indecisiveness. She lost me for a bit, I wasn’t sure what she was thinking despite being in her head the whole time.
Arin was the perfect match for Kestrel’s genius. Both characters are keen and perceptive. He managed to match her when other men couldn't, despite his inferior rank. The struggle to maintain a friendship despite society's perceptions and their own inner misgivings and mistrust was another interesting twist.
The bulk of the book is set in Herran, the conquered city that used to be a centre of arts, now subdued and run by the militaristic Valarians with its citizens enslaved. Conquest has been a constant occurrence in history and its results are what we continue to live with today. The Winner’s Curse, explored this at a more intimate level.
Overall, Marie Rutkoski has presented us with an absurdly well thought-out and exceptionally executed book. It is a story that discusses more than one can see on the surface. It features intelligent characters, mind games and a lot of strategizing. I definitely recommend it to those looking for a fruitful and interesting experience.
“The Winner’s Curse is when you come out on top of the bid, but only by paying a steep price.”