Monday, June 9, 2014

REVIEW: THE WINNER’S CURSE (The Winner’s Trilogy, #1) by Marie Rutkoski

Title: The Winner’s Curse
Series: The Winner’s Trilogy, #1
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
Genres: YA, Fantasy
Reviewed by: Angie Edwards
My rating: 5/5


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 follow a ton of blogs via email, and it seems every second blog I follow has been reviewing – and adoring – The Winner’s Curse. Naturally, my curiosity got the better of me and I made haste to get my copy of this book. Being the skeptic I sometimes am, I went in guns blazing; ready to sow seeds of blistering contempt should it not live up to what was promised by multiple glowing reviews. I have been disappointed too many times before by books everyone passionately recommended as a must-read to blindly trust a host of recommendations. In this case, though, I have to admit defeat.

Rutkoski 1, Angie 0.

The Winner’s Curse was a spectacular read!

I’ve never read any of her books before, so Rutkoski’s writing was brand new to me. From the onset I was plunged head first into her world of Valorians and Herrani. Having a dueling protagonist as the lead character, Kestrel is simply awe-inspiring. She is a keen observer and shrewd strategist. She’s fearless, cunning, and definitely not a damsel in distress. Some may even consider her eccentric, but I found her fascinating, perceptive, considerate, and inspiring. Arin is also a complex character; one who can effortlessly make himself at home in any environment, under any circumstances. He plays the role of slave, surrounded by an air of mystery, wonderfully, but he is so much more than ‘just’ a slave. Like Kestrel, he is also a perceptive strategist, and in the second half of the story proves he’s a force to be reckoned with. 

This is what I loved about the romance. It wasn’t love at first sight for either Kestrel or Arin. When she saw Arin for the first time at the slave auction in the market, she decided to purchase him for reasons other than his physical appearance. About ninety-nine percent of novels I’ve read up to this point where two people fell in love, it was mostly because the one was physically attracted to the other. So of course I appreciated Rutkoski having her two main characters fall in love for different reasons, and it happening gradually. There was no swoony puppy love, or lust, between them. At first Kestrel has no clue what to do with her new, impulsive purchase, and in return Arin responds to her with contempt and resentment. Eventually, and only through circumstance and relentless persistence, do they begin to open up to each other. It was beautiful watching their defenses crumble and seeing them slowly revealing layers of themselves to each other and the reader.

Magnificent supporting characters, with specific mention to Kestrel’s father, General Trajan, and her old nursemaid and confidante, Enai. What also stood out for me is the father-daughter relationship Kestrel has with her father. They don’t always see eye to eye on the choices Kestrel wants to make for herself, but the affection they have for each other is unmistakable. Moreover, I understood these characters; their passions, needs, motivations, and making heartbreaking choices. I felt for them when they were forced to choose the lesser of two evils. It wasn’t hard to fall head over heels in love with them once I became emotionally invested in their lives. And until the next book, I will surely miss them.

Lastly, very few books make me cry. Neither did this one...except for the very last sentence in the very last chapter. It was an awesome, but heartbreakingly sad ending, which made me wish the second book was already written so I can grab my copy and pick up where this one left off.

Filled with imaginative analogies and wordplay, the prose is absolutely gorgeous and had me rereading entire paragraphs and sections of dialogue to really take in the sheer beauty of it. Rutkoski introduces the reader to a world where the balance between master and slave is shifted by misplaced trust, falling in love with the one who becomes the enemy, and freedom that can only be won through sacrifice and war. The Winner’s Curse stands apart from other romance novels. It is character-driven, and has its own rhythm. Whether you’re a fan of romance, or not, it doesn’t matter. You should read this. There is something for every reader’s taste in here, and like every other reviewer who recommends this superb novel with the highest praise, I say: go for it!


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Marie Rutkoski is the author of the YA novel The Shadow Society and the children's fantasy series The Kronos Chronicles, including The Cabinet of Wonders, The Celestial Globe and The Jewel of the KalderashHer next project is a YA trilogy that begins with The Winner's Curse, which is scheduled to be published in March 2014.

Marie grew up in Bolingbrook, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago), as the oldest of four children. She holds a BA from the University of Iowa and a PhD from Harvard University. Marie is currently a professor at Brooklyn College, where she teaches Renaissance Drama, children's literature and fiction writing. She lives in New York City with her husband and two sons.

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1 comment:

The Cover Contessa said...

Absolutely adored this book. I wasn't sure I would. But I really did. And I think my favorite part is that the romance was not such a big part of the story. It was there, but the main plot was so much more. Loved that!