The Winner’s Curse
by Marie Rutksoski
Original Publication Date: March 4, 2014
Length: 355 pages
Obtained Via: ARC tour via On the Same Page!
Format Read In: Advanced Reader’s Copy
View at the Traffic light:
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.
By now, you’ve probably heard all the buzz about The Winner’s Curse. It started with the cover reveal, and just grew and grew as more bloggers read and reviewed the book. Soon, it became THE hyped fantasy book of early 2014. And of course, being a fan of fantasy, I couldn’t resist, and I’m glad I boarded this train early because this will be a series I want to read as the books release! While I wasn’t completely blown away by The Winner’s Curse, I liked it quite a bit and think it’s a pretty strong set up for a series.
So before I start on what I liked, I will say that certain things kept me from outright LOVING The Winner’s Curse. First, the pacing is never consistent throughout. The book moved slow for at least the first quarter, which is quite awhile for a fantasy book to drag in my experience. I only got really invested in the story maybe halfway through, though once I was in, I was all in.
The other issue was the romance, which is quite the problem since The Winner’s Curse is suppose to be about the star-crossed lovers set within a high fantasy world, yada yada yada. Well, it’s a bit difficult to get invested there if I didn’t feel the romance between the two characters. It wasn’t a bad romance by any means, but I just didn’t feel it on an emotional level. After I finished reading, I was talking to my friend about this book and the phrase I used to describe the romance was “I could take it or leave it.” If it’s there, fine. If it’s not, The Winner’s Curse isn’t really missing anything. In some books, this wouldn’t be a big issue, but for this particular series starter, it is. I can see how a romance could develop between their characters, but I never really felt it. It made sense, but it didn’t get me invested in the outcome.
Now, to the good stuff. I thought The Winner’s Curse was well-written, and I was so pleasantly surprised at how easy I was able to get lost in this world, which can be difficult for a fantasy book. Some of the prose in The Winner’s Curse was beautiful, especially when Kestrel was thinking about how much she loved music. As someone who played piano for many years growing up, seeing Kestrel’s passion for creating music touched me on a really deep level, and immediately made me like her. It didn’t take me long for me to realize how much I loved Kestrel as a main character.
The way Rutkoski set up Kestral and Arin was amazing. As much as I loved Kestrel, I loved Arin as well, and wanted the best for him. I didn’t want him to be enslaved, but I also didn’t want anything bad to happen to Kestrel. Star-crossed lovers indeed. Even though I knew they were at warring sides, I kept hoping it would all work out. Of course, since this is the start of a series, my wish of the “happily ever after” can’t come true yet.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me with The Winner’s Curse was the world and the side characters. Kestrel’s people are known for their love of war and conquering. They never surrender or give up, and children are taught how to fight from an early age. Since Kestrel is the General’s daughter, she’s had more pressure put on her than most. In stories like this, it seems so often that the parents don’t always care for their children, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much Kestrel’s father obviously cares for her, even if he’s quite tough. It painted him in a more sympathetic light, and made it difficult to paint him off as a one-dimensional villain and enslaver. If I had to pick the best aspect of this book, Rutkoski’s ability to make characters seem real and sympathetic on both sides would be at the top.
I was a bit torn on what to rate this one at first. It’s really more of a 3.5 stars, but while I quite enjoyed it, my reservations were enough to hold me back to 3 stars. I thought the characterization and setting was done excellently, but I feel rather “meh” about the romance and it took awhile for me to get into it. I think The Winner’s Curse works better as a series opener as it does on it’s own, and to that end I will definitely be anticipating the next installment in this series.