The Winner’s Curse: A Book Review


With a new book review ready to go, I thought I would clean up my format a bit. It feels much more pleasing to the eye!

The Winner's CurseTitle: The Winner’s Curse
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Published: March 4th, 2014 by Farrar Straus Giroux
Pages: 355
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy
Source: Library / Hardcover
Series: Yes! Book Two is already out and in my library pile.

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. {Goodreads}

History is one of my favorite subjects in school. Past people, events, and ways of life fascinate me, and each class fuels my never-ending curiosity in the world {I’m a regular reader of historical fiction – can you tell?!}. However, there are periods of history where my growing interest can only be matched by a disdain for humanity: the atrocities of World War II, the cruel segregation of the mid 1900’s, the removal of Native Americans from their homes, or the horrible, inhumane act of slavery. These times are just as difficult to read of as they are saddening to learn about, but when they are written well, they offer the story a powerful punch. Marie Rutkoski’s young adult novel, The Winner’s Curse is not related to the slavery of African-Americans, nor is it historical fiction, but the relationship between slave and master still shapes the plot of this high fantasy. An exceptional read from beginning to end, Rutkoski’s novel forces readers to question the cost of human life and freedom under plots of love, politics, and rebellion.

The novel opens in a bustling marketplace, the first of many settings of the vast Valorian empire. Rutkoski has clearly mastered the “art” of world building, a talent even this novice fantasy reader could note. The land is rich with history, and Rutkoski slowly, but subtly, fills in the details behind the two feuding populations, the Herrani and the Valorians. Although the explanations of Kestrel, the main character, are necessary in shaping the setting, the events of the plot give it depth; readers’ eyes are open to the politics of the land through high society balls, high stakes duels, and high action battles.

The empire may have its revengeful history, but its current state is no stranger to conflict either. The Valorians stop at nothing to gain more power, and the Herrani, once an envied group, now bought and sold as slaves, have had enough. The roots of rebellion can be felt from the first chapter, and Rutkoski runs with the theme throughout. Her talent with words is captivating, as she uses it to transport the audience to scenes of bloody battle or heated meetings on political strategy. Some chapters are high in intensity, but Rutkoski adds in small doses of lighter moments, such as the time Kestrel spends with her good friend, Jess. Above all, it says a lot of an author’s skill when an imagined world of war can sweep readers away into intrigue and retain an unsettling sense of reality at the same time.

Just as the setting and plot are complex elements of the novel, Rutkoski doesn’t hold back in developing her characters. It’s hard to distinguish the hero from the villain in the Herrani and Valorian conflict because all of the people are to blame. It’s this unclear boundary, I believe, that led to my disconnect with the characters. I enjoyed the book immensely, but I finished it feeling no closer to Kestrel than I did with Arin, her slave and the book’s love interest, Jess, her childhood friend and a high-class member of society, or Cheat, a Herrani slave auctioneer with secrets to share. Nevertheless, Kestrel’s growth as a character cannot go unnoticed, and I have no doubt she will develop into a strong heroine as the trilogy continues.

The Winner’s Curse was inspired, as Marie Rutkoski writes in her author’s note, by an economic term that “describes how the winner of an auction has also lost, because he or she has won by paying more than what the majority of bidders have decided the item is worth.” Slavery will never be an easy topic to discuss, but Rutkoski skillfully uses this theory to create a story that’s thought provoking and exciting. It’s not perfect, but it’s strong {and it certainly deserves that gorgeous thing of a cover :)}. I only hope that The Winner’s Crime is just as much of a winner as its predecessor.

Need more convincing? Here’s what other reviewers had to say.
The Winner’s Curse promised us political power shifts, wicked rumors, dirty secrets, spies, forbidden love, and boy, did it deliver. It is everything it promises to be with no disappointments coming from that area” {read the rest of the review at Effortlessly Reading HERE}.

“Overall, I definitely enjoyed The Winner’s Curse. Did the massive amount of hype leave me a tiny bit disappointed? Yes. But I have little to complain about other than that I want more: more romantic development, more politics and scheming, and more time with these characters” {read the rest of the review at Snuggly Oranges HERE}.

“This book captured my heart.  Not only was I drawn into the politics and world building, but watching Arin and Kestrel fall for each other no matter how hard they fought it was incredibly heartbreaking, yet satisfying!  It was brutal to see both of them tormented by such deep desire and loyalty” {read the rest of the review at Book Rock Betty HERE}.

Have a terrific Thursday!

7 thoughts on “The Winner’s Curse: A Book Review

  1. […] I’m ashamed to admit that I waited until this past spring to delve into the stunning world and high fantasy of Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse. Written from a unique premise and in incredible detail, I was easily swept away in the adventure and battles of the main character, Kestrel. Next up in 2016? Only more from Rutkoski, of course, as I {hopefully!} finish the trilogy with The Winner’s Crime and The Winner’s Kiss. {review} […]


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