The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy #1) by Marie Rutkoski
YA high fantasy, romance
Hardcover, 368 pages
Expected publication: March 4th 2014 by Farrar Straus Giroux
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.
While another snow storm hit our area, I found myself immersed in the world of the Valorian people and their victory over the Herrani people. In fact, main character Kestrel had me enraptured in her tale from the first page. From the opening scene where she buys a slave boy named Arin at auction, this YA fantasy took hold of every free moment I had. Needless to say I found as much free time as I could. The Winner's Curse is engrossing, each scene playing out like the highest rated nighttime drama on the CW, if it were a TV series. A richly imagined world filled with a cast of interesting, fully dimensional characters, a bittersweet love story between a reluctant mistress attracted to her new slave, and a young man harboring a secret which will destroy many a Valorian life when unleashed. This is YA fantasy at its most gripping, involving best.
Don't let the cover art fool you. The Winner's Curse does have a clothes shopping scene (well, the Valorians have their dresses made for them, they don't frequent Macy's), but at its heart lies a tale filled with war, conquering, enslavement, rage, revenge, strategics, uprising and rebellion. Kestrel is General Trajan's only child. The star general wants her to join his army, forcing her to take lessons in fighting. Kestrel doesn't consider herself a soldier, her hands weren't created to wield a weapon, her fingers would rather be sweeping across piano keys as she looses herself in a transcending musical composition. When she brings Arin home to become the new blacksmith on the family estate, Kestrel finds herself seeking the quiet, brooding youth on her walks. What is it about this Herrani slave which draws her to him?
The Winner's Curse is not the typical romance featuring two lovers, star crossed or not. Kestrel and Arin are reluctantly drawn to each. Masters are not supposed to mingle with their human possessions nor care how they feel. Kestrel fuels town gossip by employing Arin as her personal escort, inviting him to play a tile game when her father is away (her mother is deceased), and still feels his eyes on her long after he has left. Through their talks, they discover things about each other's ethnicity. Arin is not what he appears to be, using this to his advantage and the group he works with.
With just the right amount of description and detail, author Marie Rutkoski breathes delicious life into this engrossing fantasy. Kestrel is a wealthy man's daughter equivalent to Katniss, except her weapon is not a bow but books paired with her strategic mind and keen intelligence. She would rather figure out how to attack an opponent than enter the battle. She knows her limits. Plus, she would rather leave her hands undisturbed so she can play her piano. Kestrel and Arin's love story is one filled with stolen touches, glances, and powerful quiet interludes. Their futuristic world reminds me of times past when reliance was placed on the intelligence of the strategists and not on computers as a means of preparing for battle.
Based on the pretty cover alone, I'm not sure I would pick this book up off a shelf. I'm thrilled to have received an ARC enabling me to fall under the author's spell. Did I mention the ending? Oh my gosh, I need to find out what happens next!
Having too pretty a cover might impact one's decision to pick this up, but I think the strong word-of-mouth on this title will help this book sell.
I received an ARC from the publisher. Thank you.