Review: The Winner’s Curse

I received this book for free from BEA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Winner’s CurseThe Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner's Trilogy #1
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) on March 4, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 368
Format: ARC
Source: BEA
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four-stars

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 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.

Before The Winner’s Curse, I’ve never received a bound galley for review before, though I’d seen them in other people’s book hauls. Obviously, I’m grateful, because it does make me feel very special to have the book so far in advance, even despite the fact that bound galleys have HUGE font and are a bit unwieldy to actually read. Anyway, I know this review is ages in advance (or at least, it was written back in June, but not posted until now), but I’m of the mind that they wouldn’t give the books out if they didn’t want people to read them; I mean, bound galleys are useless as decoration. Macmillan will be pushing The Winner’s Curse really hard come winter 2014, and I can see why. Rutkoski’s prose is beautiful, her characters nuanced, and her world sophisticated.

The Valorians rule over the Herrani, having absorbed that country into their vast empire. Though once the Herrani considered the Valorians savages, the Herrani now must serve the Valorians as slaves. Racial tensions are central to The Winner’s Curse. Rutkoski humanizes both sides equally, and handles the subject so well. Into this background, Rutkoski places two star-crossed lovers, because what does fiction like more than forbidden love. The daughter of the Valorian general falls in love with her Herrani slave, who is a rebel no less. Predictable in concept, yes, but Rutkoski does wonderful things with it.

Lady Kestrel, our heroine, is a delight. She’s strong in that way that has very little to do with physical strength; in fact, her like of talent with weapons is a bit of a disappointment to her father, the general. However, Kestrel is possessed instead with something better: cleverness and strategy. In Valorian society, she has two choices now that she’s coming of age: to wed or to enter the military (women are respected as strong in this fantasy world – praise Hera!). Kestrel wants to do neither, and dreams of having the freedom to play her piano, musical talents not being respected by the practical-minded, militaristic Valorians. I admire Kestrel so much her ability to make difficult decisions and to plot her way out of corners. She’s feisty and wonderful. I also really love that she’s less apt to throw her life away for the sake of their romance than Arin is; men are not the more emotional party in fictional relationships enough.

The romance, though I was expecting it, sort of caught me off guard. The characters didn’t spend all that much time together and the feelings emerged as if from nowhere, though I certainly would not call this instalove or anything of that sort. The romantic arc is more like one might find in a classic, given the difference in social class and role between Arin and Kestrel. In those sorts of times, the opportunity for actual courting is limited and it’s the small moments that add up into an affection. At first I wasn’t really sure about them as a couple, but there are some really sweet moments that sold me on it in the end.

The plot consists of rebellion, duels, balls, and battles. Rutkoski’s plotting is fabulous, keeping me on my toes, never completely certain what would happen next. She does not shy away from hurting her characters or killing them off either. Plus, Rutkoski manages to start the story strong, building character and world at the same time, without the infodump slump that so often plagues the beginning of fantasy novels. Other than those facts, I want to leave you unspoiled to enjoy everything totally fresh, because the not knowing is part of the fun.

Speaking of the end, Rutkoski is fiendish and I love it. She wraps up the plot of this book neatly, while leaving loads of space for the next book in the series. There’s no cliffhanger or anything of that sort. Instead, she ends with a punch right to the feels. I love when authors do that, especially in YA, where it’s so rare to find a book that doesn’t end in an HEA.

The real downside of reading an awesome book like this? The sequel will not come out for a year and a half at least. What have I done to myself? Friends, if you adore fantasy as much as I do, you’ll want to be putting this on your TBR pile.

Favorite Quote:

“Arin was becoming the sort of person her father admired. Remorseless. Able to make a decision, walk through it like a doorway, and close it behind him.”

Tl;dr – Book in a GIFfy:

This is sort of how I see Arin & Kestrel. They meet and WHOA.

This is sort of how I see Arin & Kestrel. They meet and WHOA.

13 responses to “Review: The Winner’s Curse”

  1. Arshia says:

    UNGH. Must have.
    Arshia recently posted…So, What’s The Sitch?My Profile

  2. It’s very clear for me now that I will love this book. Kestra sounds like the perfect MC. It’s not always about kick-ass girls who are physically strong. I also really like them when they are intelligent and strong in spirit. And great that woman are respected, you don’t see that often (unfortunately). Good thing that she gives her characters a hard time or even kills them, makes the story more exciting. And those type of endings are my favorites! (Oh, Natalie Dormer, she is gorgeous)
    Mel@thedailyprophecy recently posted…My blogging methods.My Profile

  3. This was so evil of you to post this SO early! I’m dying for this book and can’t but be terribly terribly envious whenever I see somebody got it in the mail or is reading it. Thankfully you gave it a high rating – gives me hope 🙂
    Andrea @ Bookish recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday: Books that will make your cryMy Profile

  4. kristin says:

    Lucky duck! I got an invite for it from Netgalley but they only had “x” amount for review and I (only doing it a couple hours after it was sent) was not quick enough to the draw. Waaah waaaaah. Oh well. Can’t win them all.
    Your review is the first I’ve seen and man does it make me want to read it that much more. I love the use of the name Kestrel for a MC since that’s what I name all my gaming characters. (yes, I’m somewhat a nerd, go figure)
    Kristin @ Book Sniffers Anonymous
    kristin recently posted…Review: Temporarily Yours by Diane AlbertsMy Profile

  5. Kayla Beck says:

    I purposely left my review schedule mostly open in March so I can get my hands on this as soon as it comes out. The synopsis makes it sound like it is my perfect book. Hopefully my expectations won’t ruin everything.
    Kayla Beck recently posted…Review: Alienated by Melissa LandersMy Profile

  6. I’m SO SO excited for The Winner’s Curse and all the positive reviews have made me pre-order it. Only one month left of waiting! Also, while I love fantasy, sometimes the huge info-dumps at the beginning of fantasy books don’t go so well for me. I’m bored easily by them and it makes me enjoy it less, even though I know they are most of the time necessary for the world building. Anyway, I’m glad that The Winner’s Curse doesn’t have that and manages to build the world building in a different way.
    Kim @ The Nomadic Book Hoarder recently posted…Ten Books That Made Me CryMy Profile

  7. Aww all I’ve seen for this are positive reviews, so I really love how you also really enjoyed this book. The main character Kestrel sounds like an independent one because of how she can handle making hard decisions and her feisty attitude. I really enjoyed Marie Rutoski’s The Shadow Society and I’ve been more than excited for The Winner’s Curse because of how great the plot sounds and also how well Marie seems to wrap up the ending you mentioned. Fabulous review, Christina! <33
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  8. Eden says:

    Ahhh, this one’s literally next on my TBR pile but I’ve been avoiding it for some time, considering all the hype that’s been around it. This review didn’t exactly help, but I’m glad you liked it, Christina. 😛 Sounds really good that she played with a few tropes, but I’m worried about the development of the whole slave/master thing, since people don’t seem to have mentioned that with the worldbuilding in their reviews. I’m also worried about the “punch write [sic LOL] to the feels”, as you put it, because I am so not cool with emotional cliffhangers, haha. Still, I’ll have to get to it eventually… 😛
    Eden recently posted…review: Out of the EasyMy Profile

  9. Jenni says:

    Weeeee! I am really excited for this one and I am reading it within my next 3-4 books so I only skimmed here but ANOTHER positive review! On a side note I had no idea that it was historical until recently which has kind of made me nervous. Happy to see that this one worked out so well for you!
    Jenni recently posted…Review: Alienated by Melissa LandersMy Profile

  10. Charlotte says:

    I read just enough of your review to register the word “awesome,” which made me happy because I’m looking forward to this one lots!
    Charlotte recently posted…Singing the Dogstar Blues, by Alison Goodman, for Timeslip TuesdayMy Profile

  11. SO PRETTY. Glad to hear it’s a good book to. I love the idea of Kestrel. She seems strong but not in the typical, weapons way. The fantasy sounds fun too, and I’m scared now that you mention characters dying. But in a good way. Anyway, I’m totally excited for this one.
    P.E. @ The Sirenic Codex recently posted…WoW – Little White LiesMy Profile

  12. Third paragraph from the bottom sums up this book really nicely, and I agree, it’s best enjoyed if people go into it not knowing too much about it. So hard to go into books with a clean slate these days, but I liked that the blurb doesn’t give away too much.

    I loved the romance, btw. I’m so anxious to see how this develops over the next couple of books with all this build-up.
    Wendy Darling recently posted…Forbidden Love in The Winner’s Curse: guest post + giveawayMy Profile

  13. Bonnie says:

    I went into this hearing all about ‘the feels’ this generates and while I didn’t respond the same it was still extremely well done. It didn’t overpower the story and I loved it for how simple and pure it seemed. But that ending was brutal. Unkind. I need book 2 now. Really makes me want to check out her other works.

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