The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Series: Winner's Curse #1
Genre: YA, fantasy, romance
Published on March 4, 2014
Published by Farrarr, Straus and Giroux
Read From: 2.10.14 - 2.15.14
Seventeen-year-old Kestrel is an aristocratic citizen of Valoria, a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers. Here, a girl like Kestrel has two choices: to join the military or to get married. Despite her
skills in military strategy, Kestrel's real passion is music. Which is why she feels compelled to buy Arin, a slave sold as a singer, at auction. It's not long before he begins to change the way she sees everything. . . .but he himself is not what he seems. Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for him is much higher than she ever could have imagined.
Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I love the cover, and it’s part of why I read the book in the first place (yes, I admit it). It does have a character impersonator, but I don’t mind her too much for some odd reason. I just love the colors. What does bug me, though, is how the title is sideways. That is annoying.
Characters: Kestrel could have been a lot worse. Thankfully, the Author chose to focus on her positive attributes, rather than her annoying ones. Kestrel is not a good fighter, but she is a great strategist. She doesn’t have a chip on her shoulder, which I appreciated, but apart from her terrific strategic skills, she’s a relatively average protagonist. Which, to be honest, I much prefer over a protagonist who is always pouting and whining and stomping her foot. I at least didn’t hate Kestrel. I really, really liked Ronan. He seemed really sweet and devoted to Kestrel. Irex was creepy, but it was so obvious that we were supposed to hate him that I didn’t have fun with my dislike. For some reason, Enai – Kestrel’s old nursemaid – really struck a chord with me. She was sensible and intelligent; I wish she had been in the book a lot more. And what about Arin? Well . . . . I didn’t dislike him, either. He sort of fell into the “average male character” hole right along with Kestrel. About the only thing that sticks with me about his personality is how sensitive he was. I get that being a slave would be awful and that he has his pride – I totally get that. I would be defiant, too, and lash out at my owners. But . . . . You know how with some characters, defiance at the hands of oppression can come across as noble and awesome (like Esca in The Eagle of the Ninth)? Their every quip and glare is filled with silent hatred and pride and an unyielding spirit. But with other characters, their defiance instead seems like they’re whining. You just want to tell them to shut up, and you feel bad about it because they’re lot in life really does suck. But they just sound so whiny! Well, Arin falls into the latter category. I didn’t sympathize with his plight; I wanted him to be quiet.
The Romance: Oh, this is a romance story alright. Oddly enough, though, it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. When Kestrel buys Arin, she doesn’t really know why she did it. The Reader, of course, automatically suspects it’s because she found him attractive. And while it’s made very clear that Arin is far from unattractive, it takes Kestrel a while to start thinking about it. And even when she does begin to fall for him, she doesn’t go on and on and on about his eyes, his hair, his abs, his bronze skin, et cetera. The romance is rushed – there’s no question about that. But perhaps what made this a little less glaring was the fact that the romance isn’t the only thing that is rushed in The Winner’s Curse.
Plot: In Kestrel’s world, Valorian women either join the army or get married. Being the daughter of the kingdom’s most famous general, Kestrel’s choice ought to be clear. But it isn’t. Her fighting skills barely pass muster, she wants to marry for love, and all she really wants to do is play her late mother’s piano. When she buys a Herrani slave named Arin for his singing ability, her choices become even muddier. What she doesn’t know is that Arin isn’t just another slave, but has great plans for a rebellion. And being the slave in the general’s household suits his plans perfectly. The biggest problem with this book was everything – and I mean everything – is rushed. The second biggest problem is the world building, and I’ll address that first. There is a decidedly ancient Greco-Roman feel to the world and culture. I most definitely pictured a Mediterranean landscape. However, the styles and technology was very Regency Era. And yet, the Author never made it very clear what time period she was really going for. It took me a while to finally picture an era that worked, finally settling for Regency-era Italy. Once I settled this into my mind, I began to enjoy the story a whole lot more, though it took me well over half the book to decide. Now, for pacing. Almost every possible interesting aspect of the book was rushed through. Kestrel gets into a duel, and we get to see most of it, but not the end of it (though we’re told the outcome later). Personally, if you’re going to have a duel in a book, you need to show it to the end. The setup for the rebellion was rushed, the rebellion itself was rushed, and the Valorian retaliation was rushed. The parts of the book that should have gone quickly – like the beginning – were too slow. Everything about the pacing was just off. It killed me, because the premise and the events themselves were interesting, but the plot didn’t let you get pulled in.
Believability: No complaints here, other than I’m pretty sure Arin would have been beaten quite a bit for his behavior. Talk about the most un-slavelike person alive.
Writing Style: Third person, past tense. I did like the Author’s writing. It was simple, yet effective, and emotional without being overwhelming. She just wasn’t very good at filling out the world and the plot pacing was bad.
Conclusion: One review I read said that The Winner’s Curse got infinitely better in the last half. I would agree. The beginning is slow and gets a little boring after a while. But as soon as the Herrani rebellion takes place, things start to pick up a bit more. Or, at least, they would if we weren’t following Kestrel, who spends the majority of the rebellion under house arrest. And there’s no reason why we would have had to stick with her, because this is a third person narration. Why couldn’t we follow Arin more often? Stuff happens – we are informed of this fact. We just never get to read about it in detail. Arin faces opposition from one of his right-hand men, but he’s taken care of and suddenly Arin’s taking complete charge and everyone’s cool with that. Could we see more opposition, more conflict, more struggle, please? There’s skirmishes, but the character we’re following always gets knocked out for most of it. It’s almost like the Author shied away from writing action sequences because she didn’t know how. I suppose that it’s better than trying to write something you can’t. Or you could learn how to write it. I’ve just noticed that for a three-strawberry review, I’ve done a lot of complaining. Neither of the main characters left a lasting impression, the world building was rough, the plot pace rushed. So what did I like about it? Maybe this is one of those reads that my expectations were so low that I was pleasantly surprised. Maybe this falls under the guilty pleasures category. I didn’t hate it, but the enjoyment level was more than just “ok.” As a series, I think it has potential.
Recommended Audience: Girl-read, sixteen-and-up, great for fans of Defy and other fantasy romances.