The Winner's Curse

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Winner's Trilogy #1

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. 


The Winner's Curse is the latest YA project written by Marie Rutkoski, who is well known for her Shadow's Society and the children's series The Kronos Chronicles. With The Winner's Curse Marie Rutkoski shows the young-adult audience a perfect epic story of romance, but that is not all, the story soon sees the addition of perhaps more influence that did make stop and wonder several other topics like division between the rich and the poor and and equalness. I do not know if Marie Rutkoski wanted to create this but I was impressed to say the least. Normally I do steer away from the romance genre but the synopsis of the book did pique my interest and like I said above the story did turn out to be a great read. 

The Winner's Curse starts of with directly introducing the reader to the main protagonist of the book, the young girl Kestrel whose father is a renown army general. One day Kestrel makes her way to an auction and not an auction for furniture... No a auction of slaves. Kestrel is strangely drawn to one particular slave, Smith/Arin, he has certain specialties, his background in blacksmithing and singing that will make him very well suited for her fathers household. Kestrel wins the auction but suffers from the winner's curse overpaying by a lot. Winning this auction does leave Kestrel with double thoughts, because she can't really place what she saw in Arin that day and for days that follow she avoids Arin. What are those feeling that she has? Later when she does confront Arin, everything is thrown in a rapid and the storyline picks up with a gentle pace further building up both characters. Arin becomes Kestrels friend, and more than that, but the great thing here is that they both have more going on than what they say and they play a game of push and pull, making their relation complex. based on the early chapters I thought that The Winner's Curse would only go into the romancing direction and I almost lost interest but then Marie Rutkoski does something quite different with her story, she introduces the auctioneer that auctioned of Arin and they have a conversation, WOW! This was a great twist and readily transformed the whole story for me, for the better! It might start of as a romance but turns out to be much much more. Sorry can't spoil this surprise.

Just a bit background of the world of The Winner's Curse. A war has been fought and won by the Valorians (Kestrel and her father). Arin is an Herrani who were the opposite in the battle of the Valorians. Kestrel father was sent in to win the war and he did thereby subjecting the Herrani people to slavery. Both "races" lived with valuing different things in life, the Herrani people highly valued the creative arts such as music and painting where as Valorians mostly value prosperity in life. The world itself in The Winner's Curse left me with a vivid imagination, it was hard to pin down what the direct day and age was wherein the story took place, it partly had a lot of epic influences and references, with the King, armies and weaponry, but it also felt a bit contemporary creating a spellbinding sense around it all. This was probably also owed to the lyrical prose that Marie Rutkoski used. 

Besides the worldbuilding that lend a strength to The Winner's Curse, most of it is drawn from the strong characters of Arin and Kestrel, they both work wonders with getting this story of its feet and into one non-stop ride. Kestrel, the young Generals daughter, who is naive and would rather sit around and play the piano all day long is forced by her father to join the army and become a leading tactician. She has a gift for it. I like Kestrel's character, she is like the odd-one-out amongst the other Valorians and is daily confronted by this fact, she is also of the age in where a girl starts to look different towards several feelings that she encounters. You see her struggle dealing with these thoughts and with no mother left to help her interpret and a father who only values the army, she is left on her own... Next up there is Arin. Herrani slave, that finds himself suddenly working for the famous Valorian General. Just like Kestrel, Arin is a well developed character and on the first go I didn't really think a lot of his influence in the storyline until that one moment that turned the tables... it's when this big thing is revealed that the complexity of his character comes to show, one many fronts you feel that Arin wants to see Kestrel as more, but his job doesn't let him do this and he is torn. Similarly to how Kestrel faces these feeling, Arin is also on his own by has added pressure for a higher cause... one that will change the tables once again... ALl in all the characterization was just spot on, Marie Rutkoski has created to compelling character that dance around each other in a great way, pushing and pulling. 

In the first paragraph I mentioned that the ending of the book reveals more than just a simple romantic story. Now I don't know whether this was the intention when Marie Rutkoski wrote The Winner's Curse but it felt to me that she wanted to bring several motives more to show. Like bullying and the oppressed/enslaved people of the Herrani. Because when you are the bully you should be carefull, certain events can turn around and bite you in the butt with all the consequences associated with it. On the romancing side, Marie Rutkoski shows that love can work in mysterious ways and no matter your background or your current status, love will find a way, perhaps not in the first instance, but finally it will. Just beautiful to see these young kids entwined in such a tough game.

The Winner's Curse is definitely a winner. Like I said I normally steer away from romancing stories but I am glad that I read The Winner's Curse. It started of with a girl meets boy, in a not standard way, but soon turned out to be much more. This transformation of the storyline really got me excited and can only work out for the better in the sequel. I do have to say that this is a girls book and I think I am one of the few males who have read and reviewed this book. Whether your an adult or not, The Winner's Curse is a great, light fantasy read with well developed characters, and interesting world and a great story that will light the hearts of many!

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