Review: The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

16069030The Winner's Curse (Winner's Trilogy, #1) by Marie Rutkoski
Published: March 4th 2014 by Farrar Straus Giroux
Pages: 355

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.

“Arin wondered if she would lift her eyes, but wasn’t worried he would be seen in the garden’s shadows.
He knew the law of such things: people in brightly lit places cannot see into the dark.”
Actual rating: 3.5 stars

The Winner's Curse is a very difficult book for me to review. Clearing my thoughts out hasn't been easy as I needed a moment to progress everything that has happened. Now that I did, I can honestly say I loved this book on so many levels, even with a little flaw here and there.

To start off with a flaw, both the plot and the pacing didn't really pick up until halfway through, and even then there wasn't much action to be found. Despite the slow pacing, it is one of the main things one must remember when reading a book like The Winner's Curse. A "high-fantasy" novel isn't obligated to be action-packed. Especially when there are so many other aspects that replace the missing action with ease. One remarkable example? The world.

I quickly fell in love with the simple yet outstanding world Rutkoski had created. It was clear where she got her inspiration from as the world definitely had the feel of the ancient Roman empire, yet with a hint of 1600s to it. It just felt like a combination between fantasy -- but with no magic to it -- and historical fiction, something I always appreciate. In a way, there's nothing really extraordinary about the world, believe me. A war between two nations and slavery has been done before, mainly in our history itself. However, the fact of putting those elements together marked my love for it. The result of it are the dominant and overthrowing Valorians who will stop at nothing to gain world control, and the Herrani who once were a prosperous race but now suffer at the hands of the Valorians. Rutkoski fleshed out an entirely new world as a foundation for the sequels. That is where another issue pops up: the world building didn't convince me. I now feel like I only got the base and nothing more. It wasn't enough fleshed-out to completely lose myself into Rutkoski's world. Hopefully the world building will only get better as the trilogy progresses.

Kestrel is one of the few heroines I ever encountered, where I immediately felt a strong connection with. Her life pretty much depends on the choice of either getting married or joining the army to fight next to her father. Therefore my connection with her already grew from the very first page with every wise decision she made. To explain her in a few words: she's arrogant; she's sassy; she's noble at the right moments. But most of all: she's not a bold, nor a strong female heroine and clearly lacks on physical strength. It seems to me nothing but logical that her strength would lie somewhere else, and I was right. Kestrel is a girl who thinks before she acts. All the way through she stands up for her beliefs in what is right and doesn't stop if she wants to fight back. I just love that.

Like Kestrel and every other character you'll encounter in The Winner's Curse, our antagonist Arin is not your usual character. From the moment you meet the guy it was already clear his intentions weren't going to be innocent. That is why him being a slave never grew on me. He's much more developed than you first think he is, and he quickly went from being a slave who cares for nothing to a man who stands up for his race and their rights. His countless secrets revealed themselves as the book progressed, and I could never know if I actually liked him or not. I still don't. What I do know, is that he still is a very interesting character. He's smart, cunning and very observant when it comes to his surroundings. He knows how to play his own game and I honestly can't wait to see which results it would bring along in the future.

I only thing I know I didn't support while reading The Winner's Curse, was the romance between Kestrel and Arin. I loved that they were star-crossed lovers and the chemistry between them was palpable. What I still don't understand is how they eventually went from being forced enemies to lovers. I feel like I missed what made their love happen, what their reasons were for falling in love with each other. Now it escalated without any reason to, and mainly felt like a plot-device.

Simply put, The Winner's Curse blew me off my socks. There are so many different things I loved, and I don't even speak of the wonderful characters. Though my love for this book hasn't reached its climax, I have a feeling the sequel, The Winner's Crime, will.

Aurélie Cremers is an eighteen-year-old living in Belgium. As an active member on Goodreads, Edelweiss and Amazon, she's always spreading her reviews to express her opinion and influences her followers to read the books she fairly enjoyed. When she's not writing, you can find her at her local bookstore or in a classroom. With her blog, "Exploring Pages", Aurélie hopes to gain a larger public in the near future and to continue that what she'll always love doing: writing.

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