Title: The Winner’s Curse
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
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.
Even though the obsession has died down for the most part, you probably heard a lot about The Winner’s Curse back when it came out. I don’t know if the hype affected me at all, but I didn’t love this book. I thought it was a perfectly enjoyable beginning to what I assume is a trilogy, but it didn’t wow me the way it did many others.
This book was very readable. Even when I didn’t seem to be that interested in the story, I kept reading quickly, interested in seeing what would happen anyway. Looking back, I’m not quite sure why – I think it was the writing, which was just engaging and enthralling, but I honestly couldn’t tell you less than two weeks after I finished it. Some books are just naturally readable despite characters or story or any other elements, and that’s what The Winner’s Curse seems to be.
I think one of the big reasons that I didn’t connect with this book with the same intensity that others did is because I didn’t connect with the romance that much. I didn’t dislike Kestrel and Arin together, I just wasn’t really rooting for them to be together. They had some cute moments together, but I honestly didn’t mind when they weren’t in the midst of a romance-building scene. In fact, I was often asking Kestrel why she didn’t just pick her friend who looks her and wouldn’t cause any drama in society – it wasn’t the romantic option, but it was the practical one, and since I wasn’t swept up by the romance, I was going for practicality. I still didn’t root against the couple, but I also wasn’t anxious for them to get together and cause a lot of drama and such. I was just a bit apathetic.
The story made up for the romance more. I was interested in seeing what was going to happen even if I didn’t really care about the characters that it was happening to. I think the story could have gotten this book at least a solid 4 stars, but I had some trouble understanding the world building at times, and that kind of pulled me out of the story. This certainly seemed like a fantasy book, but for some reason I kept focusing on whether or not this was a fantasy world made up completely or an alternate version of our world. Maybe it’s just because I don’t read many fantasy books or books in general that don’t take place in some version of our world, but I just had so much trouble accepting the story at all times when I was so focused on figuring out if this took place in an alternate version of Europe or something.
I was also left confused because there wasn’t a specific time period. Yes, I know, if it’s a completely made-up fantasy world, then it’s not going to rely on our time periods for context. Yet, when a world seems to rely on so many elements of our world, it’s hard to accept it all being thrown together without a complete explanation. This is a warring nation, so fighting and the military are big, yet society is also similar to the Victorian and Edwardian periods, with many similar customs and such. Women can be just as strong as men in the military, yet they’re treated as delicate flowers who can’t walk around without a chaperone before they join the military, even though they’ve been learning the same fighting skills that their male peers have been. This is even brought up by Kestrel, but it’s kind of hand-waved away, and that just frustrated me and pulled me further out of the story.
I know I sound really negative, but I truly did enjoy myself while I was reading this book. I rolled my eyes slightly at the end of the book because it set up new romantic drama, but I am genuinely curious to see what’ll happen in the sequel, The Winner’s Crime. Yes, there are some things that could have been done differently with this first book, at least for me, but it really was an enjoyable book that didn’t take me long to read at all because I wanted to know what was going to happen next.