The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Release Date: March 4, 2014
Purchased at NoVA Teen Book Festival
The pointy-chinned woman snickered. “Looks like someone’s suffering the Winner’s Curse.”
Kestrel turned to her. “What do you mean?”
“You don’t come to auctions often, do you? The Winner’s Curse is when you come out on top of the bid, but only by paying a steep price.”
The crowd was thinning. Already the auctioneer was bringing out someone else, but the rope of excitement that had bound the Valorians to the pit had disintegrated. The show was over. The path was now clear for Kestrel to leave, yet she couldn’t move.
“I don’t understand,” said Jess.
Neither did Kestrel. What had she been thinking? What had she been trying to prove?
Nothing, she told herself. Her back to the pit, she made her foot take the first step away from what she had done.
Nothing at all.
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.
The Winner’s Curse is a fantasy novel old from the point of view of a high society general’s daughter. As a result, we get to see the story from the perspective of someone who is used to getting what she wants. This doesn’t necessarily mean she is a bad person, but it does mean that, at times, you might find yourself frustrated with the way Kestrel interacts with some of the characters around her. This is not to be considered a negative aspect of the book, though. In fact, it makes the novel more complex and it makes you, as the reader, question which side of the conflict you land on.
The novel is made even more complex by Kestrel’s relationship with Arin. Yes, there is a “forbidden love” aspect to it, but as the novel goes on, it seems more and more impossible that their relationship could go anywhere. Although I started off not being very emotionally invested in their relationship, as the story progressed I found myself wanting them to be together more and more.
I am a huge fan of the manifestation of physical strength in a female character. Despite the fact that Kestrel admits (and demonstrates) on several occasions that she is not strong physically, however, she is very intelligent and brave and determined. For this reason, I think that Kestrel is one of the strongest characters I’ve ever read about. She recognizes her weaknesses, she knows her strengths, and she plans and creates strategies based on this knowledge about herself.
While in some novels, the war aspect of the novel’s society is a minor aspect with regards to the world building, in this novel it plays a central role to creating the conflict. I won’t say much about this because I might spoil the book, but the war is VERY important.
Overall, I think this book is well written and the plotline is balanced in such a way that you never get bored while reading it. The characters, while not very memorable or unique, are still ones that you find yourself caring about and rooting for. For these reasons, I would recommend The Winner’s Curse to anyone looking for a fairly good fantasy.