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.
Tell Me More: With a cover that promises beauty, and an author already known for spectacular prose, The Winner’s Curse seems to slide right into a market that’s ready for its richness. Sadly, I was not as pleased by my reading experience, and these high expectations might be to blame.
Kestrel is a familiar heroine, and her desire for a different fate than what society dictates for her is a common trait among many fantasy protagonists. She expresses this desire several times within the first few chapters, but I never felt like that desire was shown, rather than just told to the reader. The third-person limited point-of-view doesn’t help–we are told how Kestrel feels, what she thinks, how she moves, but the emotion is lacking. I wanted to see Kestrel’s passion for the ideas she values, especially music, but sometimes it was even difficult to remember what she was thinking as I moved on to the next page.
The pacing in the novel was an interesting departure from most fantasy novels. It is quite slow, taking its time with descriptions of the setting, but I don’t think it matched Kestrel very well. As I got further into the story, I started to see Kestrel as more of a person of action than pensive thought, but the pace of the narration did not pick up to move with her. Likewise, the cover is beautiful, but it doesn’t reflect her nature.
Rutkoski uses dual points-of-view in this novel, a technique that is usually hit or miss in my personal experience. Arin is a much more dynamic character, but again, the reader doesn’t get the full spectrum of his personality because the novel alternates every chapter. I was much more interested in him than Kestrel because his intensity rolled off the pages in waves. He felt like a real person, as capable of love as he is of violence, and I wanted more from him than what this novel gave me. The romance felt like it was supposed to happen, as opposed to developing organically, and I wasn’t sold on the emotional attachment that Kestrel and Arin formed so quickly. I hesitate to draw comparisons between The Winner’s Curse and books like Graceling, but in general, I would like to see more YA fantasy novels that are not driven by or influenced by romance.
The Final Say: Marie Rutkoski’s melodic writing was sadly not enough to distinguish The Winner’s Curse over other fantasy novels, though readers looking for romance as a driving force in the genre may find lots to love here.
Marie Rutkoski is the author of the YA novel The Shadow Society and the children’s fantasy series The Kronos Chronicles, including The Cabinet of Wonders, The Celestial Globe and The Jewel of the Kalderash.