Book Review: The Winner’s Curse

Sorry to everyone, I actually had finished reading this book awhile ago, but haven’t been home enough to sit down and type up a review. I am back to being on a strict reading and review cycle.

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is about a general’s daughter, Kestrel, part of a militaristic people called the Valorians who control a vast empire. The Valorians enslave those that they conquer, including the Herrani, a once peaceful people, but now forced to wait on others. Kestrel is pressured by her father to either join the military or get married, but her heart lies in neither. One day she stumbles upon a slave auction with her friend, Jess, where she eyes a young slave named Arin. She enters into a bidding war and ends up buying him, which leads to unexpected consequences and an even higher price.

I think from my short little description, you can already guess where this story may lead. Always with YA books, especially fantasy YA books, I have my reservations before reading, because they often times can become predictable. Also the main female character can sometimes become extremely annoying and unlikable (at least that has been my experience). I will say with this book that there is a level of predictability, HOWEVER there are a number of surprises that kept me on my toes, and had me wanting more. And Kestrel surprised me, she is not your typical heroine. She doesn’t hide the fact that she is physically inept, but mentally she is extremely cunning and able to manipulate even the strongest of men. Often times I was surprised by things that she did in the book or was unprepared for the outcome.

Certain scenes in the book reminded me of a chess game, or a poker game may be a better description. A series of bluffs and strategic moves to achieve a result. Kestrel and Arin play a game called Bite and Sting throughout the book, which seems to be very similar to poker. This theme of truth and lies, manipulation, deceit, and betrayal carries throughout the book.

“Kestrel’s cruel calculation appalled her. This was part of what had made her resist the military: the fact that she could make decisions like this, that she did have a mind for strategy, that people could be so easily become pieces in a game she was determined to win…” – The Winner’s Curse, Marie Rutkoski

Kestrel and Arin are forced to be pitted against each other, and therefore they go through this dance of truth and deceit, where neither truly trusts the other, but at the same time they can’t help but feel drawn to each other.

“The truth can deceive as well as a lie.” – The Winner’s Curse, Marie Rutkoski

By the end of the book, Kestrel begins to feel torn between her own people and what she feels is right.

In the Author’s Note, Rutkoski says that she was inspired by the Greco-Roman period after Rome had conquered Greece and enslaved its population; as slavery was a common consequence of war during that time. While reading, I couldn’t help thinking of present day and how slavery still exists today. It may not be the same as it was during the Greco-Roman period, however it takes different forms. And it takes courage and strength to break free of whatever barriers may be holding someone back.

“Happiness depends on being free, and freedom depends on being courageous.” – The Winner’s Curse, Marie Rutkoski

I was at my mom’s house with my sister when I finished this book. Now that we are older and living away from home, it is rare that we are all in the same house together. I was in bed (still in my pjs) at noon on a Sunday finishing this book, while my sister was trying to get me up, dressed and outside to enjoy the hot weather. She really wanted me to go swimming with her and lay out in the sun. She called out to me that I was lazy and that I needed to get out of bed. And I responded, “Just one more chapter!” Oh the good old days when you get so deep into a book you can’t put it down and your sister is bugging you. I had missed that!

I give this book a 4 out of 5. This book surprised me; I didn’t think that I would enjoy it as much as I did. I felt Rutkoski’s writing style was beautiful and kept me captivated and engaged from start to finish. I will say that when I started the book, I was like here we go another predictable YA book, but there were a lot of surprises that I had not been expecting including many of the ones that I had guessed. Overall great book and I am excited to read the rest of the series.

My book for this week is Once by Cameron Dokey. Once is actually a compilation of three books (Before Midnight, Golden and Wild Orchid) written by Dokey in the Once Upon a Time series. They are all full books (roughly 200 pages each) and altogether Once is roughly 600 pages. All three books are retellings of classic fairytales, but don’t be fooled like I was, they are not the fairytales you grew up with. I won’t give away too much; I’ve actually already finished Before Midnight (as you can tell I am way behind in posting reviews). I plan to post that review tomorrow and I will post reviews for Golden and Wild Orchid later this week.



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