Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Winner's Curse - Marie Rutkoski

Title: The Winner's Curse
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2014 (Hardcover)
Length: 355 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: June 12, 2014
Finished: June 17, 2014

From Goodreads.com:

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 being 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.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this one, but I knew I wanted to read it. I didn't know if it was a one-shot or a trilogy/series (now know it's a trilogy), so the issues I had with the ending are now unfounded since I know it will continue.

Kestrel's father is the general of the Valorian army. The Valorians expand their empire through conquering other countries and enslaving those populations, and the war on Herran was no different. Now living in the homes of deposed Herrani aristocrats and officials ten years after the initial conquest, Kestrel and the other Valorians live the high life with the Herrani as their slaves. Kestrel spies a young man for sale at an auction, and buys him for his blacksmith skills when she finds out he has musical talents. Valorian society doesn't value music and Kestrel is one of the only members who actually revels in playing.

As she gets to know Arin, he is seemingly arrogant and doesn't act anything like a slave. They tentatively become friends, since both of them understand the Valorian and Herrani languages. Kestrel risks her reputation by using Arin as her escort, and then again when she challenges another Valorian to a duel to try to save Arin's life. At the same time, her father is pressuring her to make her choice between marriage and the military, neither of which Kestrel wants. After the duel, it is revealed that Arin is actually part of a group of Herrani determined to overthrow the Valorian rule and take back their country, and he's been using his position in Kestrel's house to plan it. When Arin saves Kestrel's life by not allowing her to be poisoned along with the other Valorian nobles, she is faced with a choice: does she side with Arin or her father?

The plot is stunningly developed here, but it is slow to take off. The first hundred pages or so when Kestrel first buys Arin go by quite slowly since it's mainly a play-by-play of Valorian society (though I did love the descriptions of Bite and Sting). The pace really picks up during the duel segment and afterwards once Arin's plot if fully revealed. Things aren't fully resolved by the end since it is a trilogy, but I look forward to reading the next installments.

Kestrel as a character was fascinating, I liked that she was trained to fight and can hold her own physically as well as mentally, using valuable information to change situations so that they're in her favour.

I also liked the fact that Kestrel and Arin's relationship developed slowly to the point where you almost don't notice the change; I did by the time they get to that scene where he braids her hair, it's so loving it's cavity-inducing. I liked that the author included a note about the concept of the Winner's Curse, that even someone who wins at an auction also loses because they've paid more for something than anyone else has deemed it worth. It fits Kestrel and Arin perfectly, at least at this phase, especially once you read the ending.

Starts off slow but gets soooo much better, give this one a go.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like how the model is holding the R in the title, and that they included Kestrel's dagger.

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