Published: March 4th, 2014
The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy #1)
By: Marie Rutkoski
Farrar Straus Giroux
Winning what you want may cost you everything that 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 has paid for a fellow human is much higher than she could have ever imagined.
This is probably one of my most anticipated books of the year. Just because I felt like everyone else was talking about it, even though I really wasn't even sure what it was really about! Let me tell you right now, this book basically defies any sort of classification. It's set in a world with no connection to ours, but it's not science-fiction, fantasy, or an alternate history of some sort. I'm thinking that it's only defining characteristic is its base structure around the political intrigues, wars and slavery struggles of the fictional society. There really isn't a genre for that! So, that's issue number one. Issue number two, would be the slow and somewhat contrived pacing and plot of the first half of this book. We get glimpses at the smart, strategic mind of Kestrel, a general's daughter, who is trapped in between two choices (neither of which she is okay with). She has no real say in what happens to her future, other than who to marry or whether or not to join her father in the military. We get to see Kestrel's inner struggle, her daily miniature rebellions and her connections with the others in her society, including her best friend Jess who definitely isn't bucking the system. Not to mention, Jess' brother Ronan, who wants to marry Kestrel. One day Kestrel buys a slave. He acts nothing like a slave, orders her around, ignores her and they have a mental battle for each others' secrets. They play games with each other, and are developing feelings.
Things start to pick up in the second half, with the discovery of the slave, Arin's, secret activities and Kestrel's own plans to subvert society in regards to her future. By the end, everything the reader thought they knew is in shredded ruins and the cliffhanger has left them reeling. Especially when the slaves turn the tables of the war on their oppressors almost completely around. There was superb world-building, and I could picture everything that was being described for me. I could see the rich society houses, the slaves, the bustling marketplace and all of the individual characters. I was stuck in this book. But instead of feeling like I was lost completely in it, I felt like the author was consciously manipulating my emotions with calculated scenes, twists, etc. That's not a fun feeling to have when reading a book.
This book was downright bizarre at times, especially with the whole plot revolving around slavery and war. Not your average YA romance. I liked that and the second half of the book was phenomenally written. Yet there was something about these characters that left me cold. I never really connected with Kestrel, who is withdrawn, scheming and kind of bland. Arin was very stereotypical and you could see his "tragic" back story coming a mile away. But the plot execution was a thing of brilliance and the character interactions were vicious in the best kind of way. If you want a serious mind-fuck, I'd recommend this one. Something off the wall, and completely new in a strange way (and yes, I'm being purposefully vague, because I don't want to spoil the surprise and weirdness of this one for you). I will probably read the next one, just to see where she goes!
VERDICT: 3.5/5 Stars
*I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie. No favors or money were exchanged for this review. This book was published March 4th, 2014.*