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“*[A] spellbinding first book in a trilogy about a pair of star-crossed lovers in a society marred by class warfare....Like any epic page-turner worth its salt, Rutkoski's richly imagined world is full of dynamic repartee, gruesome battle scenes, and shifting alliances. A high-stakes cliffhanger will leave readers eagerly awaiting the next book.” ―Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
“*Rich characterization, exquisite worldbuilding and rock-solid storytelling make this a fantasy of unusual intelligence and depth...Precise details and elegant prose make this world fresh and vivid. The intricate and suspenseful plot, filled with politics, intrigue and even graphic violence, features neither heroes nor villains; every character displays a complex mixture of talents, flaws and motives...Breathtaking, tragic and true.” ―Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW
“*A forbidden romance. The romance is heartstoppingly lovely and admittedly steamy . . . but the raising of stakes and the reluctance of the couple to give up their respective cause, even as they confess their love for each other, lends their relationship a complexity not often seen in the genre . . . A last-minute compromise between the lovers secures a sequel, and fans of Kristin Cashore and Robin Lefevers will be pleased to have a new romance to follow.” ―BCCB, STARRED REVIEW
“Every line in The Winner's Curse is beautifully written. The story is masterfully plotted. The characters' dilemmas fascinated me and tore at my heart. This book gave me a rare and special reading experience: I never knew what was going to happen next. I loved it. I want more.” ―Kristin Cashore, New York Times bestselling author of the Graceling Realm books
“The Winner's Curse is breathtaking, a lyrical triumph in YA fantasy. Marie Rutkoski writes with tremendous power and has created an epic of fearless beauty. This book should not be missed.” ―Ann Aguirre, New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of the Razorland trilogy
“The Winner's Curse is magnificent. Gorgeous writing graces every page, and the story of Kestrel and Arin unfolds with all the complexity and beauty of a sonata. I was completely transfixed by them and their world.” ―Sarah Beth Durst, author of Conjured
About the Author
- ASIN : B00ERWUQR4
- Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (March 4, 2014)
- Publication date : March 4, 2014
- Language : English
- File size : 1312 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 369 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #160,521 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Kestrel, the main, was wooden and emotionless. Even in situations where she should react and give an indication of how she is feeling, or speak up about what she thinks, she mostly just... stands there. Because it is third person POV and she is not big on emoting, we almost never know what she is feeling or thinking, or if she is even feeling or thinking anything. This book is basically Kestrel standing in different places and staring helplessly at men while things happen around her. I understand that her character is supposed to be stoic, but I feel it was executed very poorly.
She was also exceedingly inconsistent, and that further weakened her character's likeability. She doesn't want to join the military Because Reasons (hurting people?) but has no problem being constantly waited on by a multitude of slaves from a conquered nation? Stupid. She prides herself on being super self-sufficient but she can't even braid her own hair? Stupid. She loves Ronan, but when he proposes she says no? Stupid. She feels so bad for Arin being a captive that she buys him at auction, but then goes home and continues treating her existing captive slaves like home decor? Stupid. She feels remorse after she almost gets a poor street merchant in trouble over nothing, but doesn't hesitate to potentially ruin a different innocent woman's life by proclaiming that she had an affair, with no concrete evidence? Stupid. Inconsistent.
Secondly, Kestrel has no unique "voice." Her lines and mental dialogue could have been spoken by a middle-aged male character and they would have been the same. The character voices were all indistinguishable, come to think of it. Nobody had quirks, flaws, unique speech patterns. Everyone sounded the same and spoke in this cohesive, mature, upper-crust tone at all times - which is especially jarring considering they are supposed to be from very different cultures and social classes and walks of life. Wouldn't it make more sense (and lend more credence to their supposed differences) if some characters sounded more aristocratic and some more rustic? If some cussed and used slang and others didn't? If they sometimes struggled to get their point across? If they were occasionally lost for words or there were language barriers due to being from different countries? You'd think so, but you'd be wrong! Everyone in this book speaks like a college professor.
The male lead, Arin, while not as passive as Kestrel, is also painfully boring, and arguably the worst spy in the history of spies. He disguises his intentions to overthrow the kingdom by expressing his burning contempt for the kingdom at all times, voicing his subversive opinions whenever possible, and confronting/bossing around his owner, the FMC, in front of her peers and superiors every day. Yes, great way to fly under the radar. Very slave-y behavior. No one will notice anything.
But that's the thing... they don't. Kestrel doesn't. Even when he demands to be able to go to the city unsupervised whenever he wants, and demands 'house slave privileges' so he can memorize the layout of the general's house, Kestrel never suspects he is planning something. No clue. She simply says "okay" and goes back to staring at him. And she is supposed to be this brilliant strategist, the daughter of an army general? It was spelled out for her in neon: the rebellious slave wants revenge, he is performing reconnaissance in your own house and is definitely plotting to take the city, don't get distracted by his biceps!, and she's like "hmm, biceps." Good job, Kestrel.
As for the romance, what romance? Arin seems to genuinely loathe Kestrel, and not even in a passionate, tense way; he just seems to find her completely tiresome and uninteresting from the moment he meets her and spends a lot of the book avoiding her, walking away from her, or refusing to respond to her.
As for conflict, there was zero believable tension between anyone. There were some social rumors started and some terse words exchanged, but that's it. The danger, when it does crop up, is contrived and unconvincing, and over within a few minutes each time.
Irex (whose name I couldn't stop reading as T-Rex) could have been a great villain, but he was sidelined and then scared off by Kestrel threatening to spread a rumor about him. Yes, a rumor. Are we seriously expected to believe that a man who behaves the way he does would be cowed by the threat of an illegitimate child being revealed? That a man with an ego his size would agree to lose a duel to a small female rival in front of everyone? Come on. I would have loved if he said "that's nice, but everyone already knows I'm a scoundrel, so I don't care" and doubled down on his hate-lust for Kestrel and beat her in the duel, with consequences to follow. Instead, he surrenders without hesitation, throws the duel in her favor, and disappears.
I was sad to see T-Rex go, because he was the only character who interested me - if only for the potential I thought he had. The next time we see him, I believe, he is dead in a pile of bodies during the revolution. Lame.
Cheat (very subtle name for a traitor, btw) could have also been a good villain, but then he inexplicably tries to rape the heroine - which, okay, you have my attention, finally an actual bad guy who is actually behaving badly. But he is promptly stabbed by Arin. Like, within the same minute he reveals himself as an actual threat. There's some very subtle foreshadowing on the previous page between two characters who say "you know, I think Cheat is going to rape Kestrel," and then the next page there's the attempted rape, and then Cheat is dead on the next page, stabbed by Arin, who literally busts through a door like the Kool-Aid Man to save her. I hate when attempted rape of a female is used as a plot device for male character advancement, and in my estimation that happened for no reason other than to establish Arin as the badass "alpha" in the story, so I was disappointed in that.
Also, Arin is supposed to be this irredeemable monster because he is okay with Killing All Valorians to take back the city, but this is kind of a weak point when this turns into "All Valorians! ...except kids, and women to take care of those kids, and anyone you actually care about." Okay, considering the Valorian culture is comprised almost entirely of violent, warmongering slave-owners, I wasn't too torn up about this uprising against them. Kestrel's love interest and her best friend both survive the siege, and her dad, too. I believe only minor characters are killed off. Like the steward? Maybe some military officers we met one time? Rutkoski could have redeemed herself by creating some actual drama in killing off Jess and Ronan or her father or, you know, anyone she cared about, but no, they're fine. The core characters are all fine and totally unscathed and Kestrel has lost nothing. Oh, except she cut off her pretty blonde hair because she's so sad about being betrayed. If that counts. And no, she doesn't shave her head; she literally gives herself a shoulder-length bob and we're supposed to be shocked or something. Very important to stay sexy while suffering through an existential crisis, you know.
Lastly, this book definitely failed with respect to women characters. There were no powerful, competent woman characters in the main cast, except for Kestrel, which, well, that's debatable. And possibly a lady toward the end named Sardine (?) that I seem to remember. But she was painted as highly unlikable and possibly romantic competition for Arin despite being his cousin. All the major players were men. All the intelligence lay with men. All the power was held by men. All the forward motion came from men. I didn't care for it.
One book in this series has been enough for me.
In particular, Kestrel, the great strategist, spends most of the book sitting around waiting and complaining about her lot in life (whether it's a decision between becoming a soldier or marrying or doing nothing to save herself after she's made a prisoner) and never strategizing any solutions to her problems. She has brief moments of showing off her ability to strategize (best shown in how she competes in a duel), but for the most part is to too distracted by Arin to use this ability. It's Arin who succeeds most at plotting and picking up on his enemy's strengths in a way that helps drive the plot. So our female main character's one strength is overshadowed by the male love interest's ability to do the same.
I was also a little put off by how easily the audience was supposed to forgive Arin for taking part in the slaughtering of everyone Kestrel loves (and you know that if her dad was around, he wouldn't have blinked an eye in killing him too). Even as he was attempting to save her and they're sharing their first kiss, I'm thinking, "yeah, but what about her bestie, the other love interest, that nice guy who was helping her out...Arin's letting them die, *right now*" It's great to see the enslaved overcome their slavers, and revolutions of this sort often need bloodshed. However, the way it was presented, Arin was so narrow-focused and short-sighted, saving Kestrel but not considering how she would feel knowing that he had saved her but not her friends, not to mention taking her prisoner (though since she bought him as a slave, there is some poetic justice in that, at least).
I think that folks who are more into romances might enjoy this more, since it really does feel like a romance story with a revolution in the background. The first half is the slow burn to both of them realizing their feelings, and the second half is whether their relationship can weather Arin helping kill everyone Kestrel knows and taking her prisoner.
I was very satisfied with the ending to this one (some successes, some sacrifices for them both), and am happy to leave it there, but I know it is a trilogy, and I doubt those who were in it for the HEA romance would be satisfied.
I like that Kestral isn’t a soldier savant. I like that she has limits to her abilities. A lot of times, in YA, the leading lady is always really talented in everything and picks things up quickly. I liked that Kestral was different and was powerful because of her intelligence and cunning wisdom. I loved her place in the story. I loved Arin! I loved how he maintained his spirit and vigor throughout his enslavement. Their relationship is a beautiful one and I can’t wait to see what happens!
Top reviews from other countries
I story follows a high-ranking general’s daughter by the name of Kestrel. She is struggling to decide if she is to become a soldier like her father or a wife to high ranking blue blood. Kestrel and her farther live in a land that once belonged to another group. One of these people is a man named Arin a blacksmith who is currently for sale in the local slave market. Our lead characters meet when Kestrel stubbles in into the market and gets caught up in Arin’s auction. She wins by placing a large bid and wins. This large win in known as a Winner’s Curse (or you just paid too much for your bid). When Arin and Kestrel return to the general’s home she does not realise to has got more than she bargained for.
I read this one sitting, not something I normally do, but I am happy that I did. I enjoyed the authors writing style and the many twists and turns in the story. I would highly recommend.
The world building in this story is vast, yet it is so natural and does not feel forced. I liked the references that were made to the Greek/Roman culture, which made, for me, the world much easier to understand and visualise. Overall it made Kestral’s home seem so real, almost like we were reading about a far a way land.
The first part of the book felt a little slow as we had to deal with Kestral’s indecisiveness (and to be honest she was a bit of a pain) and Arin (or Smith, depending on where you are in the story) behaving, well not as he should. I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with him – he is not a very good slave. And then all the events seemed a little droll, there’s lots of balls and picnics and fun to be had. I only kept going because of the offerings of tantalising clues about what was to happen.
But then the second half picks this all up and the book completely changes tone. Everything that was mysterious in the first half suddenly makes sense and the political games start.
Torn between two sides, will the right decision be made? Will Kestral and Arin finally be together? I loved that both characters were flawed in how they handled situations, despite their strengths (both have brilliant minds and are good strategists), but also they both grow and develop as the story goes on.
Pretty much everything about The Winner’s Curse is perfect and I’m intrigued to see how the next book will turn out.
To read this novel, I first had to step out of my comfort zone. I'm not a big fantasy reader, and I wasn't sure how I'd find this book because of that, especially with it being categorised as 'high fantasy.' However, I am trying to broaden my bookish horizons, and so I picked this book up without really thinking about it, and just went ahead and started reading.
And I loved it.
The first thing I'd like to address, though, is that this is not a fantasy book. Granted, it's set in a fictional world, but that's where the fantastical side of this novel ends. (So, don't enter this novel expecting mythical creatures to come swooping onto the scene halfway through. You will be disappointed.) Frankly, The Winner's Curse is much richer than just fantasy; it's reminiscent, and unique, and flowery. Thus, I was happy to discover that I wasn't thrown too far out of my comfort zone this time.
In many ways, The Winner's Curse is much like George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones in that it orbits politics and tactics and wars to come. I really enjoyed this side of the book, as it was effortlessly interesting, and contributed to the deep and undeniable complexities of this book. I loved the way this book was like historical fiction, but in a complete other world. Marie Rutkoski addresses so many of the conflicts of our world's history, but with an exclusive, behind the scenes insight via Kestral and Arin's perspectives, and without the confines of one period in time.
In terms of writing, this novel is the pinnacle example of beautiful writing. Rutkoski takes her time with descriptions, and the world building displayed felt both effortless and wholly satisfying. I left this book feeling revitalised, like I'd just learnt something new, like I'd just had a history lesson I enjoyed. (That would be a first!)
In terms of characters, however, I did feel as though I was a little disconnected from our protagonist, Kestral. Whilst I loved how she differed from many of the current heroines in YA literature - she thinks with her head, not her fists, or her heart - it sometimes felt as though she was particularly aloof and detached. In short, there definitely wasn't a reader-narrator relationship like many form, not like in The Catcher in the Rye or The Book Thief, for instance.
However, similarly to The Catcher in the Rye, I've come to realise that this book is very love-or-hate within the bookish community. In spite of that, though, I strongly believe that if you stick with this book, you'll be able to reap the rewards. Frankly, the second half of this book is vastly superior to the former half. This only made room for world building, however, which I was not unhappy about for the latter half of the story, and as the action started to pick up.
Overall, despite this book taking me a surprisingly long time to read, I came away feeling as though I'd had a good experience with the book, as if I'd learnt something new, and as if I'd found a new book setting I enjoyed - historical-seeming fictional worlds. Thus, I awarded this novel 4/5 stars, and look forward to reading the following instalments to the series.
You get two different perspectives in the book, the main character Kestrel and the slave that she purchased Arin.
The development of Kestrel was great, she realised her strengths and used them to advantage and also allows herself to learn and to question right from wrong.
This book includes takes on such interesting/topical themes such as colonisation, slavery, tradition, rebellion and war. The main characters drive the plot and are intelligent in their own ways.
My one begrudge is the romantic relationship but nearer then end on the last few chapters it becomes far more interesting and the perceived conflict between the characters become more complex and you do start to route for them!
The book follows Kestrel, the widowed generals daughter, who must choose between joining the military and marriage. Neither of which Kestrel wants, she would prefer to concentrate on her love of music. She comes across Arin, a Herrani slave, whom she starts to have feeling for. There is more to Arin than Kestrel first realises, he is part of a rebellion to take back Herran, she doesn't see this coming and feels utterly betrayed. She has to decide what she wants more Arin's love or to remain true to her Valorian roots.
This book was a very quick read, things seemed to move forward rapidly. This made it a engrossing read, but, unfortunately, this was at the expense of world building and getting a deeper connection to the characters. Having said that this book had it all; teenage angst, forbidden love, rebellion and personal sacrifices. I enjoyed this read and will be reading the other books in the trilogy.