Review: The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Published: March 4th, 2014 by Farrar Straus Giroux

Synopsis: Winning what you want may cost you everything 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 paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

To be honest, I was a little apprehensive to start this book, mainly because of the first sentence of its description. Contrary to the Goodreads description (seen above), the first sentence of my copy's description is, "They were never meant to be together."

My first impression was, "Great. This is going to be a flimsy YA fantasy with a little bit of plot and a whole lot of angst."

Thankfully, I was proven wrong...for the most part.

The Good

As for the characters, I was pleasantly surprised to find a female protagonist that is strong, independent, and intelligent. Even though she's a little angsty at times, Kestrel is very sure of herself; she doesn't care what other people think of her, but she isn't rude or flippant about it. Unlike a lot of female protagonists, she thinks in a very analytical way, usually choosing to strategize and even manipulate in order to what needs to be done.

The plot and setting were both pretty solid, with a typical fantasy setup. I was glad to find that there was a good foundation set up for the plot, which featured a mix of political and societal intrigue that will hopefully unfold further in the next two books. It was also pretty interesting to learn about the cultural and religious differences between the Spartan-esque nation of Valoria and the milder Herran people. As a whole, there were a lot of questions that I wanted to be answered, but it was just enough to keep me wanting more of this trilogy.

The Bad

Let's talk about Arin for a bit, shall we?

As the aloof but secretly vulnerable love interest with a strong will (and equally strong biceps, probably), he was kind of a YA stereotype. He was almost perfect, and the few flaws he did have seemed forced. Even though Arin is a bit cliche, he wasn't terribly annoying, and I've definitely read male protagonists that are more generic than him. However, I think he had a little more potential as a character and I hope we'll see that play out in the future. I also found the supporting characters (namely, Kestrel's friends) to be pretty bland. It seemed like they were there for Kestrel's development, and outside of that, they served little to no purpose.

The timeline of the story was definitely something I struggled with. Every few chapters, the plot suddenly skipped weeks or even a month in advance, making it hard to keep up.

Like I said earlier, there were a lot of unanswered questions introduced throughout the book. Since The Winner's Curse is only the first book, I can understand that too an extent, but I would have liked to learn more about what actually caused the Herran War and the tension that led up to it.

The Gist

Generally, this was an entertaining book that introduced a decent plot and (mostly) likable characters. Even though I don't think it lived up to the hype, I enjoyed The Winner's Curse and look forward to reading the next book. If you're a teenager who likes YA fantasy with a romantic influence, I'd recommend this book to you.

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

Indoor Sojourner
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