The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski
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.
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. (Goodreads)
Kestrel is the daughter of a powerful general in an empire that’s been built on the backs of the slaves from whom they’ve stolen homes, lives, and freedom. She’s been given a choice to marry or become a soldier–something her father desires–and Kestrel wants neither.
At a salve auction Kestrel purchases Arin, a young man defiant of her culture, bitter at what he and his people have lost at the hands of those who enslave him. Yet Kestrel and Arin form an unlikely bond; they become friends (and it’s scandalous because many people assume they’re lovers). What Kestrel doesn’t know is that Arin was placed in her home with direct intention. He’s more than she ever expected and he has great secrets that could destroy the only world she’s ever known, and tear apart the delicate trust they’ve built.
I know so many people LOVE this book. And there is so much I liked about it, but it was a very, very slow start. It took me so long to connect with Kestrel and Arin, and even longer to believe in their bond. In fact, I’m not sure I ever truly bought that element of the story. There was a real shortage of romance in this story (which is okay, except that I’m supposed to believe that at some point they fall in love. What I saw was that they fell in like. I saw that they had a preference for one another.
On the other hand, the set up of the Valorian society and its oppression of the Hernani people is beautifully plotted. It is such a richly told element of the story. The conflicts, the tension, the demands both of society and Kestrel and Arin’s loyalties (loosely used term), which often puts them at odds with their own people, helps push the story forward. The last third of the book was very good and while I wasn’t totally in love, I would definitely like to see where to story goes from here.
Crush Intensity: 3.75/5
Thank you to Farrar Strauss Giroux for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.