Something for the weekend!
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Title: The Winner’s Curse
Release date: 10th of April 2014
Series: The Winner’s Trilogy #1
Reading level: FICTION – JUVENILE: Historical, Romance
Published by: Bloomsbury Children’s
Pages: 369 in Kindle e-book format
Source: Bought from Amazon.com for Kindle
Kestrel lives the lavish lifestyle of a Valorian General’s only daughter, and such riches come at a cost for Valoria’s captives – and for her. As the Herrani face death or slavery, Kestrel’s destiny is shaped by her father. He gives her two choices: join his army or get married. Desperate to realise her own future and knowing that it will invite scandal, she pays a small fortune for a handsome Herrani blacksmith at a slave auction. Arin not only plays Kestrel’s power games, he understands what she needs and soon she is torn between loyalty to her people and her feelings for him. But Arin is not all he seems and Kestrel will learn that the price she paid for him is much higher than she ever could have imagined.
The first novel in a stunning new trilogy, The Winner’s Curse is a story of romance, rumours and rebellion, where dirty secrets and careless alliances can be deadly – and everything is at stake.
I’ve read so much praise for this book long before it was even released and since the plot sounded intriguing, I decided to give it a shot as well. But, I have to admit that due to all this, strongly put, worship for this book, I was a tad bit disappointed. I guess it’s the usual being-underwhelmed-syndrome after something is hyped to the skies. Nevertheless, this story is without a doubt very well written and plotted, but… yeah.
Let’s have the cons out of the way first. Small rant ahead regarding my impression of Kestrel – beware!:
I wasn’t too fond of her. While I could understand her reasoning and would probably react the same way, as a reader looking in from the outside (double standard? Probably, I’m not perfect), her attitude towards the Herrans trying to claim their freedom irritated me. She gave the impression that she took them being slaves quite calmly and that it was natural or something irrelevant (not to bother her pretty head over). The Herrani wanting their independence back and cease being slaves in their own land was an annoyance and they should be content to stay as they are. Valorians could conquer, kill people and that made them great and brilliant strategists and warriors, and seemed to be fine, but the Herrani killing their oppressors and fighting was something to punish and incomprehensible. It’s just the impression she gave me and be it truly her beliefs or not, she didn’t get much sympathy regarding that from me. They hadn’t been slaves for decades or hundreds of years, but something that happened something ten years ago, so how could she just assume that they wanted this to continue (when clearly remembering how things were before) and be so offended when Arin supposedly betrayed her? I also didn’t like her negative attitude for the Herrani in general, at times I felt that she saw their culture as a lot inferior whereas I got the impression that they were quite highly cultured and at times more refined than Valorians. I understand that her understanding and views were due to her nationality and people, but still. Having more sympathy for the Herrani, I of course, rooted for Arin and to me the actual “villain” (or anti-hero), if you can call it like that, is Kestrel. I guess I simply have issues with big and strong countries trampling little ones just because they can and the mentality that it creates within the victors.
The romance was slightly underwhelming as well, Arin fell too quickly and Kestrel’s behavior just confused me overall (she was quite an erratic person). Nevertheless, it didn’t bother me that much, but the romance kind of lacked an itty bit of something more.
And now for the better stuff:
The storyline is certainly unique in some ways or at least I haven’t read anything similar, but then again, I don’t really read any historical/dystopian (this story is difficult to categorize) YA to begin with so I’m not an expert. You have these ultimate star-crossed lovers in a world that seems like it could be a place somewhere in our history, but clearly isn’t. There is a taste of epicenes with the plot and scale of the world created. It definitely has wonderful world-building without being too detailed or overwhelming.
I was simply exciting to follow and see what will happen next, there were obvious conflicts looming over the characters all the time, but how they would unravel and where it would end up was thrilling. For example, the ending I didn’t expect at all and I have no ideas how things will progress from then on. It certainly won't be boring!
The constant strategy talk and the battles made the story more juicy and emotional, things were shown instead of told. The book cames across quite realistic as well, because there were casualties amongst the main characters, there were injuries, etc – it wasn’t a “magic land” where no one ever gets seriously hurt, at least among the main characters, which in itself is completely illogical, especially in this book, due to the setting (but I’ve come across this in too many times).
Regarding the characters, Arin was definitely my favorite, I like underdogs and he with his people were the ultimate underdogs in this. Of course, I would root for them and find Arin tormented and conflicted yet so brave and loyal. And despite my general unhappiness with Kestrel, she was a better and substantial heroine than the majority of Mary Sues I read about. She was actually smart, logical, perceptive and collected. I liked them dancing around each other, changing who has the upper hand with every move.
Despite my issues with Kestrel, the story itself is great, exciting and original. I totally get the praise it gets and I think it deserves it to some degree, but personally, it didn’t impress me as much as I was expecting or hoping. Still, it’s worth four stars and that should say everything.