The Winner’s Curse
by Marie Rutkoski
Book 1 in The Winner’s Trilogy
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux in 2014
I’ve had The Winner’s Curse on my radar for a long time (thanks to many great reviews from fellow bloggers). While I’m sure most of you are familiar with this one, The Winner’s Curse is a YA fantasy novel set in a fictional world inspired by antiquity (the Romans conquering the Greeks). The book’s protagonist is Kestrel, a young aristocratic woman with a talent for strategy and a not-so-secret love for music. When she comes of age next year, Kestrel will be forced to make a decision: join the military or marry another aristocrat. Neither appeal to Kestrel, who enjoys her independence far too much to agree to either, though she eventually must.
After stumbling into a slave market one day, she finds herself unexpectedly bidding on a slave– Arin. Kestrel and Arin strike up a tentative friendship, despite the fact that he is her slave, and their friendship eventually turns into a forbidden love. Neither Kestrel nor Arin act on their feelings. Relationships between owners and slaves are heavily frowned upon in society, and Kestrel finds herself involved in more than a few scandals as a result of her purchase.
The Winner’s Curse is a fast-paced page-turner filled with courtly intrigue, scandal, and politics. The world building is solid, with Rutkoski tempering the romantic aspects of the novel with more action, upping the personal and political stakes of each character as she goes. When the moments between Kestrel and Arin starts to get too sappy, Rutkoski snaps us back to harsh reality; she focuses on political maneuverings, balls, rebellions, duty, and culture. Arin and Kestrel’s world is one where actions have very real and undesirable consequences. In The Winner’s Curse, “love” doesn’t solve everything. In fact, it just makes things more complicated.
The Winner’s Curse ends with a cliffhanger, but is a great first entry that is definitely worthy of the hype. I can’t wait to pick up the first sequel, The Winner’s Crime.