Monday, March 10, 2014

Review: The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Release date: March 4, 2014
Author info: Website | Twitter | Facebook
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux (BYR)
Pages: 355
Format: ARC
Source: Won
Buy the book: Barnes & Noble | Amazon | The Book Depository
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. 

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.
Sometimes you pick up books you know you're going to love. From the title to the cover to the synopsis to the first sentences, the book just screams your name. That was The Winner's Curse for me. The hype didn't matter one bit, nor did any other person's review. From the first sentence to the final word, I was wholly absorbed in Kestrel and Arin's world, feeling and fighting right alongside them.

In an exploration of honor, duty, and loyalty pitted against love, we meet Kestrel and Arin. Kestrel is the daughter of the empire's general. Like all young people, Kestrel much choose between entering the military and marriage by her twentieth year. She is smart and talented at strategy, but nothing eclipses Kestrel's love for playing the piano. Stuck in a choice she refuses to make, Kestrel bides her time until the choice is forced, growing bored and unsatisfied with her privileged life. Everything changes, though, when she purchases a slave who reportedly can sing, Arin. Defiant and strong-willed, Arin's questioning of their world incites a curiosity and a desire in Kestrel that she didn't know existed. The two are at a constant battle of wills, subtly but definitely changing one another's view of the other's people and the delicate balance they live in, but slowly forming an irrefutable bond of loyalty and love that is slow-burning yet satisfying.

It's important to note that the obviously delicate subject of a slave-master relationship is very respectfully handled, both with sensitivity towards the idea of slavery being an institution to begin with and towards the worry of a master taking advantage of his/her slave.

The world the two live in is gorgeously rendered, and very clearly inspired by Greek and Roman tradition, with sumptuous details that quietly inform your imagination. Between descriptions of dresses, foods, customs, practices, and homes, the world of The Winner's Curse is formed before your eyes. The story starts off slowly, working to create this world, and picks up pace as you go on, so patience is rewarded.

Plotting, machinations, assassinations, battles, and poisonings all ensue, and the ending will leave you breathless, begging for more. A hero and a heroine who aren't afraid to make the tough choices, even when they will potentially change them for the worst, even at the expense of the one person they love, but all for the good of their people. The Winner's Curse is the novel you likely won't stop hearing about this year, and it's well-deserved.

About the author:

Marie Rutkoski is the author of the YA novel The Shadow Society and the children's fantasy series The Kronos Chronicles, including The Cabinet of Wonders, The Celestial Globe and The Jewel of the Kalderash. Her next project is a YA trilogy that begins with The Winner's Curse, which is scheduled to be published in March 2014.

Marie grew up in Bolingbrook, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago), as the oldest of four children. She holds a BA from the University of Iowa and a PhD from Harvard University. Marie is currently a professor at Brooklyn College, where she teaches Renaissance Drama, children's literature and fiction writing. She lives in New York City with her husband and two sons.

Recommended listening:

I'm trying this out, for those who might be interested! This is what I listened to while I read, and I found it really set the mood well, even as the time period doesn't match. (I'd love to hear if you want to see more recommended music to accompany books!)

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