Author: Marie Rutkoski
Series: Winner's Trilogy (Book 1)
Publication: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (March 4, 2014)
Description: 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.
My Thoughts: THE WINNER'S CURSE is deserving of all the hype that has been surrounding its release. It is a well-written, engaging fantasy filled with well-rounded characters. The two main characters are Lady Kestrel, daughter of the conquering general, and Arin, a slave and one of the conquered.
It hasn't been long since the Herrani were conquered - about ten years. The Valorians under the leadership of Kestral's father General Trajan have taken over the country and made the citizens slaves. This is perfectly natural and normal to Kestrel. It is the system that she has grown up with. She isn't personally cruel to slaves and, in fact, loves the Herrani nurse who raised her after the death of her mother.
Valorian girls either join the Army or marry. Kestrel doesn't have out of the ordinary skills with weapons but she is an able strategist. She is also quite able to read people and knows how to manipulate them. Kestrel also has a strong musical gift and loves playing the piano despite the fact that such skill is not valued by her culture. She is a realistic blend of naive young woman and astute strategist. She wants her father's approval but doesn't want to follow the path he's laid out for her.
When the story begins, Kestrel finds herself at a slave auction with her friend Jess and finds herself bidding on a young man. Arin is a smith but also is being advertised as a singer. Something about him appeals to Kestrel and she pays a good price for him. She sees something in his defiance at the auction that reminds her of her defiance of her father's wishes.
The two gradually come to know each other when he serves as the escort that every young Valorian woman must have and when they play her favorite strategy game together. But Arin has secrets that could upset the whole of Kestrel's life. He is one of the leaders of the Herrani plot to retake their own lands, slaughter the Valorians, and regain their freedom. But that doesn't mean that Arin wants Kestrel to die. The two fall in love despite their vastly different social positions and despite the fact that they are on different sides in the upcoming war. And despite the fact that they both know they should not be in love.
The story is divided into two parts. In the first, the Valorians are in control and Arin is Kestrel's slave. In the second, the Herrani retake their country and Kestrel becomes Arin's spoils of war. It gives Kestrel a new viewpoint about her empire's goals.
This is a fantasy novel without magic. The cultures seem to me to be loosely based on the Romans (Valorians) and the Greeks (Herrani). I see this as happening late in the time of the Roman Empire when it had expanded too far to keep control of all its conquests and when the Roman ideals of honor and service had eroded as well into just lip service to the ideal. Kestrel becomes an object of gossip when people believe that she has taken Arin for a lover but only because she wasn't discreet. The Senator's and Senator's wives in her social circle are consumed with gossip, taking lovers, are scheming for power.
This is the first book in a trilogy. I can't wait to find out what comes next for Arin and Kestrel.
He shot her a wry, sidelong look. "A kestrel is a hunting hawk."I got this ARC from Macmillan in a really cool slipcase. You can buy your copy of the book here.
"Yes. The perfect name for a warrior girl."
"Well." His smile was slight, but it was there. "I suppose neither of us is the person we were believed we would become."