Author: Marie Rutkoski
Genre: AWESOME, YA, Fantasy
Publication Date: March 4, 2014 (Macmillan – North America)
Source: Publisher-provided ARC
Summary: 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.
☆: 4.5/5 stars – I NEED BOOK TWO NOW.
Review: While this one started off kind of slow, “The Winner’s Curse” is one of those books that sneaks up on you and won’t let go until the very last page. It’s almost a remarkable leap when compared to “The Shadow Society” in terms of nearly every technical area of writing. Plus, you have a wonderful high fantasy/political intrigue that would make George R R Martin quite proud. “The Winner’s Curse” is definitely one of my favorites of 2014 so far, and for good reason. I’m definitely hungering for that next book. NOW.
Where to start? As I said in my intro, things do start a bit on the slow side (Kestrel wandering through the market after her winnings, and the idea of the Winner’s Curse is explained), but shortly after that? Wow. I mean, only mere pages after that. As every writer knows, the main aim when you’re writing a book, is to set the hook (as in, the thing that makes you keep reading) within the first sentence of the book. And if not in that first sentence, at least in that first chapter. Rutkoski does wonderfully here, and even at the ARC stage of things? This book’s prose is like Kestrel’s knife – wickedly sharp and finely honed, and feels like a final edition. This does not feel like the same author of “The Shadow Society”. She’s truly matured as a writer, and as a reader, that’s a really wonderful thing to see.
I think where Rutkoski has matured the most is in the worldbuilding area. This book is very rich with backstory and sensory imagery/language, to the point where it felt as if I were really there. For fans of “A Song of Ice and Fire”, I think you might find the worldbuilding here much like the books in that series. Which is pretty impressive – YA’s been trying to do a tamer version of that series for awhile, and the only series that has gotten close has been Sarah J. Maas’ “Throne of Glass” series. So here’s a second one for fans of George R R Martin – there’s lots of politics in this one, and while there’s no magic (maybe that’ll be fixed in the next book?), there’s a very strong flavor of invasion, politics, and strong women leading just like in his books. Which pleased me very, very much.
Then there’s Kestrel and Arin. The two richest characters of the book, though the rest of the main cast was very well filled out and felt very 3D and real – but Kestrel and Arin take the cake. I love the authenticity of their relationship as it builds throughout the book – no instalove here, folks. Everyone, though, felt very layered, complicated, and generally just real. The only character I wish had gotten a little more screen time/backstory was Kestrel’s father, but since this looks like it’s going to be a trilogy, I’m hoping that will happen in the next book. There’s been improvement here, too, in this technical area, though the overwhelming change was in worldbuilding as a whole.
The plot, too, just still won’t let go of me. If anything, I want to read it again. It was well crafted and thought out, very carefully put together. I don’t know how long it took Rutkoski to write this book (and sell it, and edit it), but it feels like something she’s been working on for awhile, or something she’s been planning for awhile. Every plot point that was important went off without a hitch, advanced the story, and at no point in time did I feel like there was any space wasted, or any wandering away from the main plot. It took my breath away – especially the ending. And it just made me hungry for more.
Final verdict? This is the book you want to read in terms of fantasy and politics for 2014. Trust me. “The Winner’s Curse” is out from Macmillan Children’s March 4, 2014 in North America, so be sure to check it out then!