Title: The Winner’s Curse
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner’s Curse #1
Publication date: March 2014
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Length: 355 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance
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.
As you might have guessed from the title, I did not enjoy reading The Winner’s Curse. In fact, between the four main problems I had, and all the secondary issues, I’m struggling to see why people might like it.
- Kestrel as the main character and focus of the book
She did nothing??? Apart from buying the slave (whom I’ll be calling X because revealing his name is sort of a spoiler), and a few other scenes here and there, she spends most of her time angsting and talking. If I wanted to read about Bella Swan, I would’ve just reread Twilight.
There are aspects to her character that I liked (her ability to manipulate a situation to her advantage, the way she struck deals), but overall she was rather bland and such a dick sometimes. I mean you expect me to like a character who treats the Herrani like shit from the very beginning even though she’s supposed to be special, caring, and whatnot. Newsflash: Telling me she freed one slave and was nice to one slave doesn’t excuse her behaviour from the very beginning.
This line is from the very first scenes of the book:
‘we are not poor. We have no need of a gift from someone such as you’
It doesn’t get any better after this.
Basically, I have a lot of problems with Kestrel, but I firmly believe that the book could have been so much better if it had been centred on X and his struggles, rather than her whining and angsting.
- The use of slavery as little more than a way to set up a plot
So the Winner’s Curse is set in a world where slavery is ubiquitous, and it genuinely does affect the characters. The secondary characters that is, because X is hardly affected by this position beyond the first few of his chapters.
Actually, one of the things I really appreciated about the book was the mindset X is in during those first few chapters, because he’s genuinely treated like a slave in the reader’s eyes, so much so that he doesn’t even call himself by his own name. He is just a tool, a machine, little more than an animal in the way he perceives himself. But once his name is revealed, his entire demeanour changes and his status as a slave is rendered almost insignificant.
If anything, the whole slavery aspect felt like a convenient way to give the romance a forbidden feel, which didn’t do it any favours.
- The forced romance
Not only was there an unnecessary forbidden aspect to the romance, but the romance itself felt entirely forced on both Kestrel and X’s sides. I mean they have maybe one interaction before Kestrel decides that X is the only one who’s honest with her, and then it’s just downhill from there. The worst part is, the idea of ‘show don’t tell’ is entirely lost on this book since we’re only told of their many interactions rather than shown how they impact both of them.
Since their romance is pretty much what the entire plot revolves around, the fact that it was executed in a way that felt, at the very best, forced created a glaring problem in the book.
- The place of the climax within this book
You might be wondering what I mean by this. Well, the way The Winner’s Curse is set up everything culminates to a single event within the story which happens a little more than halfway through the book, which made everything that followed feel like it belonged in the sequel. Honestly speaking, the rest of the novel (about 40%, mind you) had little to no build-up to it, which made it feel both out of nowhere and entirely flat (admittedly, the fact that the book goes from an action-filled climax to more of Kestrel whining and angsting probably didn’t help my opinion of it much, either).
Since I read this book as part of Hype or Like Friday, my verdict is it was all hype. I don’t see why it’s so well-loved across the blogosphere, and I very much doubt I’ll be continuing with the series after this.
If you’ve read The Winner’s Curse, does it get any better?