Saturday, February 14, 2015

Book Review: The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Series: The Winner's Trilogy Book #1
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: 4th March 2014
Read Date: 3rd February 2015
Tagged Under: 2015 read, 3, fantasy, YA-fiction, book review

Book 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 could ever have imagined.

Book Review [Spoiler Free]

The Winner's Curse came to me highly recommended and I must admit, when I read the synopsis, I was very much looking forward to a fantasy YA novel. The plot sounds promising and already, my mind is filled with the potential paths this novel could take us down.

The series is set in the land of the Valori, an all-conquering empire very much like the expanding Greek empire in the days of Alexander the Great. It follows the day-to-day life of the Valori General's seventeen year old daughter, Kestrel, who is keen to stay under the radar and avoid one of the two outcomes that is expected of her by the age of twenty-one: join the army or get married.

Kestrel's life changes forever on the day when a Herrani slave up for auction catches her attention. Against all logic, Kestrel buys the slave at an exorbitant amount of money in her determination to buy him. But who is exactly is Arin? How high a price is Kestrel actually paying? And is Kestrel about to suffer the fate of the winner's curse?

There is no denying that Marie Rutkoski is a more than competent writer. The general prose of the novel, the sharply sculptured dialogue, the well-described settings - everything makes this novel easy and pleasant to read. The world is beautiful, and makes me think of fantasy, dystopian and historical all at the same time. It is very easy to visualise everything. The history leading up to the present events is also very well set-up and scattered throughout the story, not just info-dumped. All in all, the written words sets the novel up very nicely.

In addition, Kestrel stands out from the usual protagonists that I'm used to reading in similar genre books. She's quiet, observant, and uses her mind like a weapon. She understands her weaknesses yet is able to manoeuvre herself into a winning position. 

However, despite all the positive things I like about this novel, I struggled to connect with the protagonists and the storyline for the majority of the book. The chemistry between the pair, to me at least, fails to light up. And when the main focus of the book is on it, it leaves the story with a lot of house visits, parties, and conversations - not as action-packed or intriguing as I was imagining it to be when I began the book. Then, by the time the action finally does pick up, it is a case of too little, too late. 

Overall: 3/5

There are elements of the novel I enjoyed but overall, I just didn't feel the chemistry between the main protagonists and because of that, I didn't really connect with the book as much as I would have liked. However, the story is intriguing enough that I'm looking forward to giving the second book - the Winner's Punishment - a go. 

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