I received this book for free from Publisher, Purchased in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Narrator: Justine Eyre
Length: 8 hrs and 24 mins
Series: The Winner's Trilogy #1
Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux for Young Readers, Listening Library on March 11th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Source: Publisher, Purchased
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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.
A year ago when I first heard about The Winner’s Curse, it was during the Fierce Reads tour where I had an opportunity to interview a few MacKids authors, including Marie Rutkoski. It was a lot of fun and remains one of my favorite interviews I’d ever conducted. I really enjoyed The Shadow Society, Marie’s YA debut novel, and loved her writing style, so I knew I’d be more than eager to check out any of her future works. I asked what she and the other authors where working on and she mentioned The Winner’s Curse, which I mistakenly called in my mind “The Winter’s Curse.” When she explained the premise, I was instantly intrigued. Later, when Kat and I were offered the opportunity to be early readers, we were both honored and delighted but, admittedly, hesitant. A novel exploring a relationship between slave and master can only go one of two ways: really awful or amazingly well. And for us, there’s always that fear of disliking a book written by an author you like personally.
Our fears were unnecessary.
I remember it being well after midnight when Kat texted me saying she had finished the book. In one sitting. The same day we received it. She immediately demanded that I finish so we could gush. Gush? That was all the incentive I needed to carve out a few hours of the next day for reading. Me, being the slow reader that I am, sat reading all day and into the night. When I finished, it was late, my house was quiet and I was alone on my couch. It was the perfect opportunity to have a good cry. Kat and I FaceTimed and chatted about our favorite parts, swooned over Arin, admired Kestrel’s tenacity and wit, discussed the intricately woven theme of Bite and Sting, fangirled over Marie’s prose and cried together over the heartbreaking ending because parting from this book and characters was such sweet sorrow.
We knew this book was special so we did what any self-professed book nerd would do when they read an amazing book: We leveled up to Book Pushers and, as Gillian from Writer of Wrongs would say, started flinging this book at any and all of our blogger friends’ faces. Many of them have loved it just as much as we did and have reviewed it to the point where I’m not sure what else I could say about it. So here I am, a year later, after reading The Winner’s Curse twice and listening to the audiobook. Anyone who’s chatted with me over the years would know that I don’t re-read books at all. I don’t have the time or usually the inclination, but I made time for this one because it really did a number on the feels, yo.
I’m going to give you five reasons why you should read this book and even consider giving the audio a chance.
1. The narrator, Justine Eyre
One word, guys: BOSS. The accent that she did was fantastic. It really put me in the rich setting of the Valorian society. My reality faded away as I listened to her describe the clothing, the buildings and the people. She has this gritty quality to her voice, that perhaps may turn some off, but for me it was perfect. It held so much emotion, especially when she did the dialog for Arin. When he talked to Kestrel, I could feel his heart breaking, his sorrow, his regrets, his resolve wavering. And when she did Kestrel, I could feel her resolve, her uncertainty, her sadness, her wavering loyalty between Arin and her people.
I was really, really surprised with it because I’m picky when it comes to narrators. Everyone knows a narrator can make or break an audiobook, and for me, Justine Eyre enhanced a novel I already loved. In fact, I come out feeling like I loved the audio slightly more than the print.
2. Arin & Kestrel’s relationship
This isn’t your usual romance. Theirs is a complex love that doesn’t blossom overnight — yay, no instalove! — but it also sneaks up on you in a way. You get a sense that they have grown fond or used to each other, but you don’t know if or when it’s ever going to manifest into something else until it does. The problem comes with the issue of slavery. While they have these feelings for each other, the question remains on if it’s real if the other doesn’t have the true freedom to choose. Can you really love your master? They both know that a relationship between them won’t be true unless they are both equal. Unfortunately for them, neither of their societies don’t see them as such.
What I really loved about the book was that even though at the heart of the story it’s a romance, neither Arin or Kestrel allows their relationship to dominate their common sense. In the midst of their feelings, there’s a war and it is a very real threat. Both have high stakes in this game of love and war: family members, friends, loyalty to one’s country. It’s complicated. It’s not so easy for them to run away from their responsibilities to be with each other, and that’s what makes their relationship so fascinating and complex. There’s no right or wrong answer and, as a reader, it makes it more unpredictable.
3. The Setting
I love how The Winner’s Curse feels both Fantasy and Historical at the same time. The women wear gowns equipped with daggers, are allowed to fight in the army and have influence. The society lives for lavish balls, duels, high social gatherings and gossip. They are in no way technologically advanced since they rely on lanterns and horse or boat travel. It’s one of those books where I’m not exactly sure what genre it would fall under. Let’s shelve it on the Awesome Shelf, shall we? Because that’s essentially what it is and that’s the only thing that matters to me.
If you’ve read other reviews that mention the world building a little lacking, it’s true. However, this did not bother me and I think it’s less apparent with the audio version. I got such a great feel for the culture, that didn’t get a sense that I was missing anything. It seems to me, based on how The Winner’s Curse ended, that that’ll be elaborated more in books 2 and 3. So I’m not too worried in that respect. There’s was enough going on without having the geographical locations of all cities thrown into the mix.
Kestrel isn’t your usual heroine. She’s not a Katniss or a Rose or even a Tris because she’s not a fighter. That’s not to say she is weak by any means, but she’s different. She, instead, is one of the smartest heroines I’ve read about. What she lacks in fighting skills, she more than makes up with her mind. She is sharp and even her father, a high official in the army, notices her tactical mind. He urges her to enlist and use her talents to help her country. However, Kestrel doesn’t have any interest in joining the army and is faced with marrying, another choice she dreads making.
One of my favorite scenes with Kestrel involves a duel that she wins not by strength, but with strategy. She’s cunning and the type of character you’d want in a game of chess. Or if the zombie apocalypse came, Kestrel would be the one to come up with the plan to get to the safe house. She might not do you any good protection wise, but the plan would be solid.
She’s also fiercely determined. Kestrel knew her limitations, but still, she didn’t let that stop her from her goal. She would find unique ways around her problems that didn’t require brute strength or violence.
5. The Pier Scene
The first half of the novel may read slow to some, but then you hit the climax and everything from then on is pretty fast paced. It’s where Arin and Kestrel’s feelings for one another truly shine through despite the problems that arise. The tables turn and Kestrel finally understands Arin better, and because of what Arin went through for years, he doesn’t want the same for her. And the feels, the feels, the feels!
The Pier Scene, and even the one before when Arin sings to Kestrel, was easily my favorite scene in the book. I don’t even think there is much dialogue at that part, but wow. When Arin looks at Kestrel with that longing and she him with want, but resolve. It really emphasized how complex things were for them and it was so hard for me to read. I wanted one thing, but NHFHDJDBJFBFLFKDMGVDJBHJJVH!!!!!
Man, spoilers, I tell ya. I can say no more! But by the end it was like my soul was hurting from the emotional turmoil. Marie, why did you make me feel these things?
It’s no secret I loved this book, guys. I’m not sure what else to say but: THIS BOOK, READ IT.
Marie has generously donated three copies of The Winner’s Curse audiobook. Two will be given away here on this post and the other will be donated to Little Bloggers, Big Ambitions. They are also signed!
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