The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski – Review

Kestrel is a general’s daughter, living in a huge empire where her life is confined to two options- marriage or war. In this empire, war is something which is desired rather than feared, and comes hand in hand with slavery. One day, out of the blue, she decides to buy a slave, Arin, who she feels somehow drawn to. She begins to fall in love with Arin, however this costs her more than she could have imagined and she is soon dragged into a different life than the one laid out for her- but maybe not the one she hoped for.

This book was pretty underwhelming to begin with. I was drawn in, the first few chapters kind of set up the book positively, in a way that makes you interested to read on but not like a load of information is being thrown at you. I’m glad that at least to start with there was enough happening to keep you involved. Sadly though, after that there was a considerable drop in the amount of motivation I had to read on. There must have been more than 3 games of Bite and Sting. Ok, the first game was a bit of fun to read about, and at that point I was interested enough in the relationship between Kestrel and Arin to see how their game together would play out. But please, that is enough. I think it was just a way to satisfy the reader’s curiosity about certain questions (Kestrel and Arin played to win the answers for any questions of their choice), and personally I think the author could have been a bit more imaginative in regard to how she conveyed that information to the reader. Also, that love triangle was not enough to keep the first 3 quarters going to be honest.

Another thing, before I move on to something more positive- the music element of the book annoyed me. Not the actual presence of music in the book (I love music and I am always happy to see characters also have this interest) but just the accuracy when talking about it. At one point, Arin hands her a piece of sheet music for flute, but for Kestrel to play on piano, and says “It’ll probably take you time to transpose it to piano”. Now, I play the flute. I can tell you for certain that flute music would not have to be transposed for piano, as they are both pitched at C. I understand that this is a small detail and not at all important to the story overall, but honestly it irritated me so much, and I just think that the author should have checked these things. As Sherlock would say, “do your research!”

Now for something positive: the last quarter. I really liked how things were going by the end of this book, I felt like the plot was getting more complex than a simple love triangle, and I could see how this could be continued in the next two books to make a storyline which is a lot more satisfying and has more at stake. This aspect definitely boosted my opinion of the novel although I admit I didn’t feel fully invested in it when stuff finally started happening. By the end of the book, I felt like the whole thing was just setting up what is to come. I’m undecided about whether this is a good thing or not…It made for a book that was hard to entirely care about, but then again it also makes for curiosity about the next instalments in the trilogy and also a feeling that you know and maybe even understand the characters a bit more ready for the rest of the story. I suppose this is all speculation, the rest of the trilogy might be completely underwhelming! I have heard good things though…comment with your opinion on how the trilogy progresses if you have read the other two books!

One more aspect I wanted to mention was how women were presented in the novel. I liked how there was a fair amount of equality, at least compared to a lot of YA high fantasy. I find that a lot of authors feel like they need to add a level of sexism in the world they are creating in order to make it historically accurate if they are trying to create a vibe of a certain historical period. I personally don’t understand why this is always needed- surely if it is a fantasy novel then it doesn’t have to be totally historically accurate, although I understand it may be necessary for the story they want to tell. However, I found it refreshing to have a YA fantasy that was loosely inspired by ancient Rome (??? this was my interpretation, correct me if I am wrong) yet didn’t include this element. But there was an event (I won’t mention because spoilers) which went against this and I didn’t feel was necessary, and I think I should clarify that there certainly wasn’t complete equality between men and women, just more than in some other YA fantasy.

I am hesitant to recommend this one and I feel like I can’t entirely judge it without reading  the rest of the trilogy and considering how well it sets up things. This is because that is what I felt this book was for- setting up what is to come, and I felt it didn’t really stand out alone. The pacing was off, the love triangle I could bear, but it just wasn’t enough alone to carry my interest forward. However, the last quarter gave me a taste of what is to come- and it sounds good.

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