Review: The Winner’s Curse

Posted January 18, 2016

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Winner’s Curse The Winner's Curse Series: The Winner's Trilogy
Published by Bloomsbury Genres: YA Fantasy, Fantasy
Source: Publisher

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.

Prior to reading this book I wasn’t familiar with the concept of the “winner’s curse”. Rutkoski describes in her Author’s Note what the “winner’s curse” actually is, so I think that’s a pretty good place to start.

Quite simply, it describes how the winner of an auction has also lost, because he or she has won by paying more than what the majority of bidders have decided the item is worth.

Lady Kestrel is the daughter of General Trajan, a famed Valorian military leader, under whose direction the Valorian army conquered the country of Herran some ten years ago. The Herrani people were enslaved and the Valorians claimed their properties and lands.

Lady Kestrel has lived in one such conquered property, a Herrani villa for these past 10 years. Following her mother’s death, Kestrel was raised by a Herrani nurse. Her father expects her to join the military, to use her apparent aptitude for military strategy to the benefit of the Empire. Should she refuse she will be married. Those are her choices – the military or wedlock.

One day Kestrel is in the city with her close friend Jess. They happen across a slave auction for the sale of a young man, Smith. Before she knows what she is doing she is bidding for this slave who had captured her attention. In her determination to win Smith she dramatically increases her bids – finally paying a huge amount for this young man… hence “the winner’s curse”.

Smith is taken to her estate. He is a blacksmith (hence his name) and is put to work in the forge. Over time though Kestrel finds herself drawn to the company of this curious, hateful young man. She discovers his real name – Arin, and has Arin accompany her as her guard when outwith the villa.

The continued presence of Arin at Kestrel’s side, coupled with the inordinate price she paid for him, leads to rumours within the society. When Kestrel fights a duel to protect Arin these rumours escalate to a whole new level.

While Kestrel has come to think of Arin as a friend, she is unaware of his background, of who he really is and how he’s using the information Kestrel is unwittingly feeding him. The thing is though that while Arin has a mission of his own, he gradually develops his own feelings for Lady Kestrel.

I had seen a lot of talk of this series on Twitter and various blogs. It was one of those books that I really wanted to read but was worried that it might not live up to my high expectations. Bloomsbury kindly sent me a copy of this book so that I could catch up with the series before the third book in the Trilogy, The Winner’s Kiss, is released in March – and I’m so glad they did!

I was captured by the world and Kestrel herself from the outset. While this is a fictional world, Rutkoski has drawn inspiration from antiquity. I didn’t realise this was the case as I was reading but I felt a very Roman feel about the Valorians, and indeed Rutkoski cites the Greco-Roman period as her inspiration.

While the characters in the novel are themselves interesting, it is the relationships between them that enhanced their stories for me. Kestrel, who wants to meet her father’s high expectations of her, but who also wants her own life. Jess, who has a true friendship with Kestrel, but also the desire to see her brother Ronan take Kestrel for his wife.

As for the relationship between Kestrel and Arin, this is the main relationship which develops continuously throughout the novel. The relationship between a mistress and her slave, a Valorian and a Herrani, two would-be enemies who progress from hatred to friendship…and perhaps back again?

There’s so much I enjoyed in this book. The relationships, the world, the customs, the war, the history, the fighting, the lies, the betrayals, the love…there’s a bit of everything!

Now that I’ve closed the back cover I’m desperate to read the second book, The Winner’s Crime. I’m so glad I don’t have  too long to wait for the conclusion of the series!