Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Winner's Curse

Kestrel is a privileged Valorian general's daughter and lives in a large estate with Herrani slaves to wait on her. Her life may seem charmed, but she only has two choices in her life: to join the military or get married. Her real passion is music, but it's considered a lowly occupation reserved for slaves. The only marketable skill she has is strategizing and planning. Then her life completely changes after she impulsively overpays for a slave named Arin in the marketplace. Arin is a blacksmith with a fiery temper and a defiant streak, but a kind heart underneath it all. Kestrel and Arin grow closer and closer over time, giving rise to ugly rumors. Will Arin let his feelings for Kestrel interfere with his plans? Will Kestrel defy society and its constructs to be with Arin?

The Winner's Curse caught my interest with the gorgeous cover with the beautiful color scheme, design, font, and the model actually interacting with the title. The interior definitely matches the cover with its fully realized fantasy world, lush descriptions, varied characters, and unpredictable plot. The first half of the story sets up the world and Kestrel and Arin's relationship development. I found the world fascinating. The Valorians have conquered and enslaved the Herrani and consider them inferior in every way. The Herrani were not only enslaved but forced to work in the city they used to live in. Day in and out, they see the homes that were theirs inhabited by the enemy while they are abused and used by them. Marie Rutotski makes both groups sympathetic, which makes later events complicated to process. In too many YA books, one side is simply not written well to garner all the sympathy to the intended target and it's nice to see authors breaking out of that trend.

Kestrel and Arin are both not what they seem. Kestrel is privileged and rich. The stereotype would be for her to be vapid and dumb, but she's quite clever. She isn't suited for hand to hand combat at all and excels at strategizing and out-thinking her opponent. I love that she recognizes her shortcomings and uses her strengths to compensate. Her love for music isn't valued by her society, but doesn't let that stop her from using it as an emotional outlet and playing the piano as often as she dares. To truly fit into her society, Kestrel must turn her back and all the things she values: her music, her independence, her sense of self. Her only choices for the future are to get married or join the military. Marriage would force her into a relationship with a random person who would have a lot of power over her, possibly forcing her to abandon the things she loves. In the military, she would have to focus on her physical abilities, an are of weakness for her, and she would also have to give up the things she values. Either way, she has to compromise herself and force herself into an ill fitting mold.

Arin is a surly, defiant slave who could be easily stereotyped as an impulsive brute. However, he bides his time, watches, and waits for the right moment to act. He's the only person in the novel who challenges Kestrel in many ways, including wit, strategy, music, among others. His tragedy is in his enslavement and the loss of his family. Unlike Kestrel, he has lost everything and is striving to prove himself and gain back all he has lost. I like that their relationship starts as an awkward. tenuous friendship and then grows into feelings of romance over time. The pace of the novel is fairly slow and sets up everything beautifully. Not all books need to be super fast paced keep interest. The relationship along with the individual characters were believably established before all hell breaks loose in the second half of the story.

I was sad to finish The Winner's Curse because I didn't want to leave that world. I savored the book as I read it instead of devouring it and I can't wait to dive into the second book when it comes out. The writing is fluid and beautiful and I just can't get enough of it. The plot twists and turns and had me guessing what would happen. The story has a great mix of fantasy, romance, political intrigue, You need to go out and get this novel and read it. Period.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

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