Review: The Winner’s Curse, by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Curse cover“As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. Kestrel has other ideas.

One day, she is startles to find a kindred spirit in Arin, a young slave up for auction. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him – for a sensational price that sets the society gossips talking. 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 is much higher than she ever could have imagined.”

I found this book by chance on the ‘Buy one get one half price’ table in Waterstones last week, and it sounded intriguing. And when I started reading it, I devoured it.

Immediately, Rutkoski throws you into Kestrel’s world: the book opens with her going to a slave auction, and purchasing Arin. Kestrel has grown up in a society where she’s taught the ways of the military like every other Valorian, but as much as her father wants her to enlist, she has other ideas. And she’s surrounded by slaves – the people who lived in Herran before the Valorians took it for their empire are now sold at auction, like Arin, to the highest Valorian bidder, as labourers or house-slaves and so on.

I loved Kestrel: despite growing up in the Valorian society, she doesn’t completely accept the way of things. She’s strong, determined, and brave, as well as endearing. The spark between her and Arin is instant, though the affection between them is gradual (and, I thought, written flawlessly) and I was rooting for them to find a way to be together the entire way through.

Arin himself was a brilliant character – he’s learnt to quietly swallow his pride as he’s grown up a slave, but he remains true to himself and what he believes is right. He knows that Kestrel is a Valorian lady, someone he should hate on principal, but the way he warms to her is so sweet.

The pace of the book was perfect. And the incredible dystopian world created is written wonderfully – you’re thrown right into it, and Rutkoski feeds you the right amount of explanation and information at the right time, so even though at first you don’t understand everything, it’s not difficult to catch onto the situation and the society rules. The romance between Arin and Kestrel was gorgeous, and I especially loved that the whole book didn’t revolve around just the two of them trying to overcome the barriers society has placed between them: there are bigger issues they have to deal with, something Arin is involved in too deeply and wholly to get out of.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, of course, so you’re going to have to read the book for itself. This book surprised me, and even though I was expecting a good story, it surpassed my expectations by far. This is the first book in a trilogy, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next instalment!

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