Published on March 4, 2014 by Farrar Straus Giroux
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.
Peeking at some of the reviews on goodreads, I seem to have fallen smack in the middle between the unimpressed reviewers and the 5-star fanatics that couldn't find any fault with The Winner's Curse. The wonderful world building that Rutkoski was able to create for this novel was the primary reason I enjoyed it. Well that and the unique plot. I was expecting the typical aristocrat falls in love with a poor, needy civilian story line. Fortunately, Rutkoski went on a tangent from this cliché and further developed this fantasy's course. Why a 3.5 star, then? I blame it all on the characters, the insta-love, and the way things fell apart in the end, rather than together.
The Winner's Curse is centered around the daughter of a high-society Valorian general, Kestrel, and a Heranni slave that she purchases on a whim, Arin. Both are ... how do I say this without implying that they're bland, shallow, or forced? Both are ... awkward for lack of a better word. At least together they are.
Kestrel is inconsistently portrayed as being adamantly against the enslavement of the Heranni and yet she otherwise seems content with the institution, with the exception of Arin and her now-free slave babysitter. When "crafting" Kestrel's character, Rutkoski was probably going for a compassionate (to a fault), open-minded, independent, diligent and bright young mind that uses the resources she has to her advantage and works around her flaws to accomplish whatever it is she sets her mind to. She was ultimately able communicate all of these traits, but let's go ahead and cross out
independent. Up until about half-way through the novel, I would've described Kestrel as independent... and then there was Arin. I noticed that as their relationship developed, Kestrel's character stopped developing. In fact, her character development sort of pulled a switcheroo, turning Kestrel into this needy, oblivious, and sheltered mess. I swear there was only one thought that flew through that head of hers, and that was: "I wonder how Arin would feel about this?"
Simply put, I didn't like Arin. He didn't do much for me. He came across as short-tempered, inconsiderate, and cold. Now I'm not sure what Rutkoski was planning on doing with this one. I'm still at a loss. She was definitely going for something like brave, transparent, and ruthless ... in a "good" way. That blew up the moment the first word came out of his mouth. You can quote me on this if you'd like, because I'm pretty sure that word was "No." Arin is a coward. Arin is blunt. Arin is definitely not ruthless. How you ask?
In the midst of the sudden death of a close family friend:
- ARIN: "Stop it. Stop pretending to mourn someone who wasn't your blood." (Insert ice cube.)
- KESTREL: "I loved her." (Insert sob.)
- ARIN: "You loved her because she did anything you wanted." (Insert ice bucket.)
- KESTREL: "That's not true." (Insert sob.)
- ARIN: "She didn't love you. She could never love you. Where is her real family, Kestrel?" (Insert glacier.)
Did it get colder in here, or did Arin just speak? Now I don't know about you, but to me this has love written all over it. If you ever need a shoulder to cry on,
this large boulder Arin will always be here.
She comes to visit Arin during work. She wants to play a game with him:
- He was staring, she realized. He was staring at her. (OH MY GOSH. IT'S LOVE.)
- ARIN: "You have dirt on your face," he said shortly. He turned toward his work.
He just has a way with words, doesn't he? So, if you're wondering how my darling Kestrel fell for this emotionless, 2-dimensional brick, then we're now on the same page.
I wasn't rooting for him or the romance that sparked between he and Kestrel. In fact, I was pretty much with the rest of the high-society Valorians on this one. To hell with, love. He didn't seem to want to fight for her in that knight-in-shining-armor way, anyway. He was absolutely content waiting until the very last minute of a huge scene, to declare his love for her. How dare you, Arin? How dare you ruin the end of this perfectly action-filled, scandal-scattered, treason-sprinkled chapter with those three words? This relationship was the definition of insta-love. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy some of the gushy scenes that I'd read after their relationship had "fully-developed," but those handful of scenes did not in any way make up for the way their relationship developed.
I really wanted to like The Winner's Curse, but I found that I only enjoyed the novel when the high-action events began to occur and when the romance wasn't so greatly exaggerated. The most important aspect of a novel, for me, is character development. Unfortunately, The Winner's Curse was most definitely lacking in this department, something that turned me off just when the novel was coming to a conclusion. I'll have to check out the reviews for the sequel, The Winner's Crime, before I commit to another book by Rutkoski anytime soon. If you're looking for an action-packed fantasy novel, you might want to hold off on this one. But if you're looking for a bit more romance than fantasy than The Winner's Curse might just do it for you.