The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner’s Trilogy #1 (1/3)
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux on March 4, 2014
Genres: [Young Adult] Fantasy
4.5 Stars, Completed March 8, 2016
– SPOILER free –
To be honest, despite everyone’s insistence with me reading this, I wasn’t expecting to love this book as much as I did. There was so much that could have gone wrong with The Winner’s Curse for me (the love triangle, forbidden romance, seemingly privileged/spoiled rich protagonist, possible offensive execution with slavery, high expectations due to the hype, etc) but somehow everything ended up being so right to my utter surprise and relief.
In fact, I read The Winner’s Curse in a mere few hours. For those of you that know my reading habits well, this is a major accomplishment for me. Rarely do I ever finish a book in a day much less in a couple of hours. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m growing out of the targeted age group or what, but it’s been a really long time since I’ve been this engrossed in a young adult story for me to speed through it so quickly.
The Winner’s Curse is when you come out on top of the bid, but only by paying a steep price.
The Winner’s Curse focuses on the unlikely romance that buds between an owner and a slave when she bids for him at a ridiculously high price at a slave auction. After the purchase, they begin to spend time together and realize that they are much alike as they are different. And as their attachment for each other deepens unexpected but inevitable consequences come into view.
“Isn’t that what stories do, make real things fake, and fake things real?”
The genres that this book have been associated with are a bit misleading. It’s not a true high fantasy because there aren’t any fantastical creatures or supernatural evil forces. It reminds me of historical fiction because its obviously not set in the modern world with its usage of antiquity technologies such as horse riding and letter writing. Yet, it’s not from a historical time period of our world. Some even have categorized this as a dystopian just because there is some reflection on a catastrophic, misshapen society towards the later half of the book but it’s not really that either. If anything I think it’s best organized as a romance. The Winner’s Curse predominantly focuses on the relationship between Kestrel and Arin and how it affects the two races, the Valorians and Herrani, mentioned in the story.
With that being said the entire world within The Winner’s Curse is very simple for a high fantasy. As a result, this, fortunately, allowed a lack of info dumping but there wasn’t much world building either. Though, the fact that Rutkoski decided to minimize that component allowed her to focus on the romance and politics more, and I didn’t mind that in the slightest. The world Rutkoski introduces to the readers still manages to be rich without the elements of standard fantasy novels.
I also really appreciated the well done Greco-Roman influences in this story. After taking Latin, Greek mythology, and Roman/Greek history courses in high school and college, the Greek and Roman inspirations that Rutkoski drew to create this world were obvious. The differences of social class in society, utilization of a slave system, importance of warfare (veni, vidi, vici) and agriculture, and public festivities (games and lavish parties with wine) and entertainment (duels) were strongly reminiscent of the ancient Roman and Greek empires. I even noticed smaller details such as communication via letter writing and delivery by the use of birds-the Greeks did this often to broadcast the results of Olympic winners-redolent of the Greeks and Romans. I also liked the small connection with General Trajan, leader of the Valorian army that helped expand their empire, and the Trojan war.
His eyes met hers. Something in them made her think that he would never have let Irex kill her, that he would have pushed into the ring and planted a blade in Irex’s back if he had thought his daughter might die, that he would have thrown away his honor with hers.
Being so inseparable with my own father, the father-daughter relationship between the General and Kestrel was possibly one of my favorite things about this book. I don’t think parental or guardian relationships are highlighted enough in ya literature-and especially in ya fantasy. The General makes a lot of appearances in this book, and the subtle yet strong relationship Kestrel and her father share was heartwarming and realistic.
Kestrel’s cruel calculation appalled her. This was part of what had made her resist the military: the fact that she could make decisions like this, that she did have a mind for strategy, that people could be so easily become pieces in a game she was determined to win.
Speaking of Kestrel, she is a very nontraditional heroine. She would make a brilliant Greek hero-according to my Classics professor-because she’s unseasonal (isn’t like most women in her society), extreme (makes many rash decisions), and has several ongoing antagonistic relationships with other characters (Irex, Cheat, etc). I admired how the book emphasizes that she’s not physically strong but her strategic wit makes up for it and her intelligence is unmatched by others. I digress but she’d probably be someone like Odysseus (The Odyssey) than Achilles (The Iliad) since he was known for using metis (cunning) instead of bie (strength), which was Achilles’s personal merit. I also love that she’s capable of holding her own by being independent and strong willed.
His eyes met hers. They were the color of the winter sea-the water far below Kestrel’s feet when she had looked down and imagined what it would be like to drown.
Like I mentioned, the romance is the main component that drives the story forward and the romantic tensions are what makes the story suspenseful for readers. The romance is actually written in a more subtle manner but it certainly does not lack intensity. All the moments between Kestrel and Arin were either so sweet or completely frustrating. They are an official ultimate OTP in my book, for sure.
Arin, who had set hooks into her heart and drawn her to him so that she wouldn’t see anything but his eyes.
Arin was her enemy.
However, of all the possible romance tropes I absolutely despise forbidden romances. I’ve never really liked the Romeo and Juliet formula (or any of Shakespeare’s work for that matter) because often times paired with these tropes are overdramatic, restless pining scenes, which I’m not so crazy about. Luckily, the moping was kept at the minimal and I didn’t find the reinvention of the trope too upsetting. I know that it can’t be helped since it’s a romance between a mistress and slave, but I sort of wish there was some way for it to not have been one. Oh well.
With some time to cool down from my initial shock of how I waited so long to begin this captivating series, I’ve decided to downrate this book from my initial 5 stars. There’s a complex cast, rich world, and solid storyline, yet it’s still missing something that makes it an absolutely epic read that I can’t quite pinpoint. (Perhaps a small part of me can’t ignore that this is a derivative of a forbidden romance.) However, it’s laid a firm foundation as the first installment in the trilogy. And I have absolute faith that The Winner’s Crime will be as perfect as everyone claims it to be.
I am so glad I pushed this one to my top priority TBR pile. I still wonder why I waited this long to finally start this series. Next time when you guys recommend me a series like this please say: “The Winner’s trilogy urgent.” Then I’ll get it. Thanks.