Author: Marie Rutkoski
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian, Romance
Age Group: Young Adult
Rating: 1,5 stars
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.
I don’t get the hype about The Winner’s Curse. Seriously, I don’t. I wish I could find one thing, just one thing, that intrigued me about this book, or that I thought was even remotely interesting, but I couldn’t. The writing is bland, the world building is bland, the characters are bland, and I kept on hoping for something, anything, to happen that would make me care about Kestrel, about Arin, and about all the secondary characters. It didn’t.
Let me start with the plot. Kestrel, daughter of a general, sucks at fighting but is apparently a strategic genius. I say “apparently” because although it’s mentioned a few times, she portrays no such skills for the duration of the book. Instead, as soon as Arin pops into the picture, she turns into a mumbling teen who can’t make one comprehensive thought. So Kestrel goes to the market and buys a slave, Arin. Buying a slave is a big deal for her, since she’s never done it before and she paid way more for Arin than she should have, and now there’s gossip and what not, bla bla, boring. Anyway, she takes Arin home, makes him the blacksmith for her father’s household, and then hides in her room for a number of weeks because reasons.
The rest of the book focuses on the blossoming relationship between Kestrel and Arin which is laughable at best and I-want-to-pull-my-hair-out at worst. There is no relationship. They barely talk, and if they do, Arin is rude, bosses her around (yeah, Arin the slave, bosses his mistress around, and it’s allowed because…reasons), and is an all-around jerk. He’s also, spoiler alert, plotting the demise of the Valorian Empire (which is basically Rome, and Aarin and his fellow slaves could be considered the Greeks).
Anyway, Kestrel’s whole personality shrinks and eventually vanishes the more time she spends around Arin. I liked her for the first chapter, and then hated her for the rest of the book. Arin…well, him I hated from the start.
So Arin doesn’t like to be a slave. Of course not! Who would? But despite him not liking it, I do expect him to behave like a slave most of the time – after all, what would the punishment be for disobedience? Death, maybe? Or at least a whipping? Here, the punishment is nothing. Arin says what he wants when he wants it, he’s downright rude, arrogant, and probably the worst spy in history. Based on his behavior, I’d know he was a spy in all but two seconds. There’s also no reason why he falls for Kestrel because he treats her like crap 100% of the time.
It’s all so unrealistic. If you want to feature slavery, at least make it realistic. If you want a romance between a slave and his mistress, at least make the characters behave in these roles! Here, it seems like Kestrel is the slave and Arin the master. It’s so weird and annoying.
Also, the world building. There isn’t really any world building – it’s basically just Rome vs. Greece, now put into a dystopian future (or past? you can’t really say). There’s barley any mention of the world itself. Not much originality there.
The writing was bland, the relationship unbelievable, the characters annoying, childish and acted out of character most of the time, and really, I don’t understand the hype at all. Obviously the book appealed to most people, so I guess I’m the exception, but I can’t recommend this book to anyone.