A couple of weeks ago I published a blog post about just how crazy my physical TBR pile had become, and I asked readers to suggest which book I should tackle next. The one that seemed to come up the most in the comments was The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, so I decided it was time to finally read it after having owned a copy for literally ages!
The Winner’s Curse is the first book in the Winner’s Trilogy which tells the story of Kestrel, the daughter of one of the most well-regarded generals in the empire. Years after a devastating war in which the Valorian people took over the country of Herran, Kestrel lives in luxury and prosperity thanks to her father’s position. However, things are far from perfect as she faces the big decision that all Valorians her age must make: to either join the military or get married. The impossible decision she finds herself faced with is made even worse by her growing love for a Herrani slave, Arin, who has a few secrets of his own…
I can definitely see why so many people suggested I start on my physical TBR list by reading this book! As I had been told, this was a fantastic read and I absolutely adored both the characters and the vivid world Marie Rutkoski has crafted within this book.
Kestrel has quickly become one of my favourite heroines ever (and I didn’t think anyone could surpass Celaena Sardothien!) thanks to her uniqueness in the world of YA fiction. Generally a tough heroine in YA is tomboyish and extremely physically capable. Kestrel meanwhile is only a passable fighter, but is incredibly sharp and intelligent and wields her mind as her greatest weapon, and I absolutely loved that! She strategises and thinks her way out of the many bad situations she finds herself in and is cool under pressure, and in many ways she comes across as a lot braver than some of the more physically capable heroines I’ve read about.
I also liked the twist with the Valorian society within this book. Usually tough heroines who can fight are seen as oddities in the worlds of their books, whereas women being tough and in the military is considered relatively normal in The Winner’s Curse, and is something Kestrel actively wants to avoid because she doesn’t want to kill people. It seems like both men and women are faced with the choice of the military or marriage at the age of 20, so I liked this sense of equality, even if this choice seems harsh and oppressive.
I also really liked Arin as a character, although at first he seemed so mysterious that it took me a while to grow to like him. In some ways he’s the typical love interest – handsome, brooding and troubled – but somehow he seemed much more fleshed out. Perhaps this was because of his actions towards the end where he has to decide whose side he’s on and proves himself to be an incredibly moral and principled character, however torn he finds himself between his duty to his people and his love for Kestrel.
Because of the book’s relatively short length the pace was very fast, and I really liked how there wasn’t really any slow moments or sections that lagged. I also think that the world-building done in such a short book is seriously impressive! I have read much, much longer fantasy books than this where the world of the story has been so much less vivid and developed, and I liked how subtly the world was woven (as opposed to the info-dumping you often find in fantasy books!).
However, my one criticism of this book was how quickly Kestrel and Arin’s relationship developed as it just seemed slightly forced at parts, although again this is probably because of the length of the book. I felt like their relationship was convincing once it reached its peak, but they seemed to go from barely knowing each other to grappling with their forbidden love for each other very quickly.
On the whole though, I absolutely loved this book and can certainly see why it was so heavily recommended to me. I really can’t wait to read the rest of this trilogy, particularly considering the way the book is left, and I’ll hopefully be getting to The Winner’s Crime and The Winner’s Kiss much quicker than I got to this!