Narrator: Justine Eyre
Series: The Winner's Trilogy #1
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Listening Library on March 4, 2014
Genres: Dystopia, Romance, Young Adult
Length: 8 hours 24 minutes
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 SERIOUSLY underestimated The Winner’s Curse. The cover and blurb are, much like the story itself, full of deceptions and little tricks. I only saw them AFTER finishing The Winner’s Curse, when I looked at them again thinking, “This isn’t the story that they made me think it would be.” But it was. I just didn’t look or read closely enough. And that is why you have to read The Winner’s Curse. Every detail is put together perfectly, for a deadly combination.
I say deadly, because, if – like me – you’re thinking that this will be a somewhat sweet YA romance, tinged with some sort of conflict, you missed the same little details I did. This is absolutely a romance, but there’s really nothing YA or sweet about it in my opinion. The Winner’s Curse is about a deadly game, confused by intrigue, deception, brutality, and love. My ONE complaint – and it’s not a big one – is that I could always see every step. The Winner’s Curse is written from a dual POV and the result was that I watched the game unfold, fully aware of the intricate plans. I would have liked to be as shocked by the twists and turns as the characters sometimes were.
And yet, I can’t fault the dual POV, because it was Rutkoski’s own little scheme – worked out on me. It was an evil little plan that tore me apart as much as the main characters – Kestrel and Arin. I grew to love them both, which left me with a confusing lack of clear villains.
Kestrel is a young woman living in a world where she has two choices – marry or enlist. On one hand I loved that this world had no qualms about women being tough and fighting. On the other, for their only other option to be marriage just sucked and reminded me that this was still a paternalistic world. Kestrel’s father is one of the most celebrated war generals of her people, so what he wants for her is no secret. It’s what everyone expects from her. But Kestrel isn’t a great fighter. She has the basic skills, but she has no desire to kill. And she’s always slacked in her fighting in favor of a frowned upon skill, playing the piano. Don’t let that fool you though. Kestrel is no weakling. She is cunning and, when she chooses to be, is ruthless. She’s a master strategist, reads people incredibly well, and is not easy to fool.
The heart can confuse things though. Arin immediately strikes a note inside Kestrel’s heart – from the moment she sees him on the auction block and pays a ridiculous fee for him. He’s strong and stubborn and as you grow to know him, you see what Kestrel sees. You see his intelligence. You feel for him, for the life he had ripped away when Kestrel’s people invaded his land and turned his people into slaves.
And that’s the heart of why The Winner’s Curse is so good. On one hand you love Kestrel and grow to like her friends and even her father. You want them to be happy. But you hate that Arin and his people are enslaved, and you want their freedom. This is a war society – reminiscent of the Roman Empire, after their conquest of Greece – and the brutality of living off the spoils of war is painted vividly.
I think this story will speak to so many different kinds of readers, but I especially recommend it to history buffs, like me. I found so many connections to geek out about. This is a war society – reminiscent of the Roman Empire, after their conquest of Greece – and the brutality of living off the spoils of war is painted vividly.
Finally, I have to add that the narration was fantastic. I’ve never listened to anything narrated by Justine Eyre before, but she is now on my short list. She brought the characters to life and I easily forgot she was reading a script. Even her male voices were strong and varied, making The Winner’s Curse a real treat to listen to.
I can’t wait to pick up the next book! I’m so glad book club made me pick up The The Winner’s Curse I really had underestimated it.