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.
The Winner’s Curse has been on my radar for absolute ages – well before its release – and was initially a book I was planning on purchasing once it was published. And then my massive reading slump happened, and I just never did. Honestly I could kick myself for waiting so long to finally get around to it, because I loved pretty much every single thing about this book. In fact, I think it might just be my favorite book I’ve read this year, which I wasn’t sure it would even come close to qualifying as when I started it because it did take a while for me to warm up to the main character and become invested in the story. But I think that’s more my issue – my inability to read books in a timely fashion – than the book itself. Also, this was the first book that I listened to on audio – most of this book was “read” via audiobook, although not all of it – which could account for my feeling like it was slow to start. So I’m going to sort of combine my feelings on the book itself, while also talking a bit about the audiobook version, in case anyone is interested in trying it out in that format.
The audiobook version of this book is narrated by Justine Eyre, and while I am not a connoisseur of audiobooks by any means – as I said, this was the first time I actually made it through one in its entirety – I found her voice to be pleasant to listen to and felt like she read at a pretty decent clip. This is a must for me, because part of my issue with audiobooks is the time it takes to listen to them – I can read so much faster that I often find my attention waning or drifting and realize I’ve missed a whole ton of the story. She does do sort of different voices for the characters, which I’m not necessarily a fan of, but overall it worked, and I was pleased with the experience. I think it helped that I broke it up a bit by reading portions from the actual hardcover copy of the book as well, but I personally felt like she did the story justice and I’d listen to her again. For what my opinion is worth, of course!
As for the story itself, this is definitely a book about forbidden love, set in a historical fantasy-type world where Kestrel’s people – the Valorians – have enslaved Arin’s people – the Herrani. I actually liked Kestrel from the start, although I liked her more once she started spending more time with Arin and the two of them started becoming friends and then more. Kestrel goes through a lot of character development, and I really found myself feeling for her, as things happened around her and she was forced to reevaluate her life, especially once she was forced to choose something she really didn’t want to do. As for Arin, he is nicely mysterious at first – even though the reader knows what he’s up to before Kestrel does – and I liked his quick wit and sense of humor, and the way he pulled Kestrel out of her shell. The fact that they’re both musicians didn’t hurt, either, as I’m a sucker for musician!characters. Be still my heart and all that. The ending, of course – while expected I guess? – really kind of broke my heart, though, and leaves me longing for the second book, although somehow I bet it’s not going to be any less painful.
All in all, The Winner’s Curse was – at least in my opinion – worth the hype. I loved the world, the characters, the romance, and the drama and intrigue Arin’s actions have brought to fruition. I look forward to seeing what comes next, and can safely say that The Winner’s Crime – book two in the series – has definitely made it onto my autobuy list!