The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
So, the Winner’s Curse is another book I bought way back in July at YALC. It was a complete impulse buy, driven by the fact I’d just watched a panel with the book’s author, Marie Rutkoski, and I’d heard amazing things (but then again, YALC is just a huge festival of book recommendations). So I rushed on down from Olympia to Foyle’s Charing Cross and picked myself up a copy (along with Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours and some books about writing fiction) but I haven’t got round to reading it until now.
First off, the cover for this book is beautiful. The vast majority of current editions use the same photo (the girl in a big pink dress), with slightly different formatting. This is a cover I want, no, need, on my shelf, and the formatting inside of the book is also gorgeous – I’m a huge fan of the black pages at the beginning and ends of the book in my copy, and the whole book is sleek and stylish. Strangely enough though, this delayed me reading the book. Beautiful books on the outside do not always equal beautiful books on the inside (on this occasion, I am delighted to be wrong).
The Winner’s Curse is the story of Kestrel and Arin. Kestrel is the general’s daughter, a 17 year old faced with the decision to either join the military or get married. On a whim, she purchases Arin, a young slave of the race her father conquered 10 years before. As Kestrel warms to Arin, she starts to realise that her impulse buy may have serious consequences…
Marie’s prose is beautiful, and the world is built up beautifully. This book is both fantastical and historical, which I love – I love how Marie takes a historical world (here one with a strong military and the presence of slavery and rebellion – based on the Greeks and the Romans I believe) and really expands it, with strong women and lavish balls and societal gossip. Personally, I love how there is no clear ‘good’ and ‘evil’ – every character has motives, beliefs and a fleshed-out back story, and this really helps the reader empathise with all the characters in the novel – it’s rare for a novel (especially a YA novel) to engage me with so many characters at once – and not to spoil anything, but there isn’t a particular side that I’m rooting for (as both sides are fighting for what they believe in, which conflict).
The characters aren’t only believable and fleshed-out, they’re also different. Kestrel is intelligent and cunning (not traits that are always apparent in female YA characters), and the relationship between Kestrel and Arin is developed slowly and subtly throughout the novel. However, I do have one gripe – the relationship between Kestrel and Arin is a little strange – he’s a slave with a secret and he just doesn’t act like it. He talks back, he’s sassy, and he walks all over Kestrel when he really shouldn’t be in the position to do so.
If you’re going to read any YA, make it good YA. This is good YA – mainly because the writing itself is beautiful (don’t underestimate the power of good writing). It’s not another YA rehash – it’s original and interesting, with intelligent characters who are really tested through power shifts and political turmoil. The world-building is done well – it’s subtle and understandable – and something YA does really well is light fantasy – just enough that you’re aware this is a different world but with human, relevant and relatable situations, and it never feels like you’ve just been thrown in at the deep end of this completely different world.
If you’re looking for something a little different, with interesting, political themes, forbidden romance, intelligent characters and which is, most of all, written fantastically, look no further.
I’m looking forward to completing the trilogy this coming year (The Winner’s Crime is out now, and The Winner’s Kiss will be released this March).
How did you find the novel? Is there anything you want to see more of in the coming novels? Tweet me @AnnaliseBooks or comment below!