PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE GIRL IN THE FANCY DRESS!
Annnnnnd that's my acknowledgment that, when I first saw this book at ALA in January, I didn't even flip it over to read the back because I'm just so. damn. tired. of the passive fancy dress covers, no matter how pretty the title font. (Do I know better? Of course. But when surrounded by literally hundreds of books ... covers are a make-or-break factor.)
Yes, the cover is technically somewhat representative of the book because she DOES wear dresses and there is the tiny bit of intrigue with her holding a dagger (also accurate, THOUGH YOU BARELY NOTICE THE DAGGER) ... but whyyyyyy?
Despite the cover, four people convinced me to read this book:
- Heather, at Children's Book World, who can always be counted on for great recommendations
- Wendy Darling at The Midnight Garden, one of the toughest reviewers I follow, who gave it 4.5/5 stars
- Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner, who has nearly identical tastes as mine with this genre of YA
- Kristin Cashore, whose blurb alone will convince me to try out a book 95% of the time
And now I'm going to convince you to read it, too, because IT IS EXCELLENT.
The official summary:
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.
First off, if you love Kristin Cashore's books and/or Diana Peterfreund's For Darkness Shows the Stars novels, stop reading right now and go buy THE WINNER'S CURSE. You will love it, without question.
THE WINNER'S CURSE has a semi-fantasy, semi-historical feel, and as a reader, I was slowly enveloped in Kestrel's world. So much of this book centers on power struggles — who has it, who doesn't, emotional vs physical power, etc. — and it sets up so many interesting situations.
For example, Kestrel's people have enslaved Arin's people, and though she has bought and literally owns him, she doesn't have emotional power over him. At the same time, her father has almost complete power over her, but she makes small choices every day to subvert that power. Kestrel's admitted to not being a fighter, but her power and value come through an excellent ability to strategize ... but she chooses not to use that ability, thus further defying her father's wishes.
These dynamics come to a head when Arin's people stage a rebellion, and Kestrel's developing relationship with Arin makes her feel sympathy for the enemy. She must finally come to terms with her discomfort with her empire's enslavement of conquered nations. For much of the book she's unsure of who she is, where she stands, and what she wants, but the uprising forces her to choose a side, with dramatic consequences.
Overall, I loved the worldbuilding, which had so many small details that stood out so realistically. I enjoyed the way Kestrel developed as a character, and though I sometimes wanted her to be more decisive, I understood how conflicted she felt. I was very happy with how the book ended, and it left me looking forward to the sequel. Definitely recommend!