Series: The Winner’s Trilogy #1
Published by: Bloomsbury
ISBN 13: 9781408858202
Published: March 2014
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five
‘The Winner’s Curse’ by Marie Rutkoski is the first book in The Winner’s Trilogy that features the main character of Kestral, a daughter of high class in an almost regency-style empirical fantasy novel that has touches of dystopia. Kestral has two choices in life – either join the military (and follow her father’s footsteps), or get married.
Neither choice seem enticing to Kestral. She loves to play the piano which leaves her rather anxious about injuring her hands. There isn’t anyone she wants to marry, though her best friend’s older brother is eligible and interested – life with him wouldn’t be bad, exactly, but also lacks any kind of zing that would overcome the achingly unfair feel that Kestral has. Why must a woman marry?
The title comes from buyer’s remorse, when bidding is involved. At auction, Kestral is suddenly inspired to big ridiculous amounts for a slave that catches her interest – she pays far above what any other would, far more than she would have needed to in order to outbid everyone else. The symbolism continues metaphorically throughout the novel, especially in regards to the ending we’re left with.
I read this book in a single sitting, unable to put it down. It’s easy fantasy with simple world building, which makes it easy to read without getting entangled in world building or historical and political elements – it’s all kept very simple and in the ‘now’. If there had been more depth in these areas this book would fall into the epic fantasy genre (and probably be twice as long). It doesn’t suffer from this simplicity, as you still get a good feel for the world and what the older characters have experienced and gone through. Empires that go to war and enslave the losing side, and where war is still in effect as the empire attempts to expand further. We see slight pieces of history, but no more, and it’s all that’s needed in order to feel the current time and place we’re reading of.
The romance in this was one of the weaker points, for me. I simply didn’t feel it, and it would have been interesting if it hadn’t been an element at all – if Kestral and Arin, the slave, had connected on an intellectual level instead.
It’s good to see a main character who has strength in intellect and strategy. Though Kestral has been brought up to be a fighter, it also stresses that she’s simply not that good – she can hold her own, and she’s competent in many subjects thanks to years and years of training, but she lacks the natural flare. And probably also held back from fear of hurting her hands. What Kestral excels in is strategy, and her father still wishes for her to join the military in tactical, which is interesting to see.
Overall this is a decent, strong book. I think I would have loved it if it were epic fantasy, but as it is, it’s an enjoyable and easy read. I’ll certainly be picking up the rest of the series, and I look forward to seeing what happens next.