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. – Goodreads
Seventeen year old Kestrel, is a headstrong girl who doesn’t stand for nonsense or old fashion ideals. This includes her father who doesn’t believe she is safe to walk alone, but is strong enough to be in the military and she calls him out on it. Her fahter however is not interested, he is only interested in what is best for the empire, not his daughter, or even himself. What keeps her sane is her music, and it has been clear that she is not supposed to have time for that. What is unexpected for Kestrel, is that music helps bring her together with Arin, the slave she bought at market.
Kestrel is looked at in society, she paid a crazy amount of money for a slave, she freed her own maid when she was fourteen and she has a love of music. This is not normal, and Kestrel’s BFF, Jess makes it known to her and requests that just once Kestrel acts “normal.” It’s hard for Kestrel to act “normal” when she feels like an outcast of society, even though her father is respected in the community. She continues to feel like an outsider.
It also doesn’t help that the slave she bought, is actually a spy. He’s also, one of the few people who’s completely honest with her. Most tell her what they think she wants to hear, not the truth. While her father is patient, he is also a general, and he tells Kestrel she must decide to join or marry by next Spring. That’s it. No more “thinking” about it.
What Kestrel, and her father don’t know is that Arin, or Smith as they call him, is actually a spy inside the house. While he is clearly changing Kestrel throughout the novel, usually over games of Bite and Sting, the fact that he has been lying to her isn’t helping any situations.
“Well.” His smile was slight, but it was there. “I suppose neither of us is the person we were believed we would become.”–pg 116, ARC
Kestrel and her father continue to have a special relationship throughout the novel. Although her mother died, and he is trying his hardest, Kestrel is never going to become this perfect person that he wants her to be, and he slowly does accept that. Even if it includes listening to gossip about his daughter and the slave being more than friends. Although that wasn’t true, when enough people said it, he did believe them and it didn’t change his opinion of his daughter, not once.
The Winners Curse was also a heartbreaking book because the moment Kestrel and Arin are finally honest with each other, a pivotal moment in the book occurs and the climax of the novel transpires. However, this never felt like a book that was full of fluff. Rutkoski chose her words wisely and often proved a point with them, even if it was brutal and hurt Kestrel’s heart, and my own. However, I didn’t really believe the love story between Kestrel and Arin. I believed that they went from strangers to friends, but friends to in love never worked for me. Rutkoski made a very subtle love story here, and that includes the two main characters falling in love, too. Which is probably why it didn’t work for me. I enjoy when my love stories slap me in the face with feels.