This book is definitely a winner.
In The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, the brutal Valorians enslave whoever they conquer by selling them at auctions in town. Kestrel, the general’s daughter, finds herself immediately drawn to one of the slaves up for auction. Her growing relationship with Arin threatens to destroy Kestrel’s reputation and her oath to her father: marry or enlist in the army.
Usually when books that involve intense military strategy and dire stakes chiefly revolve around the romance of the two main characters, it fall flats for me. This is not the case for The Winner’s Curse. I couldn’t put this book down and couldn’t help but root for Kestrel and Arin. This book is a great set-up for a series and I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book.
One of the best aspects of this book are the two main characters, Kestrel and Arin. I’ve seen in some reviews that it takes some people a little while to warm up to Kestrel, but I instantly loved her character. Her intelligence, wit, and challenging social norms greatly reminded me of one of my favorite movie heroines, Scarlett O’Hara. Arin was also a complex character and I admired his strong values and determination. I absolutely loved them together, but also liked how events in the novel negatively impacted their relationship and how they actively needed to work to solve their problems.
That being said, I wasn’t a fan of several of the side characters who were a little too one-dimensional. I really didn’t care for Cheat’s character and felt like he could have been dealt with an a different way. (SPOILER: Cheat attempts to rape Kestrel. I felt this traumatic event was extremely unnecessary in the book). Also, Kestrel’s various friends also fell into stereotypes like “the girly girl,” “the villain,” and “the lovesick puppy.” I’m hoping these characters become more complex and the series continues.
Another part of this novel that slightly threw me off was the pacing. I expected everything to fall apart a little later in the novel, but it happened in the middle. This made the third quarter of this book drag a little. However, I think if the second book started here, I might be a little bored. I really liked the end of the book and I can’t wait to see how it is resolved, but I wish the same action carried throughout the whole second half of the book.
Since I enjoyed the characters and romance in this book, but wanted more dimension in the side characters and better pacing at the end of the novel, I give this book four out of five stars.