The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy) by Marie Rutkoski
|The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy) by Marie Rutkoski|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Beautifully written fantasy in which the focus is strategy - to win, you must be prepared to sacrifice and sometimes the sacrifice is so great, the win feels like a defeat. Some of the characterisation in this story isn't the best, but it's a fascinating focus and the prose is faultless.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 368||Date: July 2014|
|External links: Author's website|
Kestrel has two alternative futures ahead of her. As the daughter of a general of a vast, expansionist empire, she can make a politically advantageous marriage or she can enlist in the military. Kestrel doesn't want either and her life is spent in a delicate game of manoeuvres with her father as she tries to put off the decision.
And then one day, at a slave auction, she is drawn to Arin, a haughty boy up for sale. Something makes Kestrel pay an inordinate price for Arin, setting the society gossip tongues wagging. Despite herself, Kestrel begins to fall in love with her aloof slave. But Arin too has a secret and it may be that price Kestrel paid for him is higher even than money...
Ok. First up, The Winner's Curse is beautifully written. I've been mired in a run of books with less than perfect prose lately and it felt so nice to read something with gorgeous sentences and precise vocabulary. Technically speaking, The Winner's Curse is an absolute pleasure to read and I almost felt as though I were bathing in the loveliness of it. Honestly.
It is, at heart, a romance. The setting has a classical feel and for Valorian you can read Roman. As Kestrel's people are extending their grip on the known world, they are enslaving entire peoples and they are also finding themselves spread somewhat thin. This situation is shown, not told, and there is a refreshing lack of exposition. Rutkoski makes the most of readers' familiarity with the Roman world and, well, she's a classy writer who doesn't need to resort to the infodump. The romance itself is a classic one of enemies falling in love and all the consequent problems of divided loyalties.
Rutkoski charts events through the prism of strategy as evinced by the popular Valorian game of Bite and Sting. The essential - and eponymous - message is that to win, you must be prepared to sacrifice and sometimes the sacrifice is so great that the win feels more like a defeat. This permeates both the development of the relationship between Kestrel and Arin and the Herrani revolt against the Valorians, which is the main action in the latter half of the book. I really enjoyed this device. It felt fresh and new and it tied together the characters and the action really well.
I will say that the characterisation felt a bit flat at times - all the stocks are there in the supporting cast and I found both Arin and Kestrel quite predictable at times. I didn't fall in love with either of them and neither is particularly consistent. Does Kestrel have a problem with her slaving-owning society or not? If Arin is planning a rebellion, wouldn't he try to be just a little bit subtle about it? This story of strategy needed more nuanced characterisations to be entirely successful.
This aside, I loved The Winner's Curse. I haven't read anything quite like it in a while.
It's a retelling of myth rather than a fresh fantasy, but if The Winner's Curse appeals to you, I think you might also enjoy the fabulous Dido by Adele Geras.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy) by Marie Rutkoski at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy) by Marie Rutkoski at Amazon.com.
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