Synopsis: 17-year-old Kestrel is the General’s daughter. One day she buys a Herrani slave, 19-year-old Arin. They become friends somewhat, while their country is on the brink of war.
Review: This is the first book I’ve read for the Hype or Like Friday group I’m in over at Goodreads. And this book did not disappoint! I thoroughly enjoyed it! While this isn’t the best book ever, it was an enjoyable way to spend a weekend, and I’ve ordered book two from the library.
The Winner’s Curse is the first book in The Winner’s Trilogy, and it is a fun read. You’ve got a Romeo and Juliet romance, between Kestrel (a Valorian) and Arin (a Herrani). Set in a ye-olden-time period, the setting feels realistic and fresh. I call it fresh because even though this is a young-adult book, it isn’t a dystopian novel (yay!) and we don’t have any magic (double yay!). The book feels rooted in reality, and this makes the setting believable and the characters mostly believable.
I say mostly believable, because Arin, who at age 9 was taken into slavery, seems to be an expert on everything. Not only is he an expert blacksmith and strategist (although not as good as Kestrel), he’s even an expert at sewing and braiding hair.
I liked Arin and Kestrel. I liked them together and I liked them each on their own as well. Kestrel, the privileged daughter of the “highest ranking General in the Valorian army”, comes across as lonely and kind, if a bit misguided. Arin, a handsome blacksmith sold into slavery, is mysterious and magnetic (although at times seems a bit stalker-ish). I thought Rutkoski captured his sadness and anger well, without having him lose his humanity in his anger.
I liked how Rutkoski made Kestrel’s strength be in strategy and smarts rather than physical skill. Many of our YA heroines nowadays are only considered “badass” for their fighting skills. I was thrilled to see brains be celebrated over brawn (ha!). Even Arin, although muscled, has his strength in his brain as well. So this was very refreshing to read.
There actually isn’t too much I didn’t like in this book. There were a few places where I thought, “oh Kestrel didn’t really just spill valuable secrets to the enemy, did she?” and some places where Arin’s loyalty to his friend Cheat was a bit much, but those are minor quibbles.
I appreciated all of the world building that was done. It seemed like the right amount for a YA book. Enough to set the stage and make you want to learn just a bit more, but not too much where you are overwhelmed with trying to remember everything about the world.
The Winner’s Curse didn’t really “wow” me, but I did read it quickly, and I enjoyed the characters and I will read the rest of the series.
Is it the best book ever? No, but I enjoyed it.
Is it worth all of the hype it is getting? I’ve got a mixed opinion on this. I can totally see why some people would absolutely love this book. I didn’t love it, but I did really like it. I’m not running out and telling everyone to read it, but perhaps the next two books will make a die-hard fangirl out of me.
Bottom Line: An enjoyable read. I definitely “LIKE” this one!