The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner’s Curse by Marie RutkoskiThe Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner's Trilogy, #1
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux on March 4th 2014
Pages: 355
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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.

In a world rich with a backstory of colonisation, rampant slavery and revolution, an unwitting pair of star-crossed lovers on opposing sides find their loyalties torn. A slave boy, purchased by a somewhat pampered General’s daughter, who slowly becomes a friend and more, until an event long time in coming and a reversal of status turn their reality upside down. But because this is merely the first book in the trilogy, we’re still left in limbo at the end, even if it’s down to the excruciating story of two young people torn apart, with the fate of empires on their backs.

I’m undecided about this story, to be frank.

The best way I could describe reading Kestrel’s and Arin’s story pitted against impossible stakes is like trying to walk in shoes which are way too large for me, where their slow, near-intimate relationship isn’t quite enough to be part of the grander, epic plan even if their actions seem to demonstrate it.

For every bit that appealed, there was an equal part that made me dislike it, not least the manner in which the female protagonist has been portrayed. Yet it’s the sort of behaviour I would have honestly expected of any typical 17-year old regardless of the era or setting: indecisive, self-absorbed somewhat spineless, naive, yet with hints of gifts and a fierce intelligence that aren’t harnessed to the point of razor-sharpness and a half-developed sense of loyalty that can be shattered in extreme circumstances. My disappointment really, lies in the understanding that Kestrel hadn’t changed much from this initial impression I had of her, her poor decision-making right up to the end simply showing her innate lack of understanding of the very painful consequences of colonisation and the subsequent revolution that it created.

My mixed feelings of the characterisation don’t take away the grandness of the world-building however; Marie Rutkoski’s writing is allusive and sharp – not to mention, ambitious – enough to make any reader sail through the pages and perhaps even go through the rest of the trilogy.