The Winner's Curse

The Winner's Curse - Marie Rutkoski This novel is thought-provoking and deliberate. I enjoyed it and I want to the next book in the series sooner rather than later. I didn't give five stars because I felt like there was purposeful distance between the reader and our two protagonists, Kestrel and Arin. The distance I felt was probably due in part to the fact that both Kestrel and Arin are both very stoic characters, deliberate in their actions and their thoughts, but I still felt lil I couldn't get close enough to them to really understand everything that they were doing. Sometimes I felt like I was on the outside watching them, inside of right there with them. It was told in the third person, alternating between Kestrel and Arin. Another strange thing was the that when Arin's perspective was first introduced he is referred to as "the slave." This was because the reader hadn't yet been given Arin's name so we only knew that he was a slave and not much else about it, but it was still a bit jarring. I don't think it would have been as confusing if it were a third person narrator telling us about him, but the 3rd person perspective was supposed to be from the Arin and Kestrel's perspectives, respectively.

Another thing that contributed to the distance between reader and the characters is that there is a lot of implied communication between the two of them. While this made the novel feel smart and intriguing, it also didn't allow me to feel a lot of intimacy with the the characters.

Both Arin and Kestrel as intelligent and calculating, excellent at reading other people, both strategists with complicated agendas which are not always clear either to the reader or to each other. These implications make the book both intriguing and sometimes frustrating. Intriguing because you want to keep reading, because you don't really know what Kestrel's ultimate plan is, or who Arin is really. Lots of agendas here. Lots of sutblety from the author.

Rutkoski writing is quite brilliant. She leads you through her story and the world that she has created without being heavy-handed. There is a lot to consider in this novel. It is a story about loyally, ownership and slavery. There is a lot that is provocative about its exploration of slavery and what it means for both the owner and the owned. Kestrel struggles with the idea that she owns slaves and more importantly that she owns Arin-- in fact she bought him herself-- she is no bystander to the act of slavery, she actively chooses to participate. But a lot of Kestrel's behavior is dictated by the rigid rules of her society. Her situation is complicated by the fact that she is the daughter of the Empire's top general. There's not a lot of room for her to rebel, or dissent without completely going AWOL. Though she struggles with the idea of slavery as accepted by her society, parts of her don't agree. She is a rebel, but at first a passive one.

Once love enters into the mix and all bets are off. (But don't get too excited, while this is a "romance" there is very little true romancing going on here.) The tables get turned in the middle third of the book and the master becomes the slave. That's where things got a little jumbled for me. Both Arin and Kestrel are fighting so hard against each other, what they want and what they believe, that is becomes a bit trying. I could understand them both, but I also just wanted them to make a decision. But I guess that was really the point of the thing, they are star-crossed lovers.

The ending redeems the book. For me it wrapped it up and made it a four star read and not a three star. This is how a book in a series should finish. The central conflict is resolved and a secondary conflict is left undone making you want to read the next book. I was glad that there wasn't a cliffhanger, or an "ending" that resolves nothing and just stops in the middle of the story-- that seems like has been happening with more and more books recently. Here we get good closure. The kind of closure that makes clear, finally just want the characters mean to each other and they lengths they will go to for one another.

ARC copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.