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Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Image and blurb from Goodreads

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.


My thoughts:

2 "Slavery isn't right, Kestrel, and I thought you'd understand" STARS

Unpopular opinion following....

So, The Winner's Curse is supposed to be this really cool YA Fantasy according to its high rating on Goodreads. Most of my friends have read and loved it. Plus, it has a strong forbidden romance arc. Obviously I went into this prepared to love it as much as everyone else. Blah. Did not happen.

Why, you may ask?

Because I hated the MC - Kestrel. I didn't simply dislike her, like I did quite a few MCs in the past. She wasn't simply another character I added to my unlikable MC list. I really, really hated her, to the point that hating Kestrel made reading this book quite entertaining.

So, who is Kestrel and why did she piss me off so much?

Kestrel is the daughter of a super powerful Valorian gerenal. The Valorian army once upon a time (or ten years ago) conquered the Herrani, making them all slaves (the ones who weren't murdered, obviously). Bottom line, we're talking about slavery here, which makes me think of another YA I read last year: An Ember in the Ashes (review here).

The difference is, while Elias didn't make me think for a second he supported slavery, Kestrel's actions did the exact opposite. And you know what is worse? The way she's first introduced (as a girl who supposedly isn't comfortable at an slave auction) misled me into believing I’d find a young rich lady who was willing to risk it all to free the slaves. She was SO not that. No wonder I loved Elias and couldn’t stand Kestrel.

While we’re supposed to believe Kestrel is this nice person – look, she even begged and convinced her father to free her nanny; the slave who practically raised her --, she’s also the girl who bought a slave just because he’s hot and sings. Yes, she convinces herself she doesn’t notice he’s hot while describing his muscles and everything else. Yes, she’s obsessed with music. Yes, she bought a freaking slave.

Music, by the way, is everything to Kestrel. She buys a slave because of it. She denies her father’s pleads to join the army because of it. She even attempts to use it as an excuse for her lack of fighting skills. Kestrel’s everything is her piano, which means everything else can go to hell as long as she’s doing what she wants. Because being selfish is also something Kestrel excels at.

And who is this slave Kestrel bought? Arian – a singer and a blacksmith; and also a slave that acts like nothing but a slave, especially when around Kestrel. I have to give her that. From the way Arian talks back at her, she could’ve punished him big time, which she never did. But she also treated him like a slave many times, in the sense that she enjoyed a bit too much to order him around, like she did with every other slave that crossed her way. The moment he didn't have to obey her any longer, her interest in him lessen. It's impossible not to see that. 

It’s easy to say you don’t like slavery because you don’t punish your slaves, but still act like they belong to you when you demand they do everything that pleases you. Even when everything went to hell and she wasn’t in a position of power anymore, Kestrel took pleasure in ordering Herrani men and women around just for the sake of seeing them obey. I’m not making this up. Look at this quote:

“Sarsine glared, because they both knew she would have to do just that. There were too many things in the suite that could become weapons in the right hands. Kestrel hated to see them leave, but was glad that when they did, at least it would feel as if she had given an order and Sarsine had obeyed

I wanted to slap her. It wasn’t the first time. Certainly wasn’t the last. That, ladies and gentleman, is your MC. A girl who can't see beyond her needs; a girl who couldn't see, even though it was right in front of her eyes, that the Herrani had the right to be pissed off for being treated like slaves. I expected her to understand. I expected her to put the pieces together when the roles were reversed, but she never did. I was angry and disappointed. 

While Arian was a better character than Kestrel, because I thought he was always moving toward a good cause and trying not to lose himself in the process, he did get on my nerves quite often due to his feelings for Kestrel. Especially in the second half of the book. I can’t say much because of SPOILERS!!!, but Arian made some pretty terrible choices involving his people and Kestrel because he trusted her way too much. He paid the price, even if briefly.

Krestle’s choice in the end can be seen as a way to redeem her character, but I’m not ready to like her yet. I’ll give book 2 a chance because of everything else that is right about this story: the world building, the great writing, the promise of an entertaining read (and the high ratings -- yes, I’m one of those); but I’m uncertain I’ll be able to really like Kestrel and root for her before this series is over.

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