The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski | Review

(The Winner's Trilogy, #1)
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Published: March 4, 2014
(Farrar Straus Giroux)
Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Historical Fiction

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. [Goodreads]

Lately I've been picking up books that are completely different from one another which is making it difficult for me to give a bad review. The one thing I hate is when a certain trope or idea gets overused in young adult novels. The last few books I've read have been distinct and unique stories. 

I'm glad to say that The Winner's Curse falls into that category. I had sort of a vague idea of the plot, but honestly I didn't even remember that when I started the book. It's a fantasy novel without any of the magic, but it still included many of the other themes that are in YA fantasy novels. It almost feels like historical fiction. Marie Antoinette (the movie) kept popping into my head. I don't even know why, because I've never seen the movie.

The Winner's Curse revolves around politics and social classes. There's a long history of the current society and how it got to this point. Because there is no infodump, the history is presented as the story progresses. I was 50% through the book and was still trying to figure out how the past was shaping the events of the book.

Kestrel isn't your typical YA female protagonist, at least not that kind we're used to seeing lately. She's not the kind of heroine that's going to beat her opponent physically instead she uses her tactical brilliance (Hamilton!) to get her out of some unfortunate situations. I was afraid that Kestrel would annoy me, because she's the general's daughter and that just seemed like the perfect set up for her to get her way or for her to be gifted at everything. Basically I was prepared to hate her. Thankfully I can say that she did not annoy me, but instead surprised me with the way she handled herself. 

Another thing I liked was that I couldn't choose a side. In the Hunger Games I hated the Capitol. In Divergent I hated Jeanine. But in The Winner's Curse I saw faults in both sides as well as their reasons for their actions. The back and forth kept me hooked and made me care about more than just Kestrel and her interest in Arin.

The romance is subtle...sort of. Clearly Kestrel has an interest in Arin, but it's not the main focus of the story and that side of their relationship isn't really all that developed in this book which lead me to believe that it wasn't supposed to be a standalone. A different kind of relationship between Kestrel and Arin is more at the forefront than a romantic one in this book.

I was surprised to learn that Marie Rutkoski intended for this to be a standalone. Throughout the book I picked up on details that made me think that it was meant to be a series, like the romance. This first book in the trilogy definitely did a good job of setting up something bigger to come even if that's not what the author wanted. I'm excited to see where this story goes and as it unfolds in the political drama. Oh, and of course the romance.

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