The Winner’s Curse is a book that I walked by in a library and the cover caught my eye. I’d been in looking for a different book (which I didn’t find) and saw the gorgeous red-pink cover and had to see what it was about. The blurb was interesting enough, and since I wasn’t finding what I wanted I figured I should walk out with some reading material anyway. I wasn’t familiar with the author Marie Rutkoski either, and I enjoy finding new authors to read.
To some extent, this book falls under the “you get what you pay for” rule for me.
The book focuses on Kestrel, the daughter of a war general who wants more than anything to follow in her father’s footsteps but finds herself thwarted by her sex in a society where what she loves isn’t “maidenly,” and Arin, a slave bought into Kestrel’s family’s employ on an impulse of Kestrel’s. It’s an expected plot: the unlikely romance, the defiant girl and the more defiant male, the clashing worlds. It’s a twist on Romeo and Juliet—and that’s fine. The story is interesting, the worlds are clear and separate, and the characters struggle in a very real fashion.
That being said, I left the book feeling a little empty. The action of the story led up so dramatically to what occurs at the end of the book…and then we’re time lapsed through it and expected to follow a growing of spirit that we never see. I agree with many of the other reviewers I’ve seen in that the second half of the book is significantly stronger than the first; the beginning of the book lags in the introduction into the world. We see how trapped and confined Kestrel feels—because we are not far different. Arin is dabbled in, teasing the reader into wondering who and what he is, for a payoff that comes too late. The impact is lessened because the reader has already been given all the (very obvious) clues to figure it out, which makes the scene where it is Dramatically Revealed nothing more than smoke and glitter.
The romance between Arin and Kestrel moves haltingly, which isn’t terribly surprising given who they are and what relationships they are expected to keep, but it leads to the second half rushing them through what should have taken significantly longer based on the beginning of the story and what we know of Arin’s past. (Yeah, I’m still seeing R+J themes here.) Thus, when presented with the ending, it feels awkward and forced to me, since it doesn’t feel like they should be there yet.
Part of the trouble, I think, is that this book suffers a bit from what I call “Thor syndrome.” (Not the god, the movie.) The most common argument I hear against the movie Thor is that it’s all set-up for The Avengers—and I don’t disagree. There is a somewhat flimsy attempt at a plot, which allows us to establish that Loki has been Picked On According To Him, and Thor is a Good Guy Who Cares A Lot About Things. Their roles in Avengers are now established. Winner’s Curse falls here for me. When I finished and realized that this was the first book in a trilogy, my confusion vanished. This reads exactly like an entire book of backstory, which makes the rushing of the relationship all the more confusing to me. Why not take it differently, find new ways to build it, move something? Obviously I don’t know the rest of the story in the next two books, but it seems like if you’re dedicating three books to the tale, you should have enough time and pages to make the relationship move more naturally.
I do have to note that I adore Kestrel’s name. I’m a huge fan of raptors, and the parallel to the type of bird and who Kestrel strives to be was not lost on me. I’ve been told that a memorable name for your lead character can be a major boon, and Kestrel’s proves this for me.
I don’t expect I’ll be continuing on with the series, though if I find myself in possession of them, I wouldn’t mind seeing where Rutkoski took these two.
Rating: *** – Worth a Look