MY RATING: 3 OUT OF 5 STARS. NOT MY CUP OF TEA; IT’S A PAPERWEIGHT
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 (+Minor Spoilers)~
I wish I had more to say about this book, but I felt decidedly ambivalent about it until I stopped reading about halfway through. I almost don’t have anything good to say about it, except for the fact that I can’t actually fault it for doing anything wrong. There were lots of things that didn’t click with me, but nothing I could flag as objectively needing improvement.
- I had no feelings one way or the other for Kestrel. For a series so well-loved, I felt almost nothing for Kestrel despite her prominence in the story. Even now, I can hardly remember anything about her, and while I was reading the book, I didn’t find her personality existed much at all. She just lacked life as a character; she wasn’t strong, she wasn’t feminine, she wasn’t smart, she wasn’t…anything. She did have her love of music, and her sorrow over the loss of her mother, but that really wasn’t enough; by the time I stopped reading, I’d found nothing relatable in her character. The only thing I could really fixate on was her feelings for Arin, and I never came to understand how she could honestly feel anything for him save a touch of interest and a little contempt. Past that, her feelings for him just felt forced and unrealistic.
- I didn’t like Arin. More than anything, I just couldn’t understand why Kestrel took any interest in him. He just struck me as an overly prideful, overly arrogant, overly angry character, and I very quickly realized I had absolutely no sympathy for him or his position within the resistance. And for someone who’s entire goal was to spy on Kestrel, he did a horrendous job trying to gain her trust, as he was neither personable nor reasonable. As a love interest, I just honestly think he was incredibly unlikable.
- I felt nothing for the budding relationship between Arin and Kestrel. Maybe I didn’t like Kestrel, maybe I didn’t like Arin, but I definitely didn’t like them together. How an entire trilogy can be based on their feelings for each other I don’t know; I can only hope real sparks develop as the series continues. As it stands, I felt nothing between them. I don’t know why Arin would like Kestrel, with his obvious hatred for her life, her lifestyle, her friends, her family, and her political position. In the same vein, I don’t know why Kestrel would like Arin, partially because I thought he was an absolutely unlikable character, and partially because I felt her upbringing would have kept her from essentially falling in love with a slave. I mean, I understand that these kinds of relationships can and have developed, but I just couldn’t understand how Kestrel could overcome her background and the wishes of her father to be interested in such a particularly problematic slave. She deserved better, and I almost felt like she was settling for the first slightly attractive person she’d ever met, with his obvious disinterest and hatred in her serving as some kind of awkward flirting attempt.
- There was no tension in the plot (or what existed of a plot). This is actually the number one reason why I stopped reading. When the story wasn’t trying to describe the rising political tension, or the rising threat of war, Kestrel and Arin just…danced around each other? I’m not sure how else to describe it. Kestrel would reach out to Arin for no reason, he would reject her or grudgingly oblige her depending on what the plot needed, they would spend some time alone together and suddenly they had feelings? I just think the novel depended too much on the tension between Kestrel and Arin to make up for the lack of plot, and since I didn’t like either character, I was left floundering with the shreds of the story that existed outside of their relationship.
- I was frustrated by the ‘winner’s curse’. While I found the concept interesting enough, I found myself quickly and easily annoyed by how Kestrel essentially ‘cursed’ herself. Suffice it to say, the story itself would not exist without Kestrel buying Arin for a ridiculous price from the slaver’s block, which she only ended up passing because the crowds at the market forced her in the wrong direction. I just found it a little unbelievable that the slaver would later claim to have so specifically groomed Arin for being specifically Kestrel’s slave, when he’s clearly and obviously a terrible, terrible slave. I won’t even comment on the odds of Kestrel buying Arin, because I think those odds are self-explanatory, but it just cannot be ignored how poor a slave Arin made. It just doesn’t make any sense; wouldn’t the resistance have wanted to not plant a more likable slave on Kestrel’s estate? I mean, Arin gets the job done, but only because the plot demands that a relationship develop between him and Kestrel. Realistically, he shouldn’t have been able to get close to her at all, because he’s too headstrong to be a good slave and shouldn’t have lasted long in Kestrel’s employment.
Still, regardless of my feelings, I really can’t say this book was a bad one. If a reader can take a liking to Kestrel and Arin, I’m sure this will be a pleasurable read–maybe even a good and interesting one. Unfortunately for me, I just couldn’t find anything to invest in, and in the end, that was more than enough to push me away from this story and on to something else.