“The Winner’s Curse” by Marie Rutkoski
5 out of 5 stars.
Music is seventeen-year-old Kestrel’s Achilles’ heel. It is her comfort, and if someone ever asked where her heart lay, she would probably say it dwells in keys of her piano. It is a strength, a talent, but it is also a curse in some ways, too. Kestrel never thought of it that way until after one fateful day in the market when she found out just how bad her weakness for music was. Kestrel could never have prepared herself for what was to come because of her choice that day, how a purchase of a slave could change her life, her world, forever.
The young man’s eyes had glittered that afternoon with something very familiar to Kestrel: rebellion. She had purchased him mostly because the slaver claimed he could sing, but also because of that look in his eyes, and she wondered if she’d found someone with the same fire burning in them that burned within herself. Kestrel, however, finds herself to instantly regret the purchase when he refuses to sing for her, kindred spirit or not. What was she thinking, buying a slave for so much money just because the slaver said he could sing? But there is more to this slave boy than meets the eye, more than Kestrel could have ever imagined. As the world around her begins to crumble, Kestrel wonders if this slave could be her savior, or if he will be the death of her.
“The Winner’s Curse” is a really hard book for me to review because I honestly don’t know how to put into words what I felt while reading it. Where do I start? Should I begin this post with how much I loved it, how beautifully and intricately woven the plot is, or how the characters grow on you the more time you spend with them, just like an actual person would? I just don’t have the right words to describe this book; anything I say in the written word won’t do this story justice, and that bums me out. A lot. *Sighs*
Despite not knowing exactly what to say, I am still going to write a review for this book.
Okay, I think that the wisest place to start this post is with Marie Rutkoski’s world. Can I just say how gorgeous it is before I write anything else? It’s gorgeous, and I LOVED it! Kestrel doesn’t belong to our world; hers is make-believe, but it feels so real the way Marie wrote it that it seemed more like a beautifully written history book! I felt like I was being drawn into the story, and Kestrel’s world really came alive. One of the reasons that I think made it came alive for me was that Marie’s world is modeled after the Roman-Greco period in history, which just so happens to be my favorite. I love the Roman and Grecian influences that are in “The Winner’s Curse” because they added so much depth and weight to the story, and it made for a more believable story. I feel that Marie did a great job of drawing from these two magnificent civilizations while still making Kestrel’s world her own. I think that is one of the (many) reasons that made this such a stunning read for me.
Besides Marie Rutkoski’s beautiful world building, I loved how cunning and intelligent her characters were. They were shrewd, and calculating and I liked that because you didn’t know exactly what they were thinking, or completely understand their intentions. They held their cards close to their chests, and the author waited until precisely the right moment to have them lay one down; one card was revealed at a time, and it made for a slowly building that eventually blew my mind! I mean, my brain was making the connections and putting things together, so not everything was a surprise, but it was kind of fun to read into actions and to understand what a character was doing without being told. It was clever of the author because it made me even more invested in the book and its characters.
I feel that there is a character in this book for everyone to choose from, and I personally became a fan of Ronan, one of Kestrel’s friends. (Yeah, I know, I tend to go for the sweet friend who’s always been there for the main female character. I guess I’m predictable, but I prefer to call it faithful and dependable). Ronan was an intelligent character, with a good wit that made me smile whenever he was around, and he cared deeply for Kestrel even though she didn’t care for him that way in return. Unrequited love just so happens to be one of the many afflictions ninety percent of the characters I like end up experiencing, so it’s no surprise that I fell for him. Let me warn you now, though, if I ever REALLY like a character and you want them to either be alive at the end of a book, or end up with your other favorite character, run far, far away! I’ve accepted this fact in life, but sometimes it still hurts (except for the very few, but very precious times that my OPTs have ended up together. They are rare but sweet!). Ronan is one of those times, but you know what, I am just looking forward to seeing more of him in this series even if all he will ever be is a friend to Kestrel. I can live with that. All of the characters in this story, though, are all really well developed; there are no pointless or meaningless characters in this book because they all serve some kind of purpose, and there’s also no filler in this book, which is new and refreshing.
What I really want to explain now is what made me realize that I liked “The Winner’s Curse.” For most of the it I wasn’t thinking about what I liked or disliked about this book, I was just absorbed in the story and experiencing each moment alongside the characters. The moment that I realized just how much I loved this book, I had been reading the last fifty or sixty pages, and it was a scene between Kestrel and Arin. Before that moment I hadn’t thought about my likes or dislikes, whether I wanted them together or not, or if I even liked them as individuals. I hadn’t thought about any of those things until after they were in the kitchen, and they had this really beautiful moment together. This scene with them doesn’t last long at all, but afterwards I noticed that I had been holding my breath in anticipation. I don’t know what I was waiting for, but I had been waiting for something.
“The Winner’s Curse” is the first book to do that to me. Sure, I’ve screamed at books/book characters before, I’ve held my breath in dread or fear, and even in excitement, but this is the first book that made me sit, literally, on the edge of my seat, waiting for something, anything to happen. After the moment passed I was kinda like,
That was the moment when I figured out that I loved “The Winner’s Curse.” I guess the best way to describe it is that this story, its characters, and its world, they all snuck up on me. I was just going along with the story when suddenly, and unexpectedly, I was like, “Wow, I really love this book!” After I had finished it, I went to discuss the book with my sister and all I could say was, “Uhhhhh,”, and, “It just snuck up on me!” I sounded like an idiot and I probably looked like one too because I just kept repeating myself over and over again, blinking in shock.
I looked like a fool, but it was totally worth it!
“The Winner’s Curse” was a stunning read. I feel that it and “The One” by Kiera Cass are, so far, my epic reads of 2014. I love a lot of books, but only a few have the potential to be eternally epic stories. What Marie and Kiera have in common, and why I love their books so much, is that their societies, worlds, plots, and characters are all beautifully thought out, intricate, flawed, and real despite being fictional; they stay with you even after you’ve walked away. You can tell that they’ve put their hearts and souls into their books, and that in turn makes you invest more in the stories they write. That is how I differentiate a good book from an epic one. They make me speechless in a really good way kind of way.
Bravo, Marie Rutkoski!!