Friday, February 14, 2014

Title: The Winner's Curse
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner's Curse, book #1
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux BYR
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
Source: ARC borrowed from the amazingly awesome Christina
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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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.

First, an apology to all of the other books I will read this year: I am sorry that The Winner's Curse was the first book I read this year. I am sorry that nothing I read after it will compare. I am sorry that I now have unreal expectations for every subsequent book I pick up this year and forever more. It's not your fault any more than it is the fault of The Winner's Curse, but still I am sorry.

I wish I could have read this book three or four times before sitting down to write this review because I don't think anything I could say right now would do the book justice. Nothing seems adequate to describe my love for this novel. I read the book at the very beginning of the year, and it's stayed with me since. I've been mulling over different aspects of the story for weeks, and I'm starting to think that the only way to get past this amazing book is to read it again. Or am I just fooling myself so that I can read it again?

If I'd read Rutkoski's The Shadow Society prior to picking up this novel, I might have been at least a little prepared for what was to come. As it stands, The Winner's Curse caught me off guard completely. The writing is gorgeous, the story is breathtaking, and the world is different and familiar, all at once. I felt that the story started out similarly enough to Diana Peterfreund's For Darkness Shows the Stars that I was on even footing going into it, but this story is also nuanced by the more present thrummings of revolution and the fact that the reader sees the world through the perspectives of both star-crossed lovers.

Despite the early hype for this book, I'd never read a book by this author at the time that I started The Winner's Curse and I paid little attention to the summary, so I had little to no expectations going into this story. I had no idea that a war was brewing in Kestrel's homeland. That Kestrel's only lot in life was to join the military or get married. There are no other alternatives for a young Valorian lady, despite what sharp-witted Kestrel may wish. I was also unaware that Arin was a slave fated to be so much more to his people. Also unexpected was the duel. Yes, I said duel. (Actually, my notes on the matter say, "A @#%$*&! DUEL!")
     "And you will stop pressuring me to enlist. Whether I become a soldier is my choice."
     The general rubbed his wet palms together, his hands still dirty. The water that dripped from them was brown. "Here is my counteroffer. You will study strategy with me as my schedule allows. Your sessions with Rax will continue, but only on a weekly basis. And you will make your decision by spring."
     "I don't have to decide until I am twenty."
     "It's better for both of us, Kestrel, if we know soon on what ground we stand."
     She was ready to agree, but he lifted one finger. "If you don't choose my life," he said, "you will marry in the spring."
     "That's a trap."
     "No, it's a bet. A bet that you like your independence too much not to fight alongside me."
     "I hope you see the irony in what you have just said."
     He smiled.
     Kestrel said, "You will stop trying to persuade me? No more lectures?"
     "I will play the piano whenever I like. You won't say a word about it."
     His smile shrank. "Fine."
     "And"--her voice faltered--"if I marry, it will be to whom I choose."
     "Of course. Any Valorian of our society will do."
     This was fair, she decided. "I agree."
     The general patted her cheek with a damp hand. "Good girl."
Which brings me to the importance of music in this story. In this land, the playing of music is a menial task, one reserved for slaves. And yet, Kestrel is drawn to the piano, despite her father's desires that she not toil away at it. Kestrel's love of music is palpable, as is Arin's, and it's described beautifully in this story:
She wished that Arin hadn't chosen music for the flute, of all instruments. The beauty of the flute was in its simplicity, in its resemblance to the human voice. It always sounded clear. It sounded alone. The piano, on the other hand, was a network of parts -- a ship, with its strings like rigging, its case a hull, its lifted lid a sail. Kestrel had always thought that the piano didn't sound like a single instrument but a twined one, with its low and high halves merging together or pulling apart.
There is such a rich history in this tale, full of political intrigue, military strategy and the undercurrents of a revolution. As the Valorians conquered their enemies, they enslaved them and essentially took over their lives. The Valorians live in the homes of the Herrani, while the Herrani bide their time, waiting till everything is in place to strike back at their aggressors. Kestrel is a Valorian lady, well-suited to stratagem. Arin is a Herrani slave, a skilled blacksmith destined to be placed in the household of General Trajan, Kestrel's father.

Kestrel herself has a commanding presence. She is intelligent, dedicated, and above all, open-minded. And Arin hates her the second she purchases him at the slave auction. Yet, it's her willingness to keep an open mind that eventually starts to melt the ice that's formed around Arin's heart. Arin was not born into servitude, and he has lost much at the hands of the Valorians. He manages to keep a lid on his defiant thoughts and actions, but his growing feelings for the privileged girl who might actually understand his plight are at risk of destroying all his well-laid plans.
So the Herrani thought his face held the mad delight of a warrior at the sight of battle. He let them believe it. You are the god of lies, Kestrel had said. He looked at his people and smiled, and the smile was a lie -- but like writing in a mirror, whose reflection is the inverse of a truth.
Kestrel and Arin are very pragmatic individuals. They realize that what they feel for each other can never be examined closer, that what they want means little in the scheme of things. Each has their own path and never shall the two cross. But that doesn't mean that their affection for each other doesn't continue to kindle. Though any relationship for these two is out of the question, they do embark on a slow-burning romance that cannot be doubted. Their positions in life will never allow them to be anything more, but there is no question that these two yearn for each other -- mind, body, and soul.
Arin smiled. It was a true smile, which let her know that all the others he had given her were not. "Thank you," he said.
The other characters in this story are unequivocally as unforgettable as the passion that burns between Kestrel and Arin. Enai may have had a bit part as Kestrel's nursemaid, but she is the reason Kestrel is the young woman she is today. Equally as important are Kestrel's friends: Jess, her best friend and closest confidante, and Jess's brother Ronan, whose designs on Kestrel's affections are somewhat questionable and entirely foolhardy. And then there's Kestrel's father, the gruff man who loves his daughter but also wants to see her follow in his footsteps. Their relationship was strained, but the love they felt for one another was obvious.
     "Kestrel." The general touched her shoulder. When he spoke, his voice was uncharacteristically hesitant. "It's every child's duty to survive her parents. My profession isn't a safe one. I would like -- Kestrel, when I die, do not mourn me."
     She smiled. "You do not command me," she said, and kissed his cheek.
Do you ever read the acknowledgements of a book, discover how the idea for the book you've just read originated, and find yourself loving the book that much more because of it? That happened here. I absolutely devoured The Winner's Curse, and it's definitely one of my favorites for 2014, even though the year just got under way. But even crazier is that it's earned a spot on my favorite books of all-time list. This story is amazing, with its themes of love, loyalty, loss, and betrayal, and I honestly don't think I've read anything that quite compares to it. This novel is so promising and it offers up so much; it's just so poignant and clever and passionate. I'm sure I'll have read it several times before the second book is released. I just can't get enough of this gorgeous story, and I want to force it up on the masses!

GIF it to me straight:
Yes, it is.
Also, this.

About the author:

Marie Rutkoski is the author of the YA novel The Shadow Society and the children's fantasy series The Kronos Chronicles, including The Cabinet of Wonders, The Celestial Globe and The Jewel of the Kalderash. Her next project is a YA trilogy that begins with The Winner's Curse, which is scheduled to be published in March 2014.

Marie grew up in Bolingbrook, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago), as the oldest of four children. She holds a BA from the University of Iowa and a PhD from Harvard University. Marie is currently a professor at Brooklyn College, where she teaches Renaissance Drama, children's literature and fiction writing. She usually lives in New York City with her husband and two sons, but she and her family are living in Paris for the 2012-2013 academic year.

Find Marie:

WebsiteTwitter | Facebook | Goodreads


  1. I'm so excited that you loved this book because I have been looking forward to reading it for FOREVER!! Your review has me dying to get my hands on this book!!

  2. EXCUSE ME AS I GO FREAK OUT. Nope, I didn't make it in time. My freak-out spilled everywhere and now it's uncontainable because your review. Oh, Jen, your review. I've been DYING to read this one and now I know that I am missing out on life for sure. Although, it is good that I at least didn't read this in the beginning of the year so I don't have the same "problem" as you ;) I don't even know what else to say or comment about except that I love that you loved this so much!

  3. OH MY GOSH. STOP. STOP. YOU'RE MAKING ME WANT IT EVEN MORE. Cue extreme desperation for this book. XD :) I LOVE the premise and knowing it lives up to it (and that gorgeous cover) is just beyond brilliant. This is so high on my desperately-want-list it's about to explode. Okay, okay. Just. Thank you. This is such a brilliant review.

  4. When I first saw you were reading this one I read the description and thought... meh. It just isn't something I would normally be dying to pick up. but then again, I've read a few books lately like that, and I've ended up loving the. this review though... You obviously adore this book and you've never steered me wrong so I went and added it to my amazon wish list. How convenient that it comes out on my birthday! I'll have to get it . :)

  5. WOW. This is such a fabulous review, Jen. Fabulous. Your love of this book really, really shows in your writing (which is so eloquent, btw: " Each has their own path and never shall the two cross. ")

    I adored this book as well. ADORED it. It is so well plotted, so well written. So engaging and so emotional. And the more I read about where the author researched (like I have since heard that she referred to ancientt Roman texts on battle strategy and techniques to write her battle scenes) and where her ideas came from the more I love the book (this in response to your thoughts on reading the Acknowledgements:)

    And YES to the unexpected DUEL! Your thoughts were my thoughts EXACTLY. My review will say something very similar!

    Perfect review of a perfect book:)

  6. What a fantastic review! I've seen several reviews floating around the blogosphere, but yours is the first that makes me want to read it, I'm dying to read this book right now!

  7. This review has made me want to read The Winner's Curse all the more. This is my most anticipated read of 2014. I'm glad to hear that not only is character development well thought out and that world building is not forgotten. I'm so excited to read this book. I have yet to read a bad review for this book.

  8. I have been dying to get my hands on this book for too long! Your review made me want it more:-)

  9. Love stories where music is important! And all the quotes I've seen from this book have been awesome!

  10. I like how sounds this original unique book world :)
    The cover is wonderful,synopsis sounds awesome!
    Great review!
    Thank you :)

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  12. I am glad this author manage to be make this book perfect in every way that matters. I am sure Winner`s Curse will be the "THE" book of 2014. Can`t wait to read it.

  13. All these awesome reviews are making me so excited!!

  14. (This is Darith L)

    Okay, this is like the 10th or so review I've read, and the general consensus is that TWC is a remarkable novel! I gravitate toward historical-like novels so much, and the premise of this book has me so intrigued! I'm excited for its release in March! :D

  15. This is a good review. This is one of the books I'm looking forward to read.

  16. This makes me want to read the book right now. Can't wait to get my hands on it!!!

  17. All of these flailing reviews and talk about it being the best book of the year is getting me super excited! Only a couple more weeks!

  18. Oh. My. Gosh. I have been waiting for the release of this book for way too long and this review has just made me realise why. It looks amazing and has everything that I would want in a book: Historical, romance, mystery! I can't wait to read it and thanks for the awesome review! :)

  19. So how did you like the book? I couldn't tell. ;) That was an awesome review. I am really loving what a different kind of story this is from the usual right now.

  20. Love your review I ct wait to get my hands on this book it's gorgeous and I've seen nothing but great reviews!

  21. I'd never heard of Marie Rutkoski before I heard of The Winner's Curse...I'm not sure if I should read her other works before reading The Winner's Curse...but I am so excited about The Winner's Curse...and there's enough hype about it that I'm a little wary but I just can't wait to read it myself and see how good it is!
    Thanks for the review!

  22. Wow, it sounds amazing! I've heard only great reviews about this book. Now after reading yours I'll have to bump it up on my list. Thanks for the great review and push to read it!

  23. I wasn't sure if I wanted this one before I read your review, but WOAH, now I definitely have to! I'm in awe just from the excerpts. Thank you so much for sharing, otherwise I probably would have missed out!

  24. See, that first paragraph in your review, that right there is enough to make me want to read this even more than I did before. I mean, an apology to every other book you read this year? That is a big thing to be brought on by one single book. Other than that paragraph though, every other one of them makes me want to read this one so MUCH! It sounds absolutely phenomenal! Thank you for your lovely review, and I really can't wait for my chance to read this story!

  25. Urgh your review just makes me even more desperate to get my hands on this book!

  26. Very thorough review. I love how you say no book will compare this year. I've had that happen in the past before, and it stays that way until maybe another book later in the year gets close. Great review!

  27. Great review, It sounds interesting, I will have to add this book to my list! I hope I can enjoy it as much as you did! :^D

  28. Wow - who wouldn't want to read this book after that amazing review?! I was drawn to this book from the moment I saw the cover and then read the blurb, but that review made me want to pick up a copy TODAY. Too bad it isn't out yet! :)

  29. I have seen SO many amazing reviews, but this one takes the cake! I hadn't read any that talked about the importance of music in the story though, so that was interesting. I have been waiting for this to release for so long and all of these reviews have me so excited!!!! I'm so glad you loved it!

  30. I already wanted this now it's just amplified. The books I love I'll read everything I can about including the acknowledgemennts, interviews, stalking etc. it does make u fall in love with the book more especially when u appreciate the angle is comes from. So excited. Please book gods help me out here need this one soon!

  31. I havent read this but I just know it will be great. I loved your review and I cant wait to meet those characters and to see the writing that has captured so many hearts. I just know I will love it :)

  32. Mhhh Fassbender and an undercurrent revolution!! I'm sold !!

    Great review :)

  33. Love your enthusiasm for this book. Also slipped out for a second to order Rutkoski's The Shadow Society.

  34. Love your gifs. Lol. I honestly can't wait to get my hands on this. I've heard so many great reviews about it. Thanks for yours!

  35. +JMJ+

    I already want to read The Winner's Curse, but this review is encouraging. =) I'd be interested to see what the author does by the intertwining the themes of music and freedom--especially since a classically trained musician friend has assured me that you have to be in "bondage" to music if you hope to be any good at it at all.

  36. The love for this book is overwhelming!! Yes, it's not my usual genre, but I feel the need to give it a go anyway. I thought about the audio... I'm just not sure which way to go! Either way, I AM reading this! :)

  37. A duel! I don't think I've read ANY book with a duel in it so far.
    I'm glad to hear that The Winner's Curse is on your favorite book of all time list! It tells me that I HAVE TO read this one asap!


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