Am I late to the party? The Winner’s Trilogy has been a young adult favorite for a while, but I like to wait until at least three books in the series are out (usually) for a back-to-back read. The first two books were GoodReads Choice Award Nominees for Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction in 2014 and 2015, and I suspect the third will win a coveted slot for 2016 as well. Now that I’ve finished with The Winner’s Curse, I see what all the commotion is about.
Kestrel is the daughter of a high-ranking general in the Valorian army. She is expected to choose between the military or marriage, as every Valorian society teen is expected to do. Her combat skills are lacking and she doesn’t really want to join the military, nor does she want to get married. Her best friend’s brother, a nice guy, has his eyes set on her. But she isn’t ready to commit to anything.
They live on a peninsula that was long conquered by the Valorians and now part of the Valorian Empire. The conquered Herrani people still live there and those who were once aristocrats and high society people are now slaves to the Valorians, if they had survived the initial takeover. This was before Kestrel’s time.
Kestrel and her friend Jess accidentally get shoved into a slave auction while at the marketplace. The first slave brought out is a young man who is touted as a singer, and that wasn’t something the musically-gifted Kestrel could pass up. She pays a handsome price and sets him up as a blacksmith on her estate. His ability proves her purchasing prowess, and he makes a good addition to the household’s slave holdings.
Arin is his name, and he has designs on being more than just a house slave. His appointment to the general’s house was fortuitous for he is part of the Herrani rebellion. He lets himself get close to Kestrel and gleans important information that he passes down the line to his group of rebels. But when the night comes for the Herrani to take back their independence, Arin realizes his love for Kestrel.
I enjoyed this read from beginning to end. While I connected with Kestrel on every level, I found it difficult to be too angry with Arin. It was the Herrani people who built the cities on this peninsula. They were wealthy, sophisticated, cultured, and wise. It was the Valorians who were the barbarians, and they had traded peacefully for a time. When the Valorians invaded, they took over everything, stole everything, and forced the remaining Herrani children into slavery. Arin and his people wanted to take everything back – not revenge, justice.
Still, Kestrel is a likable Valorian. She had no part in the conquering, an innocent. What’s more, she is a good person who is kind to her slaves, even freeing one at great personal cost to herself. She enjoys playing the piano even when it goes against custom, she gossips but as a way to leverage people, she’s strategic with a good head on her shoulders, and when Arin is caught stealing, she defends him by way of entering a duel, putting her own life on the line. She is kind to Arin and wants to get to know him. So when he begins to use that kindness to his advantage to steal information – yup, I got angry with his character – but I shouldn’t.
Without giving away any spoilers, suffice it to say I was proud of Kestrel. When I was worried that she wouldn’t stand up for her own right, she does. And it is amazing. Author Rotkoski couldn’t have made the end to this book any more perfect.
The Winner’s Curse
by Marie Rutkoski