The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski | Feeling Nostalgic For YA Past?

Guys, this book has been sat on my shelf for the last five or so years, and I’m absolutely kicking myself that I didn’t read it sooner. I have a feeling that I would have enjoyed this much, much more had I read it back when it was released, but it just hasn’t aged well in my opinion. There’s a lot of YA tropes in here that were super common back in the 2010-15 era, and it just kind of bugged me 😕

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski
(The Winner’s Trilogy #1)
Hardcover | 355 pages | Purchased

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.

The book starts with Kestrel buying a slave for apparently no reason other than a flicker of instinct that says he was a kindred spirit. That spoke volumes in itself when you see the story develop. Though Kestrel might be a general’s daughter with a strategist’s mind, she’s also still just a girl. I liked her as a character, but there just wasn’t much substance to her, even later in the book when Arin’s secret comes out. She was just a little… bland 🙄

Arin, on the other hand, is a little more interesting with his double life. We find out about his “mission” fairly early into the story, and seeing the events unfold, bearing witness to Kestrel’s discovery, was a good play on the author’s part. A lot of writers leave the reader in the dark as much as possible, and I kind of enjoyed the transparency of Arin’s secret. It made him much more interesting, and since this book is written from both Kestrel and Arin’s points of view, it gave great insight into his character.

In all honesty, this is a pretty generic YA fantasy. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t particularly enjoy it, either. Kestrel and Arin’s friendship felt forced in so many places, and the writing just didn’t mesh with me very well. Not a whole lot really seemed to happen for a huge chunk of this book, and it just felt a little slow in places. There was also absolutely zero chemistry between Arin and Kestrel, and if I’m being honest, their relationship made less and less sense the more I read 😐

The idea behind this book is great (albeit a little overdone), but the execution could have been so much better. If you’re looking for the nostalgic feeling of YA past, this book is great for that. It’s a super quick read, but don’t expect to have you socks knocked off 😂 Like I said, had I read this book back when it was released, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more, but the bar for YA fantasy has been set pretty damn high with the likes of Sarah J. Maas and Leigh Bardugo, especially considering both of their debuts were released around the same time as this book 😬

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