The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Publication Date: March 4th 2014


“The god of lies must love you, you see things so clearly.”

As a woman Kestrel must either get married or join the military, her father has always expected her to be his good little soldier. Kestrel has little talent for fighting and little desire to marry, but she must choose. When Kestrel purchases a slave that she connects with she’ll learn that owning him will cost her far more than fifty keystones.

Kestrel is a fantastic character, and so deliciously different from most fantasy young adult protagonists. Kestrel doesn’t want to fight, but she’s expected to. In young adult literature it’s often the other way around, princesses and highborn ladies who want to shun their femininity in favour of a sword. Kestrel is strong without being violent, she proves that there are ways to write good female protagonists without devaluing traditionally feminine traits.

The protagonists cleverness is also incredibly valuable to the conflict. It’s interesting to see a story where the battles are fought not only with strength but with secrets, strategy and intrigue. Rukoski has developed a politically complex world and the fact that we see if from both the well-off lady Kestral’s point of view and that of her slave makes it have much more depth.

The book dealt with both slavery and love with skill. To often love in fantasy novels feels destined or immediate so the slow boil of this particular romance, along with the realistic difficulties, was beautiful. Slavery isn’t something many books touch on, and rarely this well. The slaves are not treated terribly, because they don’t have to be mistreated to make their status as lesser beings wrong.

Kestrel is complex, flawed and strong without being a strong fighter. The world is unique and interesting. There are parts of the book that are slow, but it’d necessary. There are weak bits and weak characters but The Winner’s Curse can more than hold it’s own against other similarly toned fantasy novels.


Read this if you’re a fan of: Six of Crows


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