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The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Book Name: The Winner’s Curse
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Publisher(s): Farrar, Straus and Giroux (US) Bloomsbury Childrens (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / eBook
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Release Date: March 4, 2014 (US) April 10, 2014 (UK)

I try not to get my hopes up too high when I check out new author/book recommendations from friends or even other book reviewers I respect. What touches one person does not always apply for another. Plus, my reading list seems to grow at a rate that would require me to give up work and sleep in order to catch this moving target. So, the fact that I put aside my TBR list to pick up The Winner’s Curse is saying something, and I am glad I did.

Music is the universal language with the ability to break down barriers and join fierce opponents. The Winner’s Curse enchants with its lyrical prose, beautifully composed with such words as: “A rich emotion played across his features, offered itself, and asked to be called by its name. Hope.” Filled with musical alliteration, one cannot help but be drawn in as the story builds with each new character, like the careful orchestration of a symphony.

“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.”

We begin with Kestrel, the 17-year-old daughter of a legendary general, who finds herself the new owner of a slave. Surprised by her own extravagant impulse which resulted in her becoming the winner in a bidding war, she tries to forget her purchase as she puts it to her steward to see to the slave’s new duties. But Arin’s steely defiance at the auction was what caught Kestrel’s attention in the first place and he is not so easily dismissed. Arin’s talents place him as their new blacksmith as well as Kestrel’s mandatory escort.

Every woman who is not a soldier requires an escort when walking about the city. By the age of twenty, every girl must make the choice to either marry or enlist. Kestrel is not exempt. In fact, her father is pressuring her to join him. Despite her mediocre fighting abilities, Kestrel is a brilliant military strategist. Some of her suggestions helped secure the Valorians’ victory in the Herran War, which provided Herrani slaves such as Arin.

As Kestrel and Arin learn more about each other and their respective people’s history, Kestrel’s understanding of the war, the Herrani people, and even her father is called into question. When unexpected rebellion reveals an uprising long in the making, loyalties are tested and more than political allegiance is at stake.

To be honest, I am not a big fan of political intrigue and military strategies. For the first two-thirds of the book, it provided the backdrop for character development and intruded little into the everyday life of its people. As the plot unfolded, it took center stage for the rest of the book. However, I must admit that the plot threads were intricately woven and only added more depth to its characters. It created dilemmas that carried that much more potential for emotional casualties.

I am more than impressed by this author’s writing. It is poetry dressed up as a novel. Even though this is the beginning of a trilogy, this first book ended rather agreeably, enough to keep the suspense but not so abruptly as to add to the torment of waiting for the next installment. I look forward to reading more captivating metaphors like this:

“…the memory…beaded bright in her dark mind, strung itself out like liquid jewels, distilled down the way alcohol does, or a volatile chemical, growing stronger when forced to reduce.”

And to soak up more musically inspired depictions.


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