Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Title: The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy #1)
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Date Published: March 4th 2014
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers

Rating: 5 out of 5

Goodreads Blurb:

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.

This is one of my all time favourites.
Why, you ask? 
Because of the realistic and beautiful setting. 
The believable, intelligent characters. 
The style of writing- engaging and poetically elegant. 
The fast, unbelievably unique plot.
And (an equally contributing factor to my adoration of this book), the fact that this book is (loosely) based on a phenomenon called the "Winner's Curse."

"A tendency for the winning bid in an auction to exceed the intrinsic value of the item purchased. Because of incomplete information, emotions or any other number of factors regarding the item being auctioned, bidders can have a difficult time determining the item's intrinsic value. As a result, the largest overestimation of an item's value ends up winning the auction."       
(Source: Investopedia.com)

From a historian's point of view, the world-building was incredible. Almost as good as Narnia. Almost. And the history between the two countries, the war, the enslavement of a whole race- it was almost textbook perfect. But, note that I said "unique" while I was listing the wonderful qualities of this book. It was unique: every dialogue, action, scene, and character was literally incomparable to those of any other book. While the structure of the society and the conflict was based on that of historical societies, all the small details of this book were remarkably distinct. I absolutely loved Kestrel's home- it was described beautifully and if I had to compile a list of fictional vacation sites, her home would be on it. 

Kestrel was an awesome female protagonist, comparable to my other favorites (Calaena, Penryn, and Tessa) solely because they were all wonderfully brave and witty. But the similarities end there. Kestrel is the daughter of the General, living among the nobility of Valoria. She's pressured by her father to join the military, but all she wants to be is free from the constraints of society. She doesn't believe in the subjugation of the Herranis and defies the rules of her society by showing them kindness. She's also incredibly manipulative and is tightly wrapped in armor- she doesn't give away any feelings and is constantly on guard. 

Similarly, Arin is extremely reserved at the beginning of this book solely because he had a BIIG secret to hide [won't give it away this time]. He is kind but also resents the Valorians for stealing away his home and country. This resentment fuels his secretive actions, but by the end the tables are turned and Arin's character changes significantly once he starts to trust Kestrel. 

By the end the two characters seemed incompatible, especially since once was a slave while the other, a master. But hopefully everything works out well in the next book (which I have already read, but I'm trying not to let it influence this review). 

Another aspect of the book I enjoyed was Kestrel's love of playing the piano and her skill at the game of Bite and Sting (check out Marie Rutkoski's website to play this interesting game!) I also adored the Herrani Gods, and although there wasn't very much information about them, it helped add to the culture and background. The idea of such gods is similar to the idea of Saints; for example, there is a Herrani God of Lies. 

If I had to choose, I would say the end was the most enjoyable part of the book. Because literally everything was falling apart, I was truly in a tailspin and everything that happened from the last ball (that's right, there are balls, who doesn't like balls?) to the end of the book was wonderfully unexpected. It was however infuriatingly incomplete and I was raging at the cliff-hanger, because believe me, the last few pages are so crazy they will knock your socks off. 

I recommend this to fans of historical fiction as well as those who enjoy witty banter. Actually I recommend this to EVERYONE, because this book has drama, love, wit, and war. At the risk of sounding like an ad, this book has something to suit everyones's tastes.