Monday, March 3, 2014

The Winner's Curse (Release Day Review)

Monday, March 3, 2014 10:14 PM with 25 comments

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The Winner's Curse

Author: Marie Rutkoski
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Number of Pages: 355
Release Date: March 4, 2014

Synopsis from Goodreads:

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.


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MY THOUGHTS:

The hardest reviews for me to write are always for the over-hyped books. Everybody I know has been clamoring for this one--that cover!--and the raves are already pouring in. Man, this sounds negative. It's not. I actually enjoyed this one quite a bit. I was just so nervous to start it because I'm often the black sheep when it comes to beloved books, but I was easily drawn into this story and read most of it in an afternoon which is rare for me. So while I'm not going to be the dissenting voice this time (yay), I didn't LOVE this book like I know most of my other friends have so far. Don't get me wrong, it is well written and I absolutely enjoyed it, but I'm being a scrooge when it comes it to series, and this definitely reads like the first book in a series. 

The Winner's Curse follows a young girl named Kestrel. Kestrel is an aristocrat, the general's daughter, and a Valorian. Kestrel is at the point in her life where all Valorians must make a decision: She must either get married or join the military. Her father is hoping that she will chose a place by his side and join the military ranks, for while she isn't the best fighter, she has the perfect mind for military strategy. Kestrel, for her part, doesn't really want to choose either. She knows she doesn't want to join the military, despite her father's wishes, but she also isn't in love with any of the boys with whom she might marry. Her whole life changes when, on a whim, she purchases a defiant Herrani slave named Arin.

Over a decade ago, the Valorians conquered the Herrani land. Those families that were deemed worthy got the wealthy homes in the village, including Kestrel's family, and the Herrani who survived the invasion now live as slaves. Arin has gotten by working for a blacksmith and is waiting for the day in which the Herrani can make a move to get their beloved village back.

There were several things that I really enjoyed about this story. The first are the characters, themselves. I loved Kestrel. I loved how intelligent she was and the fact that she could easily climb the ranks of the military should she choose. Even though music is considered beneath the Valorian, she has a strong attachment to her mother's piano and plays whenever possible. I loved the strong friendship between her and Jess, as well as with Jess's brother, Ronan. I also really liked Arin. I was dismayed by some of his actions, but I understood his motivation. I cannot even imagine having to go from a member of society into slavery--especially to the very people who took everything away.

The biggest baddie--who I won't spoil here--was sufficiently hate-worthy. I seriously wanted to dive into the book and take this person out myself. Grrr.

I thought the world building was strong. I was expecting for this to be more, I don't know, fantasy-based or "other-worldly" in some way, but the world read more like historical fiction. There aren't any fantasy or magical elements which I appreciated. The Valorian's authority is wide-spread with many villages falling to them. The emperor who controls it all is said to be a two day trip away by ship which leaves control of the city to Kestrel's father. I found the military aspect pretty fascinating and intriguing, and found myself rooting for both sides.

The relationship between Kestrel and Arin (you know it happens) was well-written and slow burning. There's attraction, but there is no instalove here. The two develop a shaky friendship first and both struggle with their feelings. Kestrel knows that she would never be able to chose a Herrani slave as her mate, and Arin cannot forget what has been done to him and his people.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Winner's Curse. The history/military aspects are well-written and interesting, the secondary characters are fleshed out, and our two main characters are lovely. The novel definitely reads like the first book in a series, though, which would be my only real complaint. The novel doesn't end on a cliff-hanger, per se, but it's pretty close. I definitely wish I would have waited to start this series until all the books were out. Just saying. BUT I do think most people will be drawn into this story completely and can easily recommend it. It's pretty flawless.

*I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher in exchange of an honest review.*

25 comments:

  1. I've been really excited about reading this book, but I know what you mean about series. I'm so over them, especially when the books don't read like a complete book, but rather the first book, or the second book, or whatever. They really need to stand on their own so I'm disappointed to hear that this one has that issue. But I still have to read it! It's so hard to wait, but I really wish I could because I'm sure I would enjoy it more if I could just binge read. ~Pam

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    1. I'm having the same issues with series, as we've discussed a couple of times. It's not like I didn't know this was a book one going in, but it really does end in a way that makes it incomplete. It is well written and certainly worth reading, though. I hope you love it. Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. Ah yes, it sucks that sometimes hype actually works against books. But I'm still really impressed that you thought so highly of this one in spite of that! I definitely know what you mean when you say that it reads like a first book in a series... I can get pretty burnt out on series myself so there are times when I'd much rather have a book stand on its own. I will think about maybe leaving this book until all the books are out.

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    1. This book is everywhere, and people are LOVING it. I do think that can work against a book sometimes. Frenzy can only go so long. I really did enjoy this, and I do think that most people will, but I do wish that I had waited to read it. Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. I want to read this book a LOT. Particularly since it's historical/military/fantasy because that stuff I always eat up. I'm hearing a lot of raving reviews too...the hype is incredible for this one, eh?! Which makes me a liiiiittle bit nervous too! >-< Sometimes I'm the weirdo when it comes to mega hyped books. But we can only be us, eh? Us and honest.

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    1. I feel like I'm often the black sheep. Honestly, I find it really hard to get into fantasy/dystopian/paranormal stories and those always seem to be the ones that are super-hyped. This one really does read more historical, imo, so I did end up enjoying it quite a bit. I hope you do love it if you pick it up. Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. Fantastic review. I understand when you say it reads like the first book in a series….that can be annoying at times, but I am glad that overall you enjoyed the book. I need to get my hands on a copy!

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    1. Thanks, Chris. I think you will enjoy the historical aspects of this one--that seems to be something you enjoy. The series thing is annoying, but overall it's really good. Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. I'm so glad you liked this one! I think it could have made a good stand-alone but I'm really looking forward to diving back into this world. It was just so easy to fall into.

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    1. I would have loved to have this book be a standalone. I could have easily read more. I know I'll pick up the sequel, but I do wish that publishers stopped making every other book a series. Thanks for stopping by!

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  6. I'm glad you enjoyed The Winner's Curse, Natalie. I love the sound of the world-building and romance, but I'm also excited that the history/military aspects are well-written. Something you don't always see that in a ya book. Great review!

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    1. It was different, and I really enjoyed those aspects. I hope you love it! Thanks for stopping by!

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  7. I am dying to read this book. Much has been written about how wonderful it is, so while I'm a little wary of overhyped books, I've also seen trusted bloggers (like you) sing its praises.

    Great review, Nat.

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    1. Thanks, Joy! I hope you love it when you do pick it up...and, aww, thanks!

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  8. I'd read Marie Rutkoski's The Shadow Society and enjoyed it, but wasn't a favourite, so I was so anxious to read this one, but started and didn't know why I was. I really loved it, it charmed me and really, I couldn't fault it. And learning about the background and everything was actually interesting, because I sometimes find it boring, but yeah, not really a cliffhanger, BUT THAT ENDING. As much as I applaud her for her sacrificing the one thing she didn't want most, I was not amused. I know she couldn't have done anything else, and she had to do what she had to do, but still. :( Glad you weren't the black sheep out of this one! :)

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    1. This was the first book I've read by the author, and, yes that ending! Grrr. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the military/history aspects of the novel. They might have been my favorite part! I'm glad whenever I'm not the black sheep. Lol. Thanks for stopping by!

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  9. Ooh, I would've probably been dismayed by the ending if I'd gone into this book not knowing it was a series, too! I really loved the ending, though. That last line... oh man. =S And I was surprised by the fact that there weren't any magical aspects, even though this is "fantasy" -- though I suppose it doesn't really fit the alternate history genre, as it's pure fiction. I loved the historical feel of it, as well. :D

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    1. Oh, I knew it was the first book in the series, I was just bummed at how much it READ like the first book in a series. Yay, it didn't seem like fantasy at all--which I was quite happy about. The historical aspects were great. Thanks for stopping by!

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  10. I left a comment for someone else earlier today about how all the reviews I've seen for The Winner's Curse are just so positive that I felt like I needed to go search out negative reviews on Goodreads :). I know your review isn't negative, but I definitely appreciate getting to read a positive, with a few reservations, review. I'm actually glad that you think it reads more like historical fiction than fantasy because fantasy isn't my thing and I love historical fiction. I'm waiting to get this one from the library and I'm definitely excited for it, but I'm trying to keep my expectations low so I don't set myself up for disappointment.

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    1. That's the rub, right? You hear something is THE BEST THING EVER, so you get so excited to read it/watch it/taste it/whatever it and then you almost can't help but feel disappointed. This book was definitely enjoyable, but it's not like the best book ever, imo. I do think you'll enjoy it if you like historical fiction. The world building was very cool, and not fantastical in really any way. Thanks for stopping by!

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  11. I've been reading more reviews like this lately after reading a ton of hype. It's very nice to have a more balanced perspective (not saying that to mean anything against people who adored it, I just mean I'm glad to know the pros and cons)!

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    1. Yeah, pretty much everybody I've talked to has LOVED this. I did enjoy it, and would definitely recommend it, but it wasn't the best book ever, imo. I hope you like it if you do pick it up. Thanks for stopping by!

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  12. Yay! I'm glad you ended up enjoying it! I know what you mean about hyped books. I ended up not loving it as much as thought I would, but it definitely was still a great read! The political/military aspect was definitely my favourite part of the book. Arg, waiting for the next book sucks, I love the potential of where it might go! Great review Natalie!
    (PS. here's my review if you're interested (: )

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    1. I'm definitely excited to see what happens next, and the military/historical aspects were my favorite parts, too. I'm glad I'm not the only one who wasn't blown away...even if we both did enjoy it. I'll definitely be by to check out your review. Thanks for stopping by!

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  13. I'm glad you enjoyed it overall, but I can see your stance, as well...the set up definitely did feel very first book-y. :P Not that I'm complaining because I definitely want more from this world, but when I first started the book, it hadn't been introduced as a series, so I was kind of expecting a stand-alone. That's my bad, though. Either way, I'm pretty excited for the next installment, but I hope it doesn't read like a typical middle book.

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Hello, there! Thanks for taking the time to comment. I read each and every one and will do my best to respond--usually on your blog instead of on mine. I will, however, always answer direct questions. Due to serious time restraints, this blog is now an award free zone, but I appreciate the thought!