Give me a minute.
I just needed to marvel for a moment.
YA is not dead. At least, not if authors continue to churn out books like The Winner’s Curse. For starters, it’s beautifully and poignantly written. It also has not one, but two strong and likeable main characters. Full of suspense, action, and believable character interactions, yet devoid of the typical tropes and the usual angst found in most YA these days. This book is a real gem.
Kestral isn’t your typical TSTL YA heroine. Not by a long shot. She’s the daughter of a General and has a head for strategy, but the last thing she wants is to become a soldier. Instead, Kestral has a passion for music. Although her father relentlessly badgers her to join his army, she holds strong in her convictions. Music isn’t exactly celebrated amongst her people. It isn’t valued very highly and it’s seen mostly in a frivolous light. This doesn’t deter Kestral. She does her best to strategize a way to avoid giving in to her father’s demands, so that she can live the life she really wants. I really respected her for this. Having a particular skill shouldn’t be a life sentence to using it against your wishes. For example, I’m a Scrabble wizard (a humble one), but I’ll be damned if someone is going to force me to use my bountiful skills for evil. *fist shake
Having been a rebellious teen and having had a rough time dealing with my own father, made me feel an appreciation for the way Kestral and her father's relationship was portrayed. He was overbearing, but only as much as any stern, doting parent would be. He wasn’t overly and comically villainized simply for the sake of adding conflict and I applaud Rutkoski for that.
Despite her flaws and missteps, I really liked Kestral. I love a heroine who stands her ground, who refuses to conform and who marches to the beat of her own drum. All of this despite living in a society that values military experience above all things and being constantly scrutinized because of who her father is. Falling in line is easy. I'd rather applaud a heroine who rebels and for all the right reasons.
Kestral is also not your typical slave master. Never having had any intention of owning a person, she's reluctant to abuse or even use her power over her new slave. He uses her hesitance to his advantage every chance he gets.
That slave is Arin. Strong, unruly Arin, who has been enslaved since childhood, when he was ripped from his family. Ungovernable Arin, who has watched his people be systematically torn down and torn apart. Full of justifiable, seething rage, he is more than a handful for Kestral, who purchased him only on a whim, likely because his streak of rebellion resonated with her.
I loved and respected Arin. He was of the mindset that one might be a slave, but one didn't have to play the role happily. He didn't always make the right choices, but given the hand he was dealt, it's difficult to fault him for thinking with his heart instead of his brain. Sometimes, your emotions overpower your rational thinking and you do things that aren’t in your game plan. Things like that made Arin even more likable. I felt for him and found myself warring with my feelings for him as the story unfolded. There was a lot of grey in this book and Rutkoski doesn't make it easy to take sides.
I loved Arin and Kestral together. I loved to watch their relationship grow and the slow burn with which it progressed made me swoon like a schoolgirl. I hadn't swooned in a long, long time. Usually, when I read books, I wish that I could cut the corny romance right out. This book just left me wanting more. Way more. Sigh.
I've seen mention around the way that there is a love triangle in this book. Allow me to refute those claims with a resounding hell no. Although, I guess it all depends on your definition of a love triangle. For me, a love triangle is when one person is sought by two other people and they entertain both of those people's affections. Yes, there is a second option for Kestral, but she isn't interested in him in the least. She doesn't lead him on and she wants nothing to do with him. That a love triangle does not make. IMO.
Side note: It was so refreshing to have the MC’s hands touch and for neither to have spontaneously combusted due to having felt an “electric jolt” or a literal “spark.” Corny things like that do not happen here.
But enough about romance. This is a story about politics, friendship, war, family and loss. This is why I enjoyed this so much. There is a plot here and there is a much bigger picture than just two teens falling for each other. I didn’t expect to do this book justice with my review and I haven’t, but I highly recommend this one.
I have a new favorite author. ^_^
Edit: DAT ENDING.