Series: The Winner's Trilogy #1
Published by Macmillan in 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Reading Challenges: Once Upon a Time VIII
Buy the Book • Goodreads
The Winner’s Curse is a dystopian fantasy novel set in a world that vaguely resembles ancient Rome, but with more ever-so-slightly more gender equality and with fancier dresses (the cover pretty much sums it up). Kestrel is a general’s daughter, and as such, she’s forced to choose to either join the military or get married. Those are her only choices, and it’s considered her duty to her country to choose one.
The thing is, Kestrel’s people can’t really be considered good guys in any sense of the word. They are part of an Empire that thrives on conquest while killing or enslaving the conquered. Kestrel’s city is extremely unequal, and it makes her not want to choose her future. She sees the misery that her father’s people have caused, and she doesn’t want to join the military because she doesn’t believe in its cause. Similarly, she doesn’t want to marry someone she has no feelings for.
Then one day Kestrel is in the market with a friend and they somehow end up at a slave auction. When she sees Arin, she recognizes someone much like herself, and she impulsively buys him despite her opposition to slavery. Of course, Arin is much more complicated than he seems, and Kestrel’s action sets of a chain of events that upsets the balance of power.
I wasn’t terribly impressed with The Winner’s Curse. I bought it because I’d read a lot of glowing reviews, but it just seemed so fake to me. The writing was decent enough, but the story just didn’t do it for me. For instance, there’s one scene where Kestrel’s city is sacked, and yet she somehow manages to get out of everything unscathed and yet is throwing a tantrum because Arin’s keeping her locked in a room TO SAVE HER LIFE. Kestrel was selfish and immature, and I got the impression that her opposition to slavery was more to stroke her own perception of her moral superiority than any actual thoughts of feelings about anyone other than herself. And she is capable of caring about people and acting because of it, but the only ones she demonstrates this toward more than just superficially for most of the book are people of her own social class. She wants to get what other people are feeling, but she doesn’t. The fact that Arin’s not afraid to tell her that is part of why she starts to respect him in the first place. It’s not that she’s a horrible person, or at least she doesn’t mean to be, but I just didn’t like her. And then there’s the fact that for most of the book, the world fell to pieces around her but nothing bad ever happened to her because she’s such a special snowflake. There were a couple near misses and a minor injury, but nothing that rivaled anything that the people her father oppressed felt. And it’s not that I wish her harm, it’s that the lack of real harm made her seem less real. /endrant