Review The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy #1) by Marie Rutkovski

Review The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy #1) by Marie Rutkovski

Synopsis: 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.

Rating: 5/5 Stars
Following books in the series:
The Winner’s Crime
The Winner’s Kiss
Recommended for: fans of good fantasy and forbidden romance
My thoughts:
I have a certain weariness when it comes to books that are all the hype and I tend to put them on hold for a while, because I've been burned by my high expectations plenty times. Case in instance, The Winner's Curse, is not like that. It is freaking ah-mazing and the true definition of addictive awesomeness, so excuse me in advance for the overall fangirling!

I picked this up on a whim, constricted by my small variety of books I had on my phone. Once I started it at around 9 PM, I couldn't stop reading and ended up finishing it at 3 AM. I got all teary-eyed at some parts, I was sometimes stuck with a sappy grin on my face and I actually experienced butterflies in my tummy at the expanse of a fictional boy. Call me crazy, but I fell in love with everything about this book, including the so-called enemies.
“Isn’t that what stories do, make real things fake, and fake things real?”
Kestrel, daughter of the most respect general in the Valorian military, ends up buying a Herrani slave at an auction. Little does she know that not only she brings a determined rebel into her home, but she's also clueless to her future love for him. And you see, love and betrayal we're never happy pals.
“Arin smiled. It was a true smile, which let her know that all the others he had given her were not.”
I completely admired Kestrel. She has a cunning mind and she's a strong, realistic heroine. I understood her fears and insecurities and I loved her caring and artsy side. She's so talented and clever, beautiful and just the right blend of selfless and selfish -- I know it's weird, but you'll get it once you read the book. In addition to that, I really admired how she's able to look and analyze a situation objectively, not treating it as a black and white scenario and acknowledging that there are gray areas in every war and battle. And let's not forget that this girl is not helpless at all -- although she's not exactly warrior material, she's kickass at her strategy.
There were three platonic relationships I loved that included Kestrel. First, the daughter-father one. It is so remarkably done -- the mutual support, respect, love. The desire to not disappoint Trajan on Kestrel's part and the ultimate wish to protect that drives her father. I loved her father and Rutkoski really managed to paint him in a good, kind and just manner, regardless of the side he was on.
“It’s every child’s duty to survive her parents. My profession isn’t a safe one. I would like—Kestrel, when I die, do not mourn me.”
She smiled. “You do not command me,” she said, and kissed his cheek.”
Another relationship I loved was Kestrel's friendship with Jess. It was heartwarming and Jess brought a smile to my face whenever she entered the scene with her bubbly and spunky personality. There was such a stark contrast between her carefree and socialite demeanor and Kestrel's guarded and conflicted mentality, that I couldn't help than appreciate the speck of color she added to the plot. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
The third dynamic I admired was the one between our main girl and Enai, her nurse, caretaker and replacement for Kestrel's late mother. If anything, these two showed to their world and to readers that no matter what race you are, we're still human beings. And that if you have brains, a heart and, most importantly, a soul, then you'll have no problem coexisting -- a matter we should take under consideration even in our reality-based lives.
By this time, you might've noticed that I've avoided the subject of romance. The first reason is that there's a semi-platonic relationship between Kestrel and love-sick Ronan that actually saddened me. This boy is willing to do anything to earn Kestrel's love and respect as a true suitor, but most of the time she friend zones him or uses him. And that's what kind of bothered me, because Ronan is nothing but a handsome, clever and kind man that would've treated Kestrel as a princess, but he never got a shot to prove his worth. 
The second reason would be that the main love interest -- Arin -- although easy to love most of the time, is also merciless with his betrayals. We especially see this in the first part of the novel, when his walls are slowly torn down by Kestrel's intriguing persona, but when at the same time, he chooses to hurt the same girl with countless lies and scheming.
Putting my conflicting thoughts on his choice of behavior aside, I have to admit he's a strong-willed character. Complex in his own contradiction and inner battle between honoring his legacy and duty to his people and sheltering his blossoming love for Kestrel, he represents the winning combination of a fierce, calculated and just leader and a man who knows that true values remain in love. He's funny, gorgeous by any standards, intelligent and caring, but still young and deeply flawed (not to mention hurt). Yet somehow that's what makes him inherently beautiful.
“He knew the law of such things: people in brightly lit places cannot see into the dark.”
The romance of these two is as gorgeous as painful to watch unfold, because no matter how strong the feelings, secrets always come to light and shred everything apart. Forbidden, with worlds separating them, their love is not a guaranteed survivor given the fact that they also believe it. And I have to admit that even though Ronan would treat Kestrel like a princess, my gut tells me Arin would treat her like a queen.
“My soul is yours", he said. "You know that it is.”
The world-building in this universe is fascinating and I'd love to find out more about the other countries and how Valoria came to be. I'd also loooove to delve deeper into the Herrani traditions and customs and experience more of their society. I guess I'll have my wish in The Winner's Crime, because after that ending, what's next will prove to be stellar.
“I see things quite clearly.”
“You don’t, Kestrel, even though the god of lies loves you.”
This is my first book from Marie Rutkoski and I have to say I'll read anything she writes. In The Winner's Trilogy she created an exquisite, unique and complex fantasy that she mastered with a wonderful storytelling. Amazing characters, a seriously awesome couple and a rebellion threatening to destroy everything they've ever known -- it has everything!!
Long story short, READ. THIS. BOOK. The Winner's Curse turned out to be one of my new favorites and I'll be counting the days until the sequel, The Winner's Crime, comes out, which I'm sure will be a gorgeous follow-up. Fantasy, forbidden romance, political intrigue, a world full of secrets and betrayals -- the perfect ingredients for a top-notch story that Marie Rutkoski has written flawlessly. Bring on the fandom 'cause I'm a die-hard fan already! Squee!
ENJOY! <3 

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