Monday, February 17, 2014
ARC Review: The Winner's Curse
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2014
Scheduled to release March 4
Source: Received an ARC through Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.
Ah hype. So obviously I liked this book but due to my contrary, fickle nature, I'm withholding a perfect five star rating. It's just so hard to compete when a book has praised heaped upon it. I start looking for faults and I hold back from committing fully to a story. However the more I let the ending of this one sink in to me, the more impressed I was.
As for that hype, it is incredible. I have seen so many rave reviews around the blogosphere and this ARC I received is filled with praise from those bloggers as well as from staff involved in its publication. Since I read books in order, I looked through all of those pages before even beginning my journey and it just set a very high bar for this book to clear.
To be frank, the fact that our main character is named Kestrel did not help. Bird names seem big lately (or least Wren was terribly popular) but it's very much not to my taste. And her name is on every page so that did not help. She seems anti-slavery but pretty soon, she has purchased a slave to serve as a blacksmith to her general father. Soon though this decision lives up to the book's title as Kestrel realizes she has paid a greater price than she imagined (the author talks a little bit more about this in her author's note; it's fascinating how a discussion about an economic concept inspired this work of literature.)
The most interesting parts of this book to me were Kestrel's analysis of situations and her strong handling of military strategy. I don't think that I would really enjoy a book analyzing strategy but having some incorporated into a novel is apparently very satisfying to me. And it's not just the military arena where she has these skills. She easily sizes up those around her, excels in the popular party game of the time, and manipulates most everyone around her.
In fact, her big competition is her new slave Arin, part of the population conquered by Kestrel's father and subjugated for ten years but nursing rebellion in their hearts. Arin has untapped depths that spark with Kestrel (because of course there's a bit of a romance) but he also struggles with his loyalty to his people and his hatred for the cruelties committed by hers. He really comes into his own in the second half of the book with his genius for strategy coming to the forefront but also his love for Kestrel-the two are in impossible circumstances and I look forward to seeing them negotiating that over the course of the next two books.
Overall: Off the top of my head, I most compare this series to Leigh Bardugo's Grisha trilogy. Both are fantasies with slightly nontraditional settings (Bardugo owes a lot of inspiration to Russia while this series seems to speak to Roman history) that have earned tremendous praise with difficult romantic entanglements. Neither quite won me over with the first book but had tremendous promise. I do prefer this series more so far but there is room in everyone's heart for both.
Cover: I love this cover, of course. I am very curious if the sequel will also have Kestrel in a pretty dress or if it will get a redesign (hopefully not!)
SPOILERS AS I WONDER ABOUT THE NEXT BOOK:
So I assume we're going to meet Kestrel's fiance in the sequel. I am wondering if he will be as charming as Strumhond in Leigh Bardugo's Siege and Storm (also from a Macmillan imprint), if he'll be brutally cruel and vicious, trying to crush Kestrel's spirit, or even if he's a complete dolt and the emperor wants Kestrel to compensate for his many weaknesses. Personally I am expecting the former especially so that Kestrel has two young men to go toe to toe with but I guess we'll just have to wait and see. I'll admit it's a bit weird that my big lingering question for book two revolves around Kestrel's fiance's possible personality but that's the way the cookie crumbles.