Monday, February 17, 2014

ARC Review: The Winner's Curse

by Marie Rutkoski
4.5/5 stars
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2014
355 pages
YA Fantasy
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.

24 comments:

  1. I also found myself comparing this book to Bardugo's series while I was reading so I think it interesting that you did the same! I tried to read this one super early because hype always affects me so so negatively. Since I did and got around the hype, I flat-out enjoyed this one so very much. I will definitely need to re-read before I read the next book WAY WAY in the future when it comes out but WOW this is some great fantasy, I think. Glad you enjoyed it as well! And what a beautiful cover!

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    1. I've seen the Bardugo comparison a few times so I think that's definitely a good vibe this book is giving off. I will probably want to reread it before the sequel but I likely won't have time.

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  2. I've been wary of this one because of the hype, but still wanted to read it. I'm glad you liked it despite being inclined to nit-picks!

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    1. The hype made me nervous but it seems pretty deserving overall!

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  3. It is so hard when hype is so big for a book, but I am looking forward to this one as well and so glad to hear that you enjoyed.

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    1. The hype has been crazy but I certainly understand why it's occurring having had the privilege to read this.

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  4. OH MY GOODNESS THIS BOOK. I need to read it soon because you are comparing it to Leigh Bardugo and omg, i love her books and I fail because I have not read this yet. Also? It sounds awesome. Glad it was good despite the hype!

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    1. I'm surprised you haven't read this yet-I bet you'll love it!

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  5. I was so worried this book wouldn't live up to the hype, it but succeeded. Kestral's strategic thinking was great, and I am also very curious about what the fiance will be like in the sequel.

    Fabulous review!

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    1. I'm really looking forward to meeting the fiance-I think he will introduce some interesting pathways.

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  6. I love when a book lives up to it's hype. I haven't heard of this one. I guess that proves how out of the book works I've been. I'll have to check it out.

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    1. I'm glad to introduce you to it-I hope you love it!

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  7. It's always great when a book lives up to its hype, and I've been wanting to read this one for quite some time! I didn't realize there was Roman and military stuff mixed in this; it'll be interesting to see how that all plays out. Great review, and I'm excited this is out soon so I can read it!

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    1. I'm used to fantasies with more western European inspiration so it's cool that this one switched it up.

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  8. I love this cover! Though this is not the kind of books I use to read. However, after reading your review I'm really looking forward to it. It sounds so good!
    Lis @ The reader lines

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    1. I hope you like it-the cover is just one of the reasons to want to read this.

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  9. Glad you loved this despite the hype! Thanks to the link to my Wren post. At least in this book, her name had some significance. I'm also very curious about the Mystery Guy. Maybe he'll be nice, though I'm not really up for another love triangle.

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    1. I appreciated that her name had meaning but I still would have preferred something more familiar.

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  10. Great review sweetie. <3 I'm glad you enjoyed this :D I really, really loved it. <3 Oh, her fiance BETTER BE A DOLT! I can't handle it if it turns into one of those fucked up love triangles :'( I do not want. Especially with how amazing this book was. Sigh. Anyway. I'm just dying for book two :) Thank you for sharing. <3

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    1. I'm curious to see what Rutkoski does with that guy-I bet it will be full of suspense and tension!

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  11. I thought the name Kestrel was weird too--but I love that Marie does explain why she is named that:) Also, I felt the same way as you in regards to strategy. I usually don't go for battle scenes in books--or books that are super, super heavy on the action (maybe it's the girl in me) but I loved both in this book. Loved the strategizing (so not a word--but you know what I mean) that both Kestrel and Arin excel at in this book. And that duel scene? OMG--loved it. I have heard that Marie referred to ancient Roman texts to help research and plan her battle scenes and battle strategy sessions. The more I learn about what went into the writing of this book, the more I love it. I cannot wait for the sequel:))

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    1. I love how we overlapped so much in loving this book-I feel like some books just tell us that the girl is a great strategist but this one really showed us.

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  12. I'm curious about her fiance as well. Will this become a love triangle? I'm not sure my heart can handle it! While I didn't FULLY connect with the characters, I did enjoy both of them. I'm very curious to see where things go. Also- I really hope they don't do a whole new cover design! Even though it's a girl in a pretty dress, I think it works for this one. It's different from the others.

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    1. I hope they keep the cover too-this one is *so* pretty!

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