Series: The Winner’s Trilogy, #1
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Release Date: March 4th, 2014
My Rating: ★★★★★
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.
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.
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*A note about this book: Donners of the Dead is set in 1851 – couples were often thrust into marriage together with short courtships, racism was widespread and not overly frowned upon, and women had little to no rights. What wouldn’t fly in today’s day and age was unfortunately the norm back then – it is worth keeping that in mind when reading this book.
Jake McGraw was unlike anyone I’d ever known. He was brash, rude, unapologetic and arrogant; chauvinistic, close-minded, and terribly stubborn. He was built like a tree, tall with a hard chest and wide shoulders and hands that looked like they could wrestle a bear. He was a cigar-chomping, scruffy-faced, beast of a man. I was pretty sure I hated him. And I know he hated me. But among the flesh-eating monsters in these snow-capped mountains, he was the only thing keeping me alive.
The year is 1851 and pioneers in search of California gold are still afraid to travel on the same route as the tragic Donner party did years before. When the last wagon train to go into the Sierra Nevada mountains fails to arrive at their destination, Eve Smith, an 18-year old half-native girl with immense tracking skills is brought along with the search party, headed by an enigmatic former Texas Ranger, Jake McGraw.
What they find deep in the dangerous snow-covered terrain is a terrifying consequence of cannibalism, giving new meaning to the term “monster.” While the search party is slowly picked off, one by one, Eve must learn to trust Jake, who harbors more than a few secrets of his own, in order to survive and prevent the monstrosities from reaching civilization.
***This is NOT New Adult***
*Spoilers clearly marked
So, this was, mostly, a decent book. Mostly. In true Halle fashion, the creepy bits were super-creepy. Unfortunately, they were too sporadic to make up for the flat, unbelievable, and overpowering romance that, frankly, left a bad taste in my mouth.
If you feel compelled to add a note to the book’s blurb to try to explain things away, it’s becasue you know full well that those things are problems. You can’t blame the issues I had with the story on the time period. That would be what is called a cop-out.
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Apollo 13 meets Castaway in this grippingly detailed, brilliantly ingenious man-vs-nature survival thriller-set on the surface of Mars.
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first man to die there.
It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him-and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he’s stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive-and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to get him first.
But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills-and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit-he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
Yeah, science! I hope you like it, because this book is all science, all the time. Oh, and math. Mathematical science and scientific math. Yeah! Lol. You would think that this combo would make for a boring book, but you’d be wrong.