Book review: The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Curse #1) by Marie Rutkoski
A beautifully written, gripping series starter. As one of the most anticipated and highly praised new releases of this spring, I’ve had my eye on The Winner’s Curse for a while. When I finally got my hands on a copy, I read the first half of the novel at snail’s pace, before falling head over heels in love with Rutkoski’s characters and devouring the last half in less than a day.
Rutkoski’s world isn’t as complex or creative as one might expect from a high fantasy novel - The Winner’s Curse is high fantasy only in the most basic sense of the genre’s definition: it is set in an imaginary world. The Valorian Empire is vaguely Greco-Roman, but it is populated by ordinary human beings possessing no magical powers. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing - although I would have liked to see a little more worldbuilding, I feel sure that Rutkoski will develop her world further in the sequels, and I think The Winner’s Curse will appeal to fantasy and historical fiction fans alike.
The high fantasy genre is strewn with innumerable fantastical worlds which borrow elements of Greco-Roman culture and history, but I’ve come across surprisingly few which focus on the imperialism of that era. Through the greed of the Valorian Empire and their dependence upon slavery, Rutkoski delivers a thought-provoking, biting commentary on human rights, bodily autonomy, and racial tension which is (unfortunately) just as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago.
The Winner’s Curse starts slow and gradually builds tension, before culminating in a whirlwind of events. Although I liked the slow burn of the first few chapters as much as the fast paced scenes that followed, I did find that the pacing dragged at times during the first half of the novel.
Rutkoski’s protagonists, Kestrel and Arin, are two of my favourite new young adult characters. Their slowly-developing romantic relationship, which had the potential to be extremely problematic (as one was the slave of the other), was instead handled carefully and thoughtfully, with both characters aware of the imbalance of power between them and the problems it could cause. Kestrel and Arin were the highlight of The Winner’s Curse, both individually and together, and I look forward to seeing more of them in The Winner’s Crime.
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Rating: 4 stars | ★★★★✰
Review cross-posted to Goodreads
Buy on Amazon: US | UK