The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski (2014)
Suggested age range: 13 and up (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 355 pages)
Rating: 5/5 stars
Source: Personal Copy
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
“ ‘You might not think of me as your friend,’ Kestrel told Arin, ‘but I think of you as mine’” (146).
The Book: Seventeen year old Kestrel should not have bought a slave at the auction, but she did. Arin is a Herrian slave, bent on revenge, and he has a plan. However, Kestrel, daughter of a famous Valorian general, connects with Arin, and little by little, they become friends. That friendship deepens into something else. Can they remain friends as turmoil and rebellion shake the city? What happens when a slave and a general’s daughter fall in love? Recommended for both young adult and adult readers, The Winner’s Curse pulls the reader into a fascinating world of romance, politics, and intrigue.
Spirituality in The Winner’s Curse: Freedom is something every human being has the right to possess. Yet, human slavery rips that freedom away. This story focalizes events partly through the perspective of one who is enslaved, and events are also focalized through one of the enslaving group. Though perhaps not for all readers, for some, the harsh reality of human slavery depicted in the story could motivate readers to consider how this evil should be stopped in our own world. As Rutkoski created her own world for the books, she researched the Greco-Roman period, when the Romans enslaved the Greeks.
Other spiritual aspects I thought about while reading this book included the issues of compassion and profound connection with others. Can a people that enslave other humans have hearts of compassion? This novel imagines a thought-provoking response to that question. The connectedness that develops between Kestrel and Arin is another area for discussion.
Finally, the references to the different gods and the issue of receiving favor from them made me think about how our concept of a Divine source can dictate how we perceive particular events in our lives and the lives of others. There is a certainly a spiritual culture in the story that I will be thinking about more, especially as the next two books in the trilogy are released.
A Connection I Made: Who knows what kind of connections pop up as we read books? As I was reading this one, I thought of my trip to Israel last August, when I climbed Masada to visit one of Herod’s palaces. It was also the site where around 960 Jews chose to die by their own hands, rather than be enslaved by the Romans who had finally breached the walls of the fortress (this was after the destruction of the Second Temple in 73 CE). This connection really got me thinking—how difficult a decision would that have been? To know the ruthlessness of the Romans, but to also want to live? This issue of surviving certainly comes up in Rutkoski’s novel, and I will be interested to know what you think of it!
The Final Word: I absolutely loved this book! I’m not sure what will happen in the next two, but I like that feeling of not knowing (or having only partial suspicions). I liked Kestrel’s spunk and courage. She doesn’t care what other people think. She dares to defy the cultural expectations of her world. I also liked the way that Rutkoski depicted the development of the relationship between Kestrel and Arin. It wasn’t unrealistic; Kestrel didn’t immediately start developing feelings for Arin. With less than a hundred pages to go, I had no idea how events were going to turn out. I liked this not knowing. I enjoy reading a story without a predicable ending. Granted, we know there is a going to be a sequel, so Rutkoski needed to leave some ends hanging, but I truly appreciated the thrill of turning those last few pages. I have a lot to say about this book, and look forward to conversations with other readers of the story!