I admit that I may not have picked the best time to read The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, seeing as I was still very much hangover after the epicness of Throne of Glass. But I needed an audiobook to listen to, and it was there, sounding pretty good both plot and narration wise. So, I picked it up.
The epic premises
What puzzles me most is that The Winner’s Trilogy is quite often tagged as fantasy, when there is no fantasy element involved other than the world that doesn’t exist. (I always struggle with tagging this kind of books. Are they historical? Are they fantasy? What are they?) Rather, this book is political. Featuring: a conquering empire and an enslaved nation ready to rebel and take back their homeland. It’s what drew me to this book in the first place. But while this book has secrets, deceits and all sorts of spies, magic it does not.
That’s not the problem, though. Lack of magic is fine. Lack of action, too. If the supposedly fantasy book has something else to offer. Unfortunately, the promised epic premises got swallowed by the slow pace and didn’t have much political intrigue or plot to help it resurface. The overall fight against the Empire is present, yes, though very much in the background. And that’s it. The villain’s presence was too weak, and not at all threatening, the oppression didn’t feel very menacing, and the characters… Well.
The characters are quite charming, yes
Even if they are not particularly distinguishing. Or, rather, their potential to be interesting and even unforgettable is there, but it isn’t delivered. Especially when it come to the side characters. Those few are utterly flat and stereotypical, from the bubbly silly best friend (also known as that trope that needs to perish fast) to the absent warrior father. And that’s just sad. Because Kestrel and Arin alone are not enough to drive this story forward.
Despite that, The Winner’s Curse isn’t really about romance, for which I am glad. But at the same time, Kestrel was almost defined by her feelings for Arin. All of her actions, all of her decisions… It always came down to Arin.
Which may have been okay. If not for the fact that the romance, and to be honest any relationships in this book, lacked… foundation. They are somewhat believable, but not spectacular. Especially the romance. There were no sparks. At all. And that’s not saying that all romances should be epic and all-consuming. But they should have that something that makes you feel all sorts of emotions for both characters and especially both characters together. Kestrel and Arin are… cute, I suppose. And that’s about it. It’s like I could see what they could be because I have seen so many relationships similar to theirs, but then they were not.
For me, it just wasn’t enough
Fantasy genre is full of rebellions, slavery and conquering empires. In order to stand out, a story needs a special something. A twist, a character, something that evokes feelings and tears and leaves you on the floor dying to get to the next book. The Winner’s Curse did not have that something. Not for me.
It does have an interesting premise and likeable characters and a political aspect that I did enjoy but… It just wasn’t special. It was just another not-fantasy book. Not a bad one, but not a particularly memorable one either. And maybe that sounds bad but I’m not even picky. Honestly, even one thing that stands out in a book is usually enough to make me fall in love with it and flail all over my social media accounts. I’m much sad right now. This one was not for me. But hey, maybe it’s for you.
The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
The Winner's Trilogy #1
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux on March 4th 2014
Romance, Young Adult
More info on Goodreads, Amazon, BookDepository
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.
How do you feel about political books with little action? And how do you categorise those books that are supposedly fantasy but yet have zero magic of any kind?