The winner’s curse is when the cost of winning is higher than the cost of losing.
After hearing rave reviews about The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkowski, I went to my library and immediately put a hold. A few torturous weeks later, I finally had it. Reading the blurb on the book cover, you can almost instantly write this book off as a typical teen romance of forbidden love. And it is. To an extent. It is about forbidden love but it goes deeper than that.
How far can you go for love if it means betraying your country? How far can you go for love when that love has been nothing but lies and hidden agendas?
I really liked this book. So much so that the excitement I’m feeling anticipating the release of the sequel is practically gushing out of me.
While this book was centered around war, I found that it wasn’t so much about the physical aspects of battle than about the mental and strategic facets. The characterization of Kestrel and Arin heavily emphasized on their intelligence and their perceptiveness, which I really enjoyed.
The tension between love and devotion to one’s country versus love towards someone else was well-written. Both Kestrel and Arin are fighting losing battles. They can’t win against each other and against themselves because of their nationalities and because of their hearts. How can you fight two parts of yourself? How can you be a traitor to yourself when you’re only trying to be true to yourself?
There were also themes of being parts of a whole and a yin-yang sort of theme where one cannot exist without the other: Kestrel with her music and Arin with his singing, the concepts of ownership and slavery being played around with themes of vulnerability and protection (those are invariably flipped around which I thought was intriguing).
Kestrel and Arin are also very attuned to each other which I loved in their relationship. They’re hyper-aware of each other’s movements and thoughts, able to gauge their reactions and what they are going to do next. They understand each other to the point that they wish they do not understand at all.
And the god in Kestrel’s dream with the seamstress. Is he a god of freedom? Of forgiveness? Of choice?
The beginning of the novel was a bit slow with the action occurring in the latter 3/4 of the book but I didn’t mind too much since it was a good build-up of tension and shaping of the character’s minds.
Rutkoski’s writing is simply elegant. Exquisite. Beautiful. Music is such a strong presence in her book, I’m amazed at how she manages to weave it in her narrative and her themes. Her writing almost acts like a playlist to the plot. The metaphors about music explain the desires and longing of Kestrel and Arin more substantially than just words.
It was strange that the room was so silent. It seemed that there should have been some kind of sound when a fingertip grazed her neck. Or when he drew a lock taut and pinned it in place. When he let a ribbon-thin braid fall forward so that it tapped her cheek. Every gesture of his was as resonant as music, and Kestrel didn’t quite believe that she couldn’t hear any notes, high or low.
Despite the General’s cold exterior, I found myself sympathizing with him. He wants what is best for his daughter and is at odds with her because of their differing views. I don’t sense any animosity in his words when he is speaking to her and instead I feel an awkward-but-genuine concern for Kestrel’s well-being.
And that ending. I mean, is that as good as a confession of love with Arin being accused by Kestrel as the god of lies and his claim that the god of lies loves her? I have the strangest desire to reach into the pages and push Kestrel and Arin together and sob “No fighting! Just love each other!”
How am I going to survive for the next two months with these words ringing in my head?
Kestrel had bought a life, and loved it, and sold it.