Earlier this month, I finished The Winners Curse trilogy by Marie Rutkoski. This was the first of her works that I’ve read, and I really enjoyed it. I read most of it by way of audio to and from work. However, when the plot became increasingly interesting, I’d find myself reading in my favorite wingbacked chair. I finished the 1000+ page trilogy in a week.
The Winners Curse came out before the height of YA literature (the readership is still growing but took off in 2015 once booktube revolitionized the way fans engage with books), but I’d heard musings of it and had had it sitting on my shelf for several years. Finally, I decided to pick it up.
I’m not a teenager. Honestly, I may have gotten bored with all the polotical intrigue if I was. This series falls on the upper YA spectrum. The prose is strong and melodic in it’s pacing. Steady and always moving the plot forward, even if only the emotional arcs for a hundred pages. It may feel slow, but each detail builds to make a satisifying ending.
The Winners Curse begins with Kestral buying a slave and later falling in love with him. This may make some readers hestitant because of the embalance of power. However, Aren has deceptive plans for overthrowing Kestral’s people. As a reader, their hold over eachother felt realistic and equal, Kestral never using her power to demean him and Aren using his to keep her safe while death comes to her people.
The first book is mostly romance. In the second book, Kestral has her own plans and Aren doubts her loyalty to him, especially since these plans include marrying the empire’s prince. By the third book, their relationship and Kestral’s ability to live are coming to a close as Aren plans his final battle.
One thing I love about this series is that Kestral is a strong female lead. Not because she can use a sword but because she uses her brain. She’s also not without compassion and follows her heart when she needs to and her head when it affects others. She can be selfless or ruthless, always working toward the greater good.
Because the latter books focus less on the romance, I was a little less enthusastic. I’m a sucker for romance, and third person narrative is more detached than I’d like. However, these drawbacks were assets for the series to work and the series would not have been realistic otherwise.
The only other thing I didn’t care for was the amnesia, though it further showed the character’s strength and who she may have been if she’d grown up under different circimstances.
I love Aren and Kestral as a couple and how they could operate side by side or independantly. It didn’t hurt that Aren let Kestral fight despite being concerned for her life. Kestral could be a bit careless at times, but aren’t we all? Aren’s major flaw was mistrust, and we see him overcome it throughout the series.
There’s also a maurade of other loveable characters, including a flamboyant prince and a tiger.
If you like books with a long character journey, time spent in the wilderness, war strategy, and interracial romance, you should give this series a try.