The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is so good that I’ve read it TWICE. (And I’m notorious for not being a rereader because of all the new books clamouring for my attention.) And my star-rating went up on the second read, because I appreciated the writing style and the psychological angle on battle tactics so very much. It’s an epic fantasy, yes, but it focuses on mind games and cunning plots and ploys.
Basically, it is everything. (You’re going to need it, I basically promise.)
Kestrel is the daughter of a Valorian general and she has a choice: get married, or go to war. She doesn’t want either. She wants to play piano. But she’s also insanely smart, quick-witted and often gives amazing battle tactics to her father. Then — enter ARIN. The slave she bought on impulse, but who’s actually a rebel plant, and plans to take down everything Kestrel loves. Cue forbidden, possible romance. It’s dual narrated by them both.
Kestrel is one of my all-time favourite heroines because she is smart and quiet and small and kind of weak on the battle field but oh so intelligent. She blackmails. She deduces. She has a snippy answer for you if you’re stupid. She is kind…but she will stab you if forced. She is a complex creature. I also love how she does anything to keep her piano playing fingers safe. That’s why weapons are her nemesis. What if she breaks her hand and can’t play?! #priorities
Arin is definitely a hothead and rash and quite a few times I wanted to strangle him because he rebuffs all attempts at friendship with Kestrel and he does BAD REBEL THINGS. But he really cares about his people. And the way he grows over the course of the book?! Spectacular. I love Arin.
I also adore how short and concise the story was. It never rambled. The writing is snappy and punchy and it has the most refreshing voice in the unvierse. Plus world building? YOU GOT IT. I adore how the world is based on Grecian-Roman times, with a few twists and how it has so much culture and history. Plus the plot wasn’t super fast, but it was definitely always moving forward and weaving in plots and blackmail. Kestrel is forever scheming. And there’s rebellion from the slave in the wind. Also throw in a bit of torture and bleeding and copious strategy games — which Kestrel always wins, because she’s clever and rather a gambler.
And have you seen that cover?! It’s so gorgeous I mostly want to hug it. The series’ covers just get better as they go on, too.
I am a hugely enthusiastic fan of this series. It has action, but yet it focuses on strategy and the psychology of battle and emotion. It has stabby moments and let’s-wear-pretty-dresses moments and betrayals and alliances and murder. Plus it’s epic and concise. I really cannot ask for more in this incredible fantasy series.