‘The Winner’s Curse’ Excites Young Adult Readers

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Audrey Lu, Reporter

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, the first book of The Winner’s Trilogy, is a heart-wrenching story with engaging storyline, intriguing characters, and vivid world building.

The Winner’s Curse follows Kestrel, a general’s daughter through her trials with fitting into her country and a forbidden love.

In general, the plot is intriguing and frankly quite addicting. However, the first half of the book is predictable. The first chapter felt pulled straight out of classic young adult with cliché side characters, boring settings, and a confusing main character. It was difficult to keep reading and even after I got past the first couple chapters, I still found the side characters to be flat. But I couldn’t have been more wrong about the settings and Kestrel. Once I got past those chapters, I finally realized the complexity Rutkoski has created and Kestrel’s character began to made sense. I started to see her not as a confusing character, but rather as an intriguing one.

Unlike the cookie-cutter female protagonists most young adult authors are conjuring, Kestrel, the main character, doesn’t use strength to get what she wants — he uses her mind. Reading from a more calculating character’s point of view creates more suspense because you don’t know how she’s going to get out of the mess. I was constantly kept on the edge of my seat, waiting for the heartbreaking moment I could feel Rutkoski was building up to.

Her writing is so intriguing that no matter how much it will hurt, the reader still desperately wants to find out what happens. One of the reason why is Kestrel seems so real that it’s difficult to remember it’s all fiction. This helps the reader connect more, therefore making the entire book all the more intriguing. You jump when she’s happy, you cry when she’s suffering, and you scream for her when she wins. The love interest, Arin, is even more intriguing. Even as an individual character I found him interesting. When he was introduced, it felt like he was just conjured out of nowhere just for the plot, but it became more than that. His character deepens and he becomes one of my favorite characters. As a quiet character, he’s more engaging than Kestrel who you’re reading the point of view from and therefore know more about. He is Kestrel’s slave, but he is one of the few people who challenges Kestrel to see beyond what’s right in front of her. He’s also someone Kestrel can’t easily maneuver, which is rare for Kestrel and creates an interest dynamic between them.

Being such realistic characters, their romance is all the more beautiful going from extreme to extreme. There’s nothing cliché about it at all which is refreshing compared to the typical young adult love stories. They fit so well with their talents being so similar yet having more beyond to show each other, so much so that they act like extensions of each other. Watching two people, who should be together, struggle against their feelings is frustrating to say the least, but all the more satisfying when they stop struggling. That’s when they change each other for the better.

I highly recommend this book, unless the slight mishandling of slavery will bother you. The second book of the trilogy is The Winner’s Crime, which I immediately picked up after I finished The Winner’s Curse.

The second part of The Winner’s Curse leads to the beginning of The Winner’s Crime, containing most of the many reasons why I love the series as well as spoilers for the first half. Throughout the first half of The Winner’s Crime, Kestrel couldn’t understand what Arin went through as a slave. It had bothered me how Kestrel still treated her slaves as just that, slaves. So it was satisfying to see Arin show her what he’s gone through because she finally realized just how wrong slavery is. In other words, Arin changed her for the better, which shows just how they belong together.

The pier scene is what made The Winner’s Curse one of my favorite books. I’ve loved Kestrel and Arin’s relationship from the start with Arin changing her for the better and how Kestrel sacrificed almost everything she had for him. It’s difficult to pull off a conflict that’s created by lying, most of those conflicts would be solved if they would just talk to each other. Kestrel couldn’t tell Arin that the only reason why she was engaged is because it was part of the deal she made to keep Arin safe. If he knew, then he won’t accept the deal and her sacrifice would have been for nothing. I was extremely impressed by this; no matter how long I searched for an easy solution out, there isn’t one. It was even more disparaging knowing that, but it excited me as well. I couldn’t wait to see what clever strategy Kestrel could spin in the next book, The Winner’s Crime.