The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski, published by Bloomsbury on 3rd July 2014
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.
I'd heard so much about this book and read so many positive reviews that I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy. When it arrived I'll admit that I spent a good long while just marvelling over the absolutely beautiful cover art before I even cracked it open. It's so pretty and looks so nice on my bookshelves!
The story itself is a blend of fantasy and historical fiction. The main character Kestral, is the daughter of a general. At the beginning of the book she bids successfully on a slave for her father's household. The winner's curse is the hugely inflated price that she pays for him. Arin, the new slave, will change everything. I really wasn't too sure about Kestral at the start. She came across as quite snobby and superior but as her personality began to shine through, I liked her more and more and I began to understand her motives and reasons.
There is quite a lot in the first half of the book about the history of the country. It focuses on the divide between the ruling Valorians and the suppressed Herrani, who they conquered and turned into slaves. This is quite detailed and complex and I had to really concentrate to make sure that I understood everything but it added such a rich layer to the story and helped when trying to appreciate the different standpoints of many of the characters.
Although I found the beginning of 'The Winner's Curse' a little slow at times, as the plot progressed I became more and more absorbed. I thought the scenes between Kestral and Arin were wonderfully written and I enjoyed the push-pull nature of their relationship, as the dynamics gradually start to shift. The ending left me on tenterhooks and desperate to know what would happen next.
This is the first book in a trilogy which I will definitely be sticking with. I'm eager for the story to continue and will be rushing out to get my hands on a copy when the sequel is published.