BOOK REVIEW – The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Curse #1) by Marie RutkoskiThe Winner's Curse (The Winner's Curse #1)
by Marie Rutkoski
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“Plot away, Kestrel. Survive. If I hadn’t lived, no one would remember my mother, not like I do.”
Kestrel could no longer deny sleep. It pulled her under.
“And I would never have met you.”

This book was….I don’t know, perfection? I needed to be reading this book more than I needed my next breath. Yeah…I was that deep.

I will admit that when I chose to read this, I was skeptical as to how much I would like it. It’s one of those books that just starts out so oddly, for my taste, and then from there on you never know what you’re going to get. Plus the ratings were stellar-so, OF COURSE, I’d end up being the black sheep. But that did not end up being the case-not in the least. In fact, I’d say that I am more in love with this book than humanly possible-If I could, I would start re-reading this RIGHT NOW-I loved it that much.

“I could stay,” he said. “I could leave tomorrow.”
“No. I want you to go now.”
“Do you?”
“Yes.”
“Ah, but what about what I want?”

I think the best part about this book is how it all begins-Kestrel and her friend, Jess, are in the market looking around. They are wealthy and money doesn’t mean much to them (though, Kestrel is not snotty about it-at least, not as bad as some characters are portrayed in other books). So, when they see slaves being bid off in an auction, Kestrel and Jess stop and sit down to watch the spectacle just because they were passing by-nothing more. Then, a beautiful, well-built (obviously strong and unnatural for someone supposed to be a slave) boy is brought up to the stand being bid off as a blacksmith…and when no one bites, someone who can sing. This piques Kestrel’s interest because she loves to play the piano-she loves music. She starts bidding for the boy and ultimately ‘wins’ him.

Music made her feel as if she were holding a lamp that cast a halo of light around her, and while she knew there were people and responsibilities in the darkness beyond it, she couldn’t see them. The flame of what she felt when she played made her deliciously blind.

Defiant, angry, and not fit to act as a slave should, Arin is resentful and has an agenda of his own-case the general’s home and log it away for….well, I will just say they are sworn enemies, he and Kestrel. But not just because he is a slave and she is the General of the army’s wealthy daughter-no, it runs much deeper and much farther back than that. Why? I guess you’ll have to read to find out.

Pins disappeared from the dressing table at a rapid rate. Kestrel watched small braids lose themselves inside larger ones, dip in and under and out of an increasingly intricate design. She felt a tug. A twist. A shiver of air.
Although Arin wasn’t touching her, he was touching no living part of her, it felt as if a fine net had been cast over Kestrel, one that hazed her vision and shimmered against her skin.

Soon, they start spending more time together. He as her escort, she as the escorted. Then, when she sees his recognition of one of her favorite war games on a day where he is watching over her as she plays with her friends, they start to play each other in private…and then the fun begins. When one of them wins, they get to ask the other a question-any question. But Kestrel doesn’t know that Arin is her enemy…so what might she reveal? And would Arin use it against Kestrel to hurt her?

Make me let you go.”
She looked at Arin. Whatever he saw in her eyes loosened his hands. “Kestrel,” he said more quietly, “I have been whipped before. Lashes and death are different things.”
“I won’t die.”
“Let Irex set my punishment.”
“You’re not listening to me.” She would have said more, but realized that his hands still rested on her shoulders. A thumb was pressing gently against her collarbone.
Kestrel caught her breath. Arin startled, as if out of sleep, and pulled away.

It’s not the action or the peril or even just the romance-it’s the beautiful, poetic simplicity of the words and how they are woven together so you get that feeling that you have to keep reading or you might spontaneously combust. It’s that feeling that you can’t stand to not be reading it for fear that you will miss a delicately placed interaction between Arin and Kestrel. It was beautiful, breathtaking, heartfelt, and probably one of my top two favorite forbidden romance stories, at the moment. It was such a slow build, but you didn’t realize it. You didn’t realize that every minute that passed was another moment where you were becoming more intimately entwined with these two characters and becoming more aware of the fact that one of them would have to draw their hand eventually….and you just didn’t know what kind of massacre would follow and how much it would break your heart and hurt you when it happened.

Maybe. Maybe it would have been. But as the music drained from the air, Kestrel saw Arin on the fringes of the crowd. He watched her, his expression oddly desperate. As if he, too, were losing something, or it was already lost.
She saw him and didn’t understand how she had ever missed his beauty. How it didn’t always strike her as it did now, like a blow.

Kestrel was an amazing heroine. She was determined, intelligent, and passionate….and she sucked at combat. I loved being in her bright mind and seeing how she assessed and strategized everything. It was refreshing to see a heroine who used her wits instead of brawn to win both duels of the mind and of the body. It wasn’t about who was the strongest, which she was not, and it wasn’t about the fastest-it was about who was the
smartest.

“Do you know how to play Bite and Sting?” she asked.
“Maybe.”
“Either you do or you don’t.”
“Whether I know or don’t doesn’t matter.”
She made an impatient noise. “Because?”
His teeth flashed in the late, shifting light. “Because you would not want to play against me.

And then Arin. Arin was a hothead who played the role of a level-headed slave who did what he was told. He was keen and cunning, never revealing his intentions to those around him. He was fierce and protective and loyal (but to whom? Kestrel…or his people he has fought so hard for?), and he was Kestrel’s true match in both spirit and mind-he was always one step ahead of her because of the amount of time they spent together and knew what to do to detain her. But he would rather have died, in the end, than to let Kestrel get hurt when the world she knows came crashing down-as we all knew it inevitably would.

He couldn’t see it. He thought that there must be one, then realized that the flaw he sensed lay inside him. Tonight had cracked Arin open. It had brought the battle inside him to a boiling war.
Of course he was certain that something was wrong.
Impossible. It was impossible to love a Valorian and also love his people.
Arin was the flaw.

The eloquent manner of speak, the dialogue, the situations, and romantic undertone, I adored this story. I want more more more but, yet again, I have a year to wait. It’s horrible because I was so fully engrossed with these characters. It was unreal how much I needed to be reading this story throughout my busy day. I have been getting them sporadically, already, for all my favorite books, but have never mentioned that fact in any of my other reviews-I am most definitely buying this in hardback so I can proudly display this in my forever overflowing bookshelf, and I want the GR world to know it-even if I don’t have any more room. It was beautiful, heartbreaking, addictive as crack….and look at the cover! Look at it! So pretttyyyyyyyyy……

“But am I your enemy?” Arin crossed the space between them. Softly, he repeated, “Am I?”
She didn’t answer. She concentrated on the feel of the table’s edge pressing into the small of her back. The table was simple and real, joined wood and nails and right corners. No wobble. No give.
“You’re not mine,” Arin said.
And kissed her.

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