What I admire most about YA dystopian authors is their massive imagination and their creations of new worlds, new societies, new rules and new ways of thinking. Nothing is impossible. Some dystopians focus on a new world and a society that was only recently formed as a result of a war that our current society caused. Other dystopians focus on a world and a society that existed for hundreds or thousands of years because our world as we know it never existed in the first place. The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is one of those dystopians. It focuses on seventeen-year-old Kestrel and the world she lives in.
In the Valorian empire that fights war and enslaves those it conquers, young ladies like Kestrel have only two choices: get married or join the military. Kestrel doesn’t want neither. Then one day, she and her friend stroll through the empire’s city and witness a live auction. On a whim, Kestrel buys young, nineteen-year-old Arin for a sensational prize that makes the people start talking. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing feelings toward Arin. But not only Kestrel has things to hide, Arin has his own secrets that are bigger than him, maybe even bigger than both of them.
New worlds, societies and rules in dystopian novels need to be explained to the reader. And while some authors explain those worlds in long discriptive passages in a few chapters, Rutkoski revealed the Valorian and Herran society mostly through dialogue and only through a few descriptions. The revelations were scattered throughout the book and the reader learned bits and pieces here and there, which I really enjoyed.
I usually am not a fan of third-person narratives, since I feel closer to a character in a first-person narrative. However, so many things happened with many different characters in this novel, that it wouldn’t have been wise to tell the story through a first-person only. With the use of a third-person narrative it was possible to have a greater overview on all the happenings and events.
It was confusing yet fascinating to watch Kestrel and Arin interact with each other. With each chapter it became more obvious that Kestrel and Arin’s initial master-and-slave-connection merged into a more affectionate one. But as quickly as their initial connection changed into a more intimate one, they were just as quickly to put their feelings on hold. You see, on the outside it looks like they come from different worlds, but the more you learn about their respective societies (especially before the Valorians started the war), you quickly figure out that they are not that different after all. Although they have a lot in common and share feelings for one another, they both want what’s right and best for their people. Their struggle to stay committed to that was difficult. They were always tempted to decide against their societies and their way of thinking was a constant back an forth which resulted in a few sacrifices at the expense of their societies.
I am also really fond of the paperback’s design. The girl on the cover in her grand pink dress on top of the black background creates a perfect contrast with the shiny, silver writing. If you look closely, you can see that one part of the ‘R’ in ‘Curse’ is entwined with the girls right hand. The writing on the front cover is not the only thing that is sideways: the chapter numerations, the number of pages, the title of the book and the author’s name inside the pages are sideways too. Another thing that sticks out are the first and last few pages of the paperback: the writing on those pages is white on black paper which picks up the black color from the front and back cover.
The possibility to escape from our everyday lives into a completely different world is great. I enjoyed getting to know Arin, Kestrel and the world they live in. I’m eager to pick up The Winner’s Crime soon to see where the journey will take them.
Lots of bookish love,