Book Review – The Winner’s Curse

The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy, #1)The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m not feeling particularly creative this week, so I’ll keep this brief.
This book is, sadly, an attempt to disguise an age-old star-crossed lovers story in an Art of War dust jacket. It’s very subtle, but once you finish the book and look back on it, you’ll realise that beneath the beautiful writing and the setting is a very normal plot.

We have Kestrel, an oddly named heroine with an equally odd set of skills – gambling, piano-playing and military strategising. She is introduced to us as an intelligent, shrewd tactician, a trait which is never properly displayed in the course of the story. First she comes off slightly Sherlock Holmes-ish, then incompetent, then contradictory and finally, a tad desperate.

But the incompetence isn’t Kestrel’s fault; it’s the over-powered hero’s. The author ruined a perfectly good heroine by having the hero out-match her in everything. There’s nothing Arin can’t do, so what exactly is the need for Kestrel in the story? What makes her unique? I hate it when authors make too-perfect males for their heroines so that we readers go ooh and aah in awe. Leave that to the old shojo manga and older Harlequin novels. Let the hero have complementary qualities to the heroine, so that she can have a sense of self worth in her eyes and ours.

There is also a half-hearted attempt at a love triangle but you can tell nobody really believes there is any hope for Ronan. He’s just…blond. Somebody needs to be.

Anyway, for the first half of the book, there’s some illegal piano playing, followed by banter between Arin and Kestrel, followed by a game of Bite and Sting, more piano playing, more banter, Bite and Sting games, and…
You get it. Then we get to the real action, which is taken over by angst and intense feelings of “I love my mortal enemy, woe is me!” As I said before, except for a brief incident (which a five year old could have planned), Kestrel does not demonstrate any tactical genius. She is mostly useless and even more stubborn. Ari strikes me as stupid occasionally, but all perfect heroes must have some flaw to make them perfect, so…

May it be noted, I saw the Kestrel’s solution to the Herrani problem way before Kestrel ever did. Am I really supposed to be dazzled by her brilliance?

Also, that plot twist at the end…incredibly predictable. The story fell into a complete template then: girl meets boy, boy keeps secrets, feelings grow, love is realised, but secret overwhelms both, girl feels betrayed, boy feels terrible, girl realises boy was right all along and she loves him after all, they almost get together, but yet again circumstances are insurmountable, girl decides to make tragic sacrifice to atone…*YAWN*

It’s not a terrible book, but it is a bit boring. Your mileage may vary.


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