A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Marie Rutkoski's The Winner's Curse is the first in a planned fantasy trilogy. At the center are star-crossed lovers who only sneak in a couple of guilty kisses. The uprising of a slave population, naturally, includes some pretty bloody moments. Mostly the aftermath is described -- piled-up bodies and blood everywhere -- but a few scenes describe brutality as it happens: There's a throat slitting and a sexual assault on a woman, stopped after a forced kiss and a black eye. Language is mild ("damn" twice, "hell," and "ass") and drinking by the 17-year-old protagonist includes wine at dinner with her father and at upper-crust parties. Readers will learn a bit about battle strategy -- both main characters are quite good at it -- and have a chance to ponder the brutality of war and slavery and what freedom is worth.
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What's the story?
Kestrel didn't know what possessed her to buy a slave when she and her best friend Jess ended up at the market by mistake. Something about the defiant look in his eyes drew her in. She takes him back to the estate she shares with her father, a general in the Valoran army. At first, the man is given work as a blacksmith, but it's not long before Kestrel selects him as an escort into town one day and into society on another. As she gets to know him, she finally discovers his real name -- Arin -- and that he's a master of a parlor strategy game she used to always win; she has finally met her match. Suddenly the two are grist for the rumor mill, only made worse when Kestrel defends Arin against a stealing charge at a society party. But Arin doesn't want her to defend him. He knows that once Kestrel discovers his secret plans against those who enslave him -- her people -- she'll regret anything she ever felt for him.
Is it any good?
Take the book cover's 90 percent pink frill and lipstick and 10 percent intrigue of "look, she's got a dagger in her hand" and flip the percentages: There's the real essence. Despite a couple of society balls and some star-crossed lovers, this book gets quite cerebral. Arin and Kestrel's relationship builds carefully and is pretty complex, especially as the power dynamic shifts. How Arin manages to break slave rules and enjoy parlor games with Kestrel seems a bit odd, but that's usually when Kestrel lets her guard down the most, pushing the story forward.
Most writers would have enough on their plates just keeping Kestrel and Arin's slow-simmering relationship this full of tension. Rutkoski, however, keeps the political intrigue high at the same time. The building tension between Arin and the leader of the rebellion adds quite a bit to the last third of The Winner's Curse. And the last few pages will make reading the sequel pretty irresistible.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the title Winner's Curse. What does it mean? What does it have to do with the main characters?
Kestrel and Arin are a perfect example of star-crossed lovers, like Romeo and Juliet. What other pairs in literature fit the definition?
There are two more books to read in this trilogy. Are you roped in? What is appealing to you about this series? What is different from other fantasy series you enjoy?
- Author: Marie Rutkoski
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Publication date: March 4, 2014
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 17
- Number of pages: 368
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: July 13, 2017
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