The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Curse

“The truth can deceive as well as a lie.”

Winning what you want may cost you everything you love

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.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

Personal Thoughts:

I should be curse for not reading The Winner’s Curse last year when it was first released. I stop counting how many friends keep on pushing me to read this book because they know I love fantasy stories. But with so much other fantasy books waiting in my long list of TBR pile I feel like pushing another new series to read is cheating, especially to those complete fantasy series waiting in my shelves for years. Yeah, I know I should be curse too for buying them and never reading them yet! Don’t ask me what those books are because for sure once you found out the titles I’ll be hearing/getting curses literally.

If not for the opportunity to read the second book of this series, The Winner’s Crime before its release date, I won’t be reading The Winner’s Curse sooner than I plan. And I’m really glad that I did because as it turned out my friends are right, this series is a must read for fantasy lovers like me.

“Isn’t that what stories do, make real things fake, and fake things real?”

The story is set years after the Herranis are conquered by Vallorians. Herranis lost their land, homes, and everything they have to the Vallorians.They become slaves and prisoners for years, serving the enemy who will never treat them as equal.

Kestrel, a Valorian aristocrat and daughter of the highest ranking General of Valorian army accidentally find herself in a slave market one day with her friend Jess. There one Herrani slave caught her attention – a boy named Arin who was trained as a blacksmith, can sing and somehow managed to refused to follow orders. In his resentment Kestrel saw strength in Arin, a kindred spirit that makes her curious and bid impulsively. Eventually she won the auction but she paid a steep price for her winning — a winner’s curse they called it.

Marie Rutkoski writing is easily addicting. Her prose are flowing in every page without being too fancy or overwhelming. Her descriptions of things and surroundings are not overly detailed but still enough for readers to easily imagine the world she is creating. Her writing is also smart, sometimes I feel like she has saying more in her words than what they really mean. Like this prose below:

“He knew the law of such things: people in brightly lit places cannot see into the dark.”

It’s Arin’s thought when he is in the dark watching Kestrel play music. In a literal sense, it tells that Arin knows that Kestrel cannot see him watching her since his location is too dark for everyone to notice that he is there. But in a more deeper sense the phrase also describe social status, that those who are rich and more privilege cannot see into the darkness of those people under them. In this case, Arin a slave living a dark life and Kestrel his owner who has the privilege of being in a brightly lit places.

Marie Rutkoski crafted a world that is both real and imaginative. She seamlessly weaved the fantasy and historical in this book. Right at the first page, I was transported to Kestrel’s world – a world of privileged and richness then to Arin’s world – sufferings and slavery. From there I’ve seen the different angles of these worlds. Add war, political and social issues in the center, this novel is definitely entertaining.

Kestrel is one of the smartest heroines I have encountered in fiction and that makes her story worth following. She is cunning, strategist, dedicated, open-minded and honest. Reading how her mind works is very much fascinating, especially if she is strategizing a war moves. Her military kind of thinking is refreshing and very much welcome. Studying her and how her mind works is a so much fun for me. Every war talks and tactics planning with her is informative, she’s like a real general in the battle field. She knows every angels of the battle, every plans to propose, every sacrifices to make. She may not be physically strong but she can defeat everyone with her brilliant mind.

I loved all the war tactics scattered in this novel. It’s like I’m reading part of my favorite book, Art of War but not really. Every strategies, planning and secrets are well plotted. I wish there’s more as I love reading all of them.

I devoured this book in one sitting during one cold night outside the coffee shop near my place. If that doesn’t tell how good and addicting this book is, I don’t know what is. So for fantasy readers who haven’t read this book yet, go read it! Trust me, you won’t get disappointed with the smart and intriguing characters, intricate plot, well-crafted world and beautiful writing. It’s a smart book – a perfect escape for fantasy lovers!

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars

“We are liars. We are beautiful and privileged. We are cracked and broken.”

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.

Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

Personal Thoughts:

When I first read We Were Liars last year, I honestly didn’t like it. With so much expectations after all the raving and hypes online I ended up unsatisfied. Then I do a reread recently of the book and fortunately enjoyed it so much than the first try.

Unexpectedly, even without the element of surprise for the shocking twist in the end as I’ve already read the story before, I still enjoy the ride of this uniquely told story. Instead of unraveling “what is happening?” it becomes more of savoring the authors words and story telling.

E. Lockhart writing style for this one is undeniably unique. It’s like she has it’s own brand of writing that I can easily distinguish even the publisher decided not to put her name in the cover of the book or use a pen name. Her prose are beautiful, poetic and quietly resonating.

Her choppy fragmented sentences perfectly aligned to the story teller background, making Cadence an unreliable narrator. Everything is about lies – the lies Cadence tell to the readers and the lies she is telling herself. First time reader will surely get tangled with all those lies just like me before. If not for the existence of fairytale stories, those lies will surely confused the hell out of me. But thank God, the deviations of fairytale stories are their to give me hints. For the most part, they give me a better idea of what’s happening. Somehow they reflects the truths and reveal the real story behind all the lies and confusing narration of Cadence. The characters, worlds, and stories hidden inside those fairytale stories parallel Cadence’s own reality. Also, these fairytale stories fueled the novel making it more interesting and uniquely written.

Overall, We Were Liars is a beautifully written story. With E. Lockhart’s clever plotting, beautiful and poetic prose, this novel deserved a rereading. It has both highs and lows that are worth visiting.