Friday, January 23, 2015

What we're reading: An alternate world, a battle of wits

The Winner’s Curse
by Marie Rutkoski.
355 pg.
First in a series
9th grade and above

Reviewed by Anarda

Kestrel is the 17-year-old daughter and only child of the great Valorian warrior, General Trajan. Having led the Valorians to conquer the Herrani people 20 years ago, he and his daughter live in splendor in the captured capitol, while other Valorians make their homes in the former mansions of the now-enslaved Herrani. While the Valorians prize battle prowess above all, and Valorian female children can choose marriage or the army at the age of 20, they are otherwise an unenlightened culture, while the recently enslaved Herrani value the arts and education.

Kestrel inherits a piano and her musical skill and passion from her long-dead mother, but her skill in fighting is not so good, much to her father’s chagrin. What she has in abundance is a strategic and insightful mind, so when she overbids on a young male slave with skills as a blacksmith, she comforts herself with the idea that he will be useful to her father’s in-house garrison--but something about her unexpected purchase bothers her. She eventually starts to observe him, only to discover that he is exceptionally observant (and educated) as well. Thus begins a meeting of like minds; two seemingly mismatched people who are enemies by birth, who share a love of skillful gaming and of music, and who hold contempt for those who will not understand them. And one holds a secret that will destroy the other.

This is another winning book for Rutkoski (author of the Kronos Chronicles series and The Shadow Society), with a character-driven plotline enriched with good world-building and a satisfyingly plausible relationship between foes.

Editor's note: Anarda convinced me to read this book (she book-talked it at 10-12 Book Club), and I agree! The world-building, the relationships, the premise, the resolution, were all beautifully done. And while there is a hint of romance, it definitely doesn't take over the book, which is also good! It reminded me of The Thief, (the Queen's Thief series) by Megan Whalen Turner, which is a high compliment.

The only thing I disliked (quite a lot, actually) was the cover! When in doubt, put a girl in a fancy dress on it? C'mon, the dress isn't even the color of the one from the significant scene, and the girl is too slight and delicate to be someone who trains daily with weapons, no matter how ineffectually. It's also almost impossible to find the book when you're looking for it--the title is so obscured within the picture (much more so in person than in this photo) that I went by it twice on the library shelves before I figured out this was the book I was looking for.

I hope others find it, though, because it's a book worth reading!



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