The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy #1) by Marie Rutkoski
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.
Kestrel is an intelligent girl, but she is not a good physical fighter. She would prefer not to join the military to fight combat, not believing that she would come out alive. But getting married doesn't seem to be on her list of to-do's anytime soon.
While out shopping with a friend, they come across an auction starting in the village. A Young man is offered as a hard worker and "singer". Kestrel has an unexplained draw towards the man, Arin and bids an extremely high amount knowing another hand is not currently needed around the mansion. She tries to keep aloof and only crossing his path with an excuse, until she accepts that she likes his company and they begin conversations getting to know each other and playing cards.
The closer she gets to Arin the more she lets down her guard and becomes comfortable around him. The townsfolk begin to whisper about her favoring him, but she also knows some secrets of her own. Her family holds a higher standing in society as her father is a military leader. Kestrel has an education and loves to play the piano, she can fight if she has to but prefers to use intelligence.
Arin is hard working, does what he is told but has a short fuse. He feels guarded when Kestrel befriends him not knowing what her intentions may be getting so comfortable around a slave. Arin is not shy when it comes to asking favors after a time and their friendship is revealed, although most of the village thinks it's more than just friendship happening behind closed doors.
There is growing tension throughout the storyline and we get to know Arin and Kestrel on a personal level. When it comes to siding with one over another the reader will struggle having to decide. They are both very strong characters but show us a vulnerable side. As the plot thickens, so does the danger. There will be death and war. But does anybody really win?
I recommend this book to those who enjoy a good tense building-of-a-battle read. Although the idea of a romance occurs through the story it is not a book I refer to as a romance read. Very strong lead female character who is very intuitive and smart.