I read this book on the basis of the title, as I found it intriguing. “The Winner’s Curse” is a phenomenon that may occur after purchasing an item at auction, when the buyer regrets the high price they paid, or they find out that the item was not as described. Kestrel, the daughter of a Valorian general, buys a Herrani slave on a whim. Perhaps it is the defiance in his eyes or the stubbornness of his stance that attracts her, familiar feelings for the young woman. Kestrel is almost of age, and soon must make a choice: get married, or join the military. Kestrel wants to do neither; rather, she longs to make her own choices, to make her own way in the world. Kestrel knows that she has made a mistake the moment she buys the slave, named Arin. The Valorians have conquered the Herreni, and taken over their city. Arin should just be one more slave among many, yet Arin is not. Arin is dangerous to Kestrel, for he is intelligent, resourceful, and he listens to her in a way that few others do. By getting to know Arin, Kestrel begins to question the choices of her people, as well as the choices offered to her in life. She desperately wants a way out for herself, and for Arin. In a city soon to be ravaged anew by violence, Kestrel is forced to make some dangerous choices. Her choices may be dangerous to both the Valorians as well as the Herrani, but they may prove to be devastating to both Kestrel and Arin.
This enthralling tale of star-crossed lovers is the first book of a proposed fantasy trilogy. I found this book to be very refreshingly told, because more of the story is told by what is not said than what is said between the characters. The verbal fencing that takes place between the characters reflects their intelligence, and demonstrates the game of wits being played, both between Kestrel and Arin, but also between Kestrel and just about everyone else. Kestrel is a strong female character in a world where woman only show their strength through battle. Kestrel wants more, and as she navigates the difficult path laid out before her, we sense that maybe she has a chance to get exactly what she wants.
“The Winner’s Curse” is available now, both in hardcover and ebook versions, from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.