The Winner's Curse
By Marie Rutkoski
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2014. 368 pages. Young Adult
As a member of the ruling Valorian class and the daughter of the famous General Trajan, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has a choice: enlist in the army and continue her father's legacy of warfare and bloodshed, or marry before she turns twenty. Kestrel doesn't want to do either, quite frankly, as her heart belongs to her music, not to the battlefield or to any man.
But when she impulsively purchases a nineteen-year-old Herrani slave at auction -- Arin, a young man her father's wars enslaved -- she inadvertently sets a Herrani rebellion in motion. Worse, the more often Kestrel's path crosses with Arin's, the more their relationship evolves into something beyond master and slave. As truths are exposed and Arin's true heritage comes to light, Kestrel begins to wonder where her loyalties should lie, and whether she should choose the morality of helping to free an oppressed people, or the honor of not betraying her own.
With an airtight plot and a cast of beautifully dynamic, yet flawed characters, Rutkoski has created a world full of intrigue, shifting alliances and sympathies, multiple double-crosses, and (don't let the cover fool you) action-packed battle scenes. Kestrel is a fully-fleshed heroine who, while strong and intellectually brilliant, knows her own faults and how to use her strengths to compensate for them. Arin is equally compelling, and the way Rutkoski balances, shifts, and exchanges power between the two throughout the novel's course is nothing short of riveting. Add Rutkoski's gorgeous prose and seamless fantasy world into the mix, and you have the recipe for a novel that will be topping many YA Best of 2014 lists. Nothing short of fantastic.