4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads
The Winner’s Curse is a tricky book to define – I honestly have no idea what genre to put it under. The setting doesn’t quite feel fantasy, but it also doesn’t quite feel science fiction. I suppose it could considered to be a dystopian novel, but in a very different way to other Young Adult dystopian such as The Hunger Games or Divergent. I’m not really sure what I was expecting when I picked it up – there are a lot of positive reviews on Goodreads – but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this.
The setting seemed a little odd. There was obvious Graeco-Roman inspiration, e.g. the empire, slaves, villas, names such as Trajan and soldiers with names ending in ‘x’, but there were plenty of names that didn’t fit. I suppose it doesn’t have to be inspired by one particular culture, if any at all, but it does make it feel more grounded and ‘real’, in a way. The world-building didn’t feel very strong. There was a vague sense of history – the Valorians enslaved the Herranis a while before the events of the book, but that was about it.
Kestrel, the protagonist, was a relief. She may have been from an aristocratic family, but she wasn’t amazing at everything, despite all the opportunities. She was clever, quick-witted and musical, but not a good fighter. She doesn’t mope about, there’s no talk of how she’s plain or any ‘special snowflake’ behaviour. And she has a genuine friendship with a female friend that doesn’t just revolve around the friend being a handy way for Kestrel to discuss her feelings – although it does seem that way at first, it is later shown that Jess is truly important to Kestrel. However, Arin felt quite flat. There was a little bit of his history, but I wasn’t able to get a real sense of his personality. It’s a possibility that he was meant to be mysterious and aloof, but it didn’t really come off that way.
I am writing this review a few weeks after reading the book, and I have to admit that if it weren’t for my notes, I’d have great difficulty writing this. Despite having read the book not that long ago, it took me a little while to recall all of the details. It may not be the most memorable of stories, but I do know that I really enjoyed it! And the best bit? No insta-love!