The Winners Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The winners curse

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. (Goodreads)

This is another book that I have had on my TBR list for quite some time (a recurring problem for sure) but overtime I read the premise, I always seemed put off, so I never bothered to actively search for a copy. When Amazon, then, put it onto my recommended for me list, I decided to bite the bullet and give it a shot – What is there to lose… other than a few Euro’s – but that’s beside the point. I really should have picked up this book earlier!

You want to know what I liked the most about this book? Women were held in equal ability to men when it came to the opportunity to join the military. A lot of dystopian young adult books feature women who rebel against the norm and join the military dressed up as a man or they learn to fight and defend themselves even though they are not allowed to. What bugged me about this fact was that our main character, Kestrel, was being bugged by her father, General Trajan, to join the military – almost like a family trait. What also bugged me about this book was the fact that women had until they were 20 to decide whether they wanted to enlist or marry, and if they went out of the house, they had to have an escort with them. A bit demeaning – don’t you think?

The Valorians defeated the Herrani in a war many years ago, which has left the rest of the Herrani population enslaved. Kestrel, however, doesn’t like having slaves or the treatment of the Herrani, so when she accidentally ends up in an auction and she feels compelled to buy the man that the auctioneer is selling off, Kestrel and her friend, Jess, are both equally shocked. I personally don’t see what she saw in Arin, he bugged me to death, but at the same time, there was something about him that I just didn’t trust. Of course, it didn’t take long for it to come out that he is a rebel spy, and then things got interesting!

What I liked about Kestrel is the fact that she was strong enough to do what she wanted, even if it meant that society would gossip about it. She didn’t follow a lot of the fashion trends and she was, in general a strong character – just not in the ways we would expect as the daughter of the general. She had a mind for strategy and often used it to get herself out of sticky situations. As someone who was always taught, from a very young age by my father, to get around a problem, I admired her skill in this particular instance. Even I could take a couple of lessons from her and I learned like a pro!

I feel like, for a nation who is described to be able to withstand anything and who is portrayed to be a very strong nation, the Valorians succumbed way too easily to the Herrani. I feel like there should have been more of a fight on the night of the rebellion – even if it was a bit sneaky from the slaves from the offset.

Kestrel bugged me toward the end! How could she even feel the way she was feeling after everything that Arin had done to her and her friends and her people?? She was BETRAYED!! Does she not understand this concept?!? I felt like, if she was stood in front of me, I probably would have slapped some sense into her. She nearly lost her best friend because of him and his people – just why?? I feel like I am going to go into rant mode, so I should probably quit while I am ahead.

I mostly enjoyed this book and I really should have picked it up earlier. I am looking forward to buying the next instalment. I gave this book 4/5 stars.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

an ember in the ashes

Laia is a slave.

Elias is a soldier.

Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.  (Goodreads)

I have had this on my TBR for a while, but somehow I never actually got around to getting a copy and reading it. I was attracted to this book after reading the premise, but I was disappointed.

This book was a pretty slow read but there was something about it that made me carry on reading – although I am not entirely sure what that thing was. Let’s start with Laia – I found her irritating from the get go. She is a very naive character and the reader just feels like slapping her nearly constantly. However, she is a character to be respected. Her unflinching loyalty toward her brother and saving him help her to become a stronger and wiser character. She shows the reader that people can change and they can grow from what they were and become great people – with the help of others.

I liked Elias. Aside from the fact that he shares my sons name (:-D) he is a character who tries to be a good person despite his training and his upbringing. He doesn’t want to be the person that the empire want from him. I also like the fact that Laia helped him – she made sure that he didn’t lose himself in the face of the Trials and the burdens he was bearing on his shoulders. She made sure that his soul remained his own – and he listened to her! 🙂

So what was the problem with this book? Well, I feel like the book needed more meat to the story. I know it set the scenes and it probably laid the stage for what is to come, but I feel like it was missing action. There was action in it, without a doubt, but there wasn’t enough. I wanted more from the evil commander and I wanted to know more of her plans. I wanted more from the resistance – which we saw very little of. More over, I wanted more Elias and Laia. It felt lacking in a way that can only be fixed when the author includes more in her story to make the readers turn the pages.

What I am still wondering, even after I finished this a while ago, is who Cook is? Why does she stammer every single time she talks about the resistance? Was she betrayed – did she betray her own? What happened? I think this is a story that every reader of this book needs to find out at some point in order to stay sane. It is a mystery that haunts me every single time I think about this book. Clearly I need to go and grab the second copy…

I was expecting more from this book and was vaguely disappointed that it didn’t turn out (for me) to be all it was cracked up to be. I gave this book 3/5 stars.