Final verdict: 4 shooting stars.
I really like how it was plotted; I won't spoil, but there's an event that occurs around the halfway point that completely turns the tables, and the juxtaposition between the first and second halves is interesting. There's also an unexpected turn of events towards the end, setting things up for book 2 (it requires some suspension of disbelief, but it does complicate matters!).
Their positions in society makes Kestrel and Arin's relationship one of push-and-pull, unpredictable and messy, and certainly one of the highlights of the book. I liked that Kestrel was at best average, perhaps even mediocre, at fighting (rather than being one of those 'kick-butt' female characters we so frequently see in YA fantasy who are somehow naturally fantastic at combat), but excelled at strategizing. She and Arin were well-matched in that respect. It was also interesting to have as a protagonist someone who owned slaves, and who, despite treating them fairly well, was not desperately fighting to change the status quo. I was not convinced, at least for most of the book, that Kestrel was particularly bothered by the fact that the Valorians enslaved the Herrani. As the general's daughter she seems to have been raised to accept that this is the way things are; that you must be stronger than your opposition so that you are the victor rather than the dominated. I think there is a shift in Kestrel's viewpoint towards the end of the book, but it certainly takes a while to happen.
Arin was more of a mystery to me. I didn't really feel like the reader was let into his head as much as with Kestrel. There's still a fair bit of backstory there that I think could be explored (and perhaps will be in later books?)
One quibble I had generally is that I could have used some more description, particularly of the characters. I had the hardest time picturing what Arin looked like! A map also would have been a huge help. Any discussion of military strategy makes so much more sense to me when there is a map to refer to.
May 22, 2016
The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski