The Winner's Curse

Hardcover | March 4, 2014

byMarie Rutkoski

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Winning what you want may cost you everything you love
They were never meant to be together. As a general's daughter, seventeen-year-old Kestrel enjoys an extravagant and privileged life. Arin has nothing but the clothes on his back. Then Kestrel makes an impulsive decision that binds Arin to her. Though they try to fight it, they can't help but fall in love. In order to be together, they must betray their people . . . but to be loyal to their country, they must betray each other.

Set in a new world, The Winner's Curse is a story of rebellion, duels, ballroom dances, wicked rumors, dirty secrets, and games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

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From the Publisher

Winning what you want may cost you everything you loveThey were never meant to be together. As a general's daughter, seventeen-year-old Kestrel enjoys an extravagant and privileged life. Arin has nothing but the clothes on his back. Then Kestrel makes an impulsive decision that binds Arin to her. Though they try to fight it, they can'...

Marie Rutkoski is the author of The Shadow Society and the Kronos Chronicles, which includes The Cabinet of Wonders. She is a professor at Brooklyn College and lives in New York City.

other books by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Kiss
The Winner's Kiss

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The Winner's Crime
The Winner's Crime

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WINNERS CURSE
WINNERS CURSE

Hardcover|Oct 23 2014

$5.99 online$19.99list price
see all books by Marie Rutkoski
Format:HardcoverDimensions:368 pages, 8.48 × 5.83 × 1.18 inPublished:March 4, 2014Publisher:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)Language:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0374384673

ISBN - 13:9780374384678

Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent start to an amazing trilogy! This book has everything I enjoy: An interesting protagonist who kicks butt, an engaging love interest, excellent world building, and interesting conflict. I'm happy that the last book came out this year (2016) because I don't think I could have endured without knowing how this series ends.
Date published: 2016-04-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Doesn't meet the hype, but still good! I had high hopes for this book, what with all the rave reviews from hobby reviewers and professionals alike. It was slightly not quite as good as I thought it would be, but only slightly. This book is considered to be a fantasy, but nothing magical or impossible really happens -- the world itself is just invented, based on the Roman Empire’s takeover of Greece. Although the worldbuilding was thorough and interesting, the two culture’s customs and beliefs could have been woven into the story even more. As it is, we get wars and duels and folktales of gods, (brief) histories of each empire and cultural attires. I can only hope there will be more worldbuilding in the second book. The romance is develops over most of the book (no insta-love, thank goodness), yet it felt too fast and too slow at the same time. I wanted more Kestrel and Arin interactions, but not romantic ones -- just more of them getting to know each other because, as the weeks went by, we didn’t get as many conversations and such as we could have. It’s a shame because their situation is rife with tension and possibility. Each is a strong character faced with deep moral conflict and perhaps even deeper needs for themselves and their people. I would have rooted for the romance far more if they hadn’t grown to love each other over what seemed like relatively few interactions. Missed opportunities, I say. The action takes a while to develop, as well, but there is something new and fascinating in most every chapter of this book. And once things start to go down, they go down. I don’t want to give too much away but *cue the violence.* What might be the most perplexing and captivating aspect of this book is the dilemmas faced by both Kestrel and Arin. I can’t hate either of them, even though I hate some of the things that they do. I was forced to put myself in their shoes and ask “Is this wrong? What would I do in their situation?” The reason they are such likeable characters, despite their sometimes flawed morals, is that they are real people with real back stories, experiences, people they care about, values, and feelings. And they challenge all of these things about each other. They constantly re-evaluate their views and actions and try to compromise, but they live in a world that has to have a clear winner and a clear loser. Deciding which position they want to find themselves -- and the other -- in is more difficult than most any moral dilemma I can think of. I cannot finish this review without saying that Kestrel is one of the best heroines I have read. She is not perfect, but she is strong. She is clever. She has a personality and conflicting desires. She is not annoying. Heroines that are not annoying are in short supply these days, so if you read this book, savour Kestrel. I don’t want to give anything else away, but this is unique and compelling read. Big yes from me!
Date published: 2016-01-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A quick and breathtaking read~! Rutkoski played with my heart like crazy with this novel. My anxiety levels were fluctuating and I was just worried about every moment that was happening. Kestrel & Arin's chemistry was electric and sweet at the same time and it definitely added to the greatness that is this book. I was surprised to have read it in a few hours. I couldn't put the it down. The writing was brilliant and the story itself kept me enthralled.
Date published: 2016-01-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I loved this book! For months I was so iffy to purchase this book and just recently, I gave in and read it along with the second book and omg I love them so much..I'm not into writing an essay for a review so just read the book..
Date published: 2015-04-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Another Pair of Star-Crossed Lovers Truthfully I liked many aspects of this book, I loved each phrase I came across while reading, and quoted-highlighted many. I enjoyed the storyline and the characters. Overall everything was very enjoyable.  I just really hope that the next book would present more that would grasp my heart. I am still looking forward to reading it, as the ending of this book was a very intimidating, dead on cliff-hanger. That really needs to be resolved.
Date published: 2015-04-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Wasn't what I was expecting You take notice when a publisher is pushing a ton of marketing and publicity behind one book and that so happened to be The Winner’s Curse. It started when American bloggers received the beautiful packaging and beautiful ARC (with the sword bookmark), when I took notice of it. Combine that with an interesting synopsis and beautiful cover, this book nerd got SUPER EXCITED. Only as I started it, I wasn’t excited anymore. I was bored. I was bored for pretty much the entire beginning and middle. I found myself stopping from reading this book because nothing happens. There is a slow burn of a relationship brewing and that’s it. There are hints as to what Arin might be up to but does it actually happen? That was the only intriguing aspect. And why is Kestrel so infatuated with Arin? I either missed the moment they fell in love or I just couldn’t care less. I wasn’t feeling the romance at all. Where did it come from? Mere glances and startled revelations? Then all of a sudden they realize they had feelings for each other? What!! I was confused. Romance in this one is as low as a slow kindling that turns into a raging fire, then quickly get snuffed out by a bucket of water. That’s a pretty simple way to put it. I wasn’t feeling any of it. I couldn’t connect with neither Kestrel or Arin. Hasty writing, and very quick, straight to the point rapid fire writing. Normally, I don’t mind this style of writing since it’s very fast-paced, and also very unique, but I didn’t like any of it. Kestrel..snobby, superior, and quick to protect her loved ones and deny all the strangers. Sure that makes her a loyal friend and one who cares, but really? She couldn’t help her people????? How cruel can you get? And then her indecisiveness due to her romantic feelings for Arin complicated her plans even more. He is your your enemy and slaughtered all your people? You’re not remotely disgusted by him? I’m a little horrified by her decisions. She is wonderful at strategies and games and is highly intelligent, and I just didn’t like her. She redeems herself in the end, but at that point, I again didn’t care. I just wanted it to be over. I really hope everyone else has better luck with this one than I did. The hype monster drew me in and didn’t let go. I need to learn my lesson one day but I just can’t help it sometimes. No more hype, no more buzz for this girl. I can’t get overly excited anymore!
Date published: 2015-02-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not what I expected You take notice when a publisher is pushing a ton of marketing and publicity behind one book and that so happened to be The Winner's Curse. It started when American bloggers received the beautiful packaging and beautiful ARC (with the sword bookmark), when I took notice of it. Combine that with an interesting synopsis and beautiful cover, this book nerd got SUPER EXCITED. Only as I started it, I wasn't excited anymore. I was bored. I was bored for pretty much the entire beginning and middle. I found myself stopping from reading this book because nothing happens. There is a slow burn of a relationship brewing and that's it. There are hints as to what Arin might be up to but does it actually happen? That was the only intriguing aspect. And why is Kestrel so infatuated with Arin? I either missed the moment they fell in love or I just couldn't care less. I wasn't feeling the romance at all. Where did it come from? Mere glances and startled revelations? Then all of a sudden they realize they had feelings for each other? What!! I was confused. Romance in this one is as low as a slow kindling that turns into a raging fire, then quickly get snuffed out by a bucket of water. That's a pretty simple way to put it. I wasn't feeling any of it. I couldn't connect with neither Kestrel or Arin. Hasty writing, and very quick, straight to the point rapid fire writing. Normally, I don't mind this style of writing since it's very fast-paced, and also very unique, but I didn't like any of it. Kestrel..snobby, superior, and quick to protect her loved ones and deny all the strangers. Sure that makes her a loyal friend and one who cares, but really? She couldn't help her people????? How cruel can you get? And then her indecisiveness due to her romantic feelings for Arin complicated her plans even more. He is your your enemy and slaughtered all your people? You're not remotely disgusted by him? I'm a little horrified by her decisions. She is wonderful at strategies and games and is highly intelligent, and I just didn't like her. She redeems herself in the end, but at that point, I again didn't care. I just wanted it to be over. I really hope everyone else has better luck with this one than I did. The hype monster drew me in and didn't let go. I need to learn my lesson one day but I just can't help it sometimes. No more hype, no more buzz for this girl. I can't get overly excited anymore!
Date published: 2015-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from loved it It was a great book. I had troubl e putting it down! Perfect plot and thebloventwist in it was perfect!
Date published: 2015-01-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Unexpected I liked that this book did not shrink away from the reality of slavery and the limits of free will in comes with it. It is also a great love story...and like all good love stories a bit tragic and impossible. I look forward to how it is finally resolved.
Date published: 2014-12-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Best Historical Read I've Read Since 'A Mad Wicked Folly!' The worst thing that I care to admit: I hate historical fiction. It's basically the only genre that I hate that's been given so many chances by ME. But of course, although I hate it so much, I still love to pick up those books that fall in the genre and have gorgeous covers. And obviously, you can see that I've picked this one up, and really liked it, according to the star rating system. Marie Rutkoski has really made me proud to read this book. It had the mixture of many genres all in one, and it didn't give us loads of info-dumping, which I cannot stand in books. The Winner's Curse was one of those books that you will want to read every single paragraph, over and over again to catch every detail and feeling, because it's just that good. This story all begins with Kestrel, the general's daughter, going off into the village, where she's not supposed to be in. There, she finds a young male slave ready to be auctioned. Kestrel ends up buying the slave but all she doesn't know is that she's going to fall in love with him. Kestrel has a choice: to be married or join the war. Either way, it's a tough decision, and it's all said with one word. Kestrel spent this whole book trying to find out who she is and what she wants her life to be. And she had to go through some tough decisions. It's not easy when you're stuck in the situation that she was stuck in. I guess you could say that that was the point and concept of the book, but it was also about her and Arin's tough relationship. A slave and a general's daughter falling in love? Hmm... probably not so easy to deal with in their world. Kestrel was a wise, willing character. I've read reviews that have noted that she was stuck-up and selfish, but I think otherwise. Kestrel had a capability in her that most protagonists don't show that fast in the novel or sequence. She was kick-ass and didn't care what the other characters thought of her. She just could blast her country off the Earth's surface and still could be walking out of there like a boss. I had issues with Arin. This time around (which rarely ever occurs with fictional men) I didn't like him. He was so rude most of the time and acted like he was the "boss" around. He thought that he was the best around and treated Kestrel like a loser. If you don't treat a girl right, The romance in this book was real cute, though. "If her heart were truly a scroll, she could burn it. It would become a tunnel of flame, a handful of ash. The secret she had written inside herself would be gone. No one would know." In the end, I realized that Kestrel and Arin had a connection that most people don't have with each other. They understood each other and had an insta-love that was too powerful to tear apart. Together, they could rule the fictional world, right next to Tris and Four. :') The other flaw that this book had was the plot. It was kind of slow through the middle, but I had a bigger problem with Arin. Nothing could beat my anger with that man. Grr. But overall, this book was great. I recommend it to lovers of Game of Thrones, although I didn't get to read that yet. It has a medieval/dystopia feel to it and is very unique compared to others. I am looking forward to the thrilling sequel!
Date published: 2014-07-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Review from Esther's Ever After The cover for The Winner's Curse is pretty (YES, it is) but it doesn't do the story justice at all. This story is, in a few words, devastating, gripping, and thrilling! I haven't stopped thinking about this book since I finished reading it. I've just been pining away for more! The Winner's Curse is a low fantasy read, ideal for those who like a little bit of political intrigue and a great setting in their books. Reasons to Read: 1. Low fantasy at its best: I love (all) fantasy books and while I prefer high fantasy, The Winner's Curse is a one of the best low fantasy books I've ever read. (Sidenote: I'm putting The Winner's Curse in the low fantasy category because while it's a fictional world, the way the world works is rational and real and doesn't contain magical or impossible elements). There's less suspension of belief for readers, which is fantastic for readers who are less interested by magic. While the world is fictional there are some aspects which reminded me of other historical settings. 2. Oh my, swoons!: Do you like your romance to be epic?! Pick up The Winner's Curse - trust me. While the romance takes centre stage in this story, it also wasn't sappy or ridiculous. I was absolutely swept away by Arin and Kestrel and I couldn't get enough of these two. Most of all I loved how they tried to figure each other out, but still remained their rational thinking. And the tension just dragged on forever! So much tension that just wouldn't go away and it was brilliant. I liked Kestrel so much - she stood out on her own and had a vivid personality. She was such a clever girl, yet she had her own faults and she had to overcome those and work with it. But overall, Kestrel is an incredibly strong heroine. 3. An explosive story: I couldn't get enough of the politics and culture incorporated in The Winner's Curse. I was enthralled by these little details, and I'm dying to know what happens to this world in the next book. The plot development was my absolute favourite part of this book! It is beautifully written and the story is so captivating. I am dreaming about this book, its characters, and its world. I cannot let it go. I'm in love with it too much. The characters are flawed which is good, but this also means they aren't instantly likeable. My appreciation for them only grew over time as the story progressed and I was skeptical of Kestrel, in particular, at first. There were also a couple subplots that didn't seem to influence the main plot; maybe they'll come up in later books, but they didn't seem particularly relevant for this book. The Winner's Curse was one of my favourite books released this year so far. I've rarely felt so invested in a book series before, and I have such high hopes for the next one! The situation Arin and Kestrel are put in is so difficult as they're both forced to question values and beliefs they've held for such a long time - The Winner's Curse is reading for that alone. ARC received from Macmillan for review; no other compensation was received.
Date published: 2014-05-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Review from MajiBookshelf The Winner’s Curse is one of the most hyped books for this winter of 2014. I am pretty sure every single book blogger and book tuber has heard about this book, read it, or already pre-ordered it (and received it!). Initially it took me a while to get to a place where I started to enjoy The Winner's Curse. The 3rd POV writing isn't my favorite way of storytelling and I initially actually thought there was a third person in the scene. However Once I got used to it and all the characters were introduced and we got a bit of background history on the world, I stated to really enjoy it. This is about a territory that was invaded by the Volarians that resulted in the enslavement of the Herrani people. Kestrel, the daughter of the General Trajan, has to make a decision soon, whether to join the army or get married. She has a knack for strategizing and her father has tried multiple times to recruit her to the army but she wants neither. She wants to choose her own future. This is when she meets Arin, a slave she buys on a whim and takes back to her father's home. If you are expecting a typical predictable romance then you'll be pleasantly surprised. This is more than the romance and I loved that about this book. Kestrel is such a strong character and she is a smart one too. Also, the incorporation of music into the novel brought something unique and delicate to a novel that would otherwise be a bit dark and depressing, which book wouldn't with the topic of slavery and non existent women rights? I have read one book by Rutkoski before and it didn't blow me away or capture my attention the whole time, this however did just that. I wanted to know what would happen next. None of my predictions were correct and this is something that I loved. I am tired of predictable novels and even ones that have a "shocking twist" when in fact it was a twist that was obvious. Also, the ending? wow.. it blew me away. I seriously need the second book immediately! I have no idea what direction Rutkoski is taking with the next novel but I am excited to dive back into this complex and fascinating world she has created.
Date published: 2014-05-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It is an amazing book It's amazing. The detail is astonishing, anyone that loves action and a bit of romance will love this book. How the characters interact with one another and you really understand that no matter how much you love the person maybe you just can't risk it, in this story you finally understand that some things are just worth fighting for.
Date published: 2014-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautifully Written This book was amazing! This is definitely one of my favorite books of the year!! I can't believe I have to wait another year for book 2!!! After everything that was happening my anticipation is through the roof due to the ending. Krestel and Arin were characters you see and have all the feels for over the course of the novel. This is my first book that I have read by Marie and I am now a fan because the writing was beautiful.  Marie has created a fascinating world that hooked me from the beginning of the page. I already heard amazing things about it before reading it so there was high expectations that it exceed them when I read it. The beginning was slow but it set up the book perfectly. There was action, suspense and romance. Krestrel our main character is a Valorian and is also the daughter of General Trajan. She is easy to like, passionate and is easy to relate to. It opens up as Krestrel and her best friend Jess are out shopping when they come upon a Herrani slave auction, and here we meet Smith (Arin)  who is bitter, can supposedly sing. Krestrel makes many moves throughout the book. I really liked her and the fact they she loves music  rather than follow in her fathers footsteps.  The story was flawlessly beautiful that while you are reading you can picture the setting and the hints of the society. The romance between Krestrel and Arin through the book was one of my favorites because it started off slow and my anticipation for them was through the roof!! Arin's character is complex, smart and strong willed. These two are perfect for each other even when he is her slave. The chemistry is tender and makes your heart melt (Bite and Sting) and many other scenes.  As the story is inspired by the Greco- Roman period is focuses on the Valorian empire. It is set after the Herrani War and the enslavement of their people. The Valorians fueled the plot and its also seen through cultural and power are still remaining in The Winner's Curse. The Valorians focus more on war while the Herrani are remembered for their literature and art. I loved being in this world and with the way Marie put everything together we are just at the beginning. Even the ending made it interesting and made me crave for more. The Winner's Curse is one book everyone must read! I want the next book ASAP. Its story was constructed, and written beautifully. It has the perfect amount of intrigue, romance and definitely a lot of emotion was happening near the end. I am still thinking about it from those last final pages.. This is officially one of my favorite books of the year. 
Date published: 2014-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Review from Swept Away By Books Although it had a slower start for me, I was totally hooked right from the opening pages of this richly imagined world, where a beautiful relationship blooms despite the political turmoil that is inescapable in a world full of deceit, lies and slavery. I really loved this incredible story of love in a time when two people from entirely different social statuses beat the odds and fall in love. And while The Winner's Curse doesn't necessarily have a happily ever after in the traditional sense, it sets up the rest of the series perfectly.  I had a hard time connecting with Kestrel, our leading lady, in the first hundred or so pages of the book. She was a spoiled girl who took a fancy in a young man being sold as a slave. The only thing that really fascinated me about her was her love of music in a society where it was considered gauche to actually play any instrument, reminiscent of the days when Herrani, the people whose country the Valorians had overtaken, played music and revelled in art and beauty. I loved this little defiant spark in Kestrel, that spoke to the side of her who empathized with the enslaved Harrani. Arin was a character I admired right away. Despite his being a slave, he still had an innate respect for himself, and never fully took his orders without showing his disdain, even in the most minute ways. The romance between Arin and Kestrel was discreet, and never fully fleshed out. It was full of stolen glimpses, quiet but intense moments and swoon worthy lines that had me going crazy for a little more. Full of high society balls, lies and deceit, stolen moments in secret places, as well as being absolutely beautifully written, The Winner's Curse is a brilliant first book in a new trilogy that everyone should read!
Date published: 2014-02-24

Extra Content

Read from the Book

1  She shouldn’t have been tempted.This is what Kestrel thought as she swept the sailors’ silver off the impromptu gaming table set up in a corner of the market.“Don’t go,” said one sailor.“Stay,” said another, but Kestrel cinched her wrist-strap velvet purse shut. The sun had lowered, and caramelized the color of things, which meant that she had played cards long enough to be noticed by someone who mattered.Someone who would tell her father.Cards wasn’t even her favorite game. The silver wouldn’t begin to pay for her silk dress, snagged from the splintery crate she had used as a stool. But sailors were much better adversaries than the average aristocrat. They flipped cards with feral tricks, swore when they lost, swore when they won, would gouge the last silver keystone coin out of a friend. And they cheated. Kestrel especially liked it when they cheated. It made beating them not quite so easy.She smiled and left them. Then her smile faded. This hour of thrilling risk was going to cost her. It wasn’t the gambling that would infuriate her father, or the company she had kept. No, General Trajan was going to want to know why his daughter was in the city market alone.Other people wondered, too. She saw it in their eyes as she threaded through market stalls offering open sacks of spice, the scents mingling with salty air that wafted from the nearby port. Kestrel guessed the words people didn’t dare whisper as she passed. Of course they didn’t speak. They knew who she was. And she knew what they would say.Where was Lady Kestrel’s escort?And if she had no friend or family available to escort her to the market, where was her slave?Well, as for a slave, they had been left at her villa. Kestrel did not need them.As for the whereabouts of her escort, she was wondering the same thing.Jess had wandered off to look at the wares. Kestrel last saw her weaving like a flower-drunk bee through the stalls, her pale blond hair almost white in the summer sun. Technically, Jess could get in as much trouble as Kestrel. It wasn’t allowed for a young Valorian girl who wasn’t a member of the military to walk alone. But Jess’s parents doted on her, and they hardly had the same notion of discipline as the highest-ranking general in the Valorian army.Kestrel scanned the stalls for her friend, and finally caught the gleam of blond braids styled in the latest fashion. Jess was talking to a jewelry seller who dangled a pair of earrings. The translucent gold droplets caught the light.Kestrel drew closer.“Topaz,” the elderly woman was saying to Jess. “To brighten your lovely brown eyes. Only ten keystones.”There was a hard set to the jewelry seller’s mouth. Kestrel met the woman’s gray eyes and noticed that her wrinkled skin was browned from years of working outdoors. She was Herrani, but a brand on her wrist proved that she was free. Kestrel wondered how she had earned that freedom. Slaves freed by their masters were rare.Jess glanced up. “Oh, Kestrel,” she breathed. “Aren’t these earrings perfect?”Maybe if the weight of silver in Kestrel’s purse hadn’t dragged at her wrist she would have said nothing. Maybe if that drag at her wrist hadn’t also dragged at her heart with dread, Kestrel would have thought before she spoke. But instead she blurted what was the obvious truth. “They’re not topaz. They’re glass.”There was a sudden bubble of silence. It expanded, grew thin and sheer. People around them were listening. The earrings trembled in midair.Because the jewelry seller’s bony fingers were trembling.Because Kestrel had just accused her of trying to cheat a Valorian.And what would happen next? What would happen to any Herrani in this woman’s position? What would the crowd witness?An officer of the city guard called to the scene. A plea of innocence, ignored. Old hands bound to the whipping post. Lashes until blood darkened the market dirt.“Let me see,” Kestrel said, her voice imperious, because she was very good at being imperious. She reached for the earrings and pretended to examine them. “Ah. It seems I was mistaken. Indeed they are topaz.”“Take them,” whispered the jewelry seller.“We are not poor. We have no need of a gift from someone such as you.” Kestrel set coins on the woman’s table. The bubble of silence broke, and shoppers returned to discussing whatever ware had caught their fancy.Kestrel gave the earrings to Jess and led her away.As they walked, Jess studied one earring, letting it swing like a tiny bell. “So they are real?”“No.”“How can you tell?”“They’re completely unclouded,” Kestrel said. “No flaws. Ten keystones was too cheap a price for topaz of that quality.”Jess might have commented that ten keystones was too great a price for glass. But she said only, “The Herrani would say that the god of lies must love you, you see things so clearly.”Kestrel remembered the woman’s stricken gray eyes. “The Herrani tell too many stories.” They had been dreamers. Her father always said that this was why they had been easy to conquer.“Everyone loves stories,” Jess said.Kestrel stopped to take the earrings from Jess and slip them into her friend’s ears. “Then wear these to the next society dinner. Tell everyone you paid an outrageous sum, and they will believe they’re true jewels. Isn’t that what stories do, make real things fake, and fake things real?”Jess smiled, turning her head from side to side so that the earrings glittered. “Well? Am I beautiful?”“Silly. You know you are.”Jess led the way now, slipping past a table with brass bowls holding powdered dye. “It’s my turn to buy something for you,” she said. “I have everything I need.”“You sound like an old woman! One would think you’re seventy, not seventeen.”The crowd was thicker now, filled with the golden features of Valorians, hair and skin and eyes ranging from honey tones to light brown. The occasional dark heads belonged to well-dressed house slaves, who had come with their masters and stayed close to their sides.“Don’t look so troubled,” Jess said. “Come, I will find something to make you happy. A bracelet?”But that reminded Kestrel of the jewelry seller. “We should go home.”“Sheet music?”Kestrel hesitated.“Aha,” said Jess. She seized Kestrel’s hand. “Don’t let go.”This was an old game. Kestrel closed her eyes and was tugged blindly after Jess, who laughed, and then Kestrel laughed, too, as she had years ago when they first met.The general had been impatient with his daughter’s mourning. “Your mother’s been dead half a year,” he had said. “That is long enough.” Finally, he had had a senator in a nearby villa bring his daughter, also eight years old, to visit. The men went inside Kestrel’s house. The girls were told to stay outside. “Play,” the general had ordered.Jess had chattered at Kestrel, who ignored her. Finally, Jess stopped. “Close your eyes,” she said.Curious, Kestrel did.Jess had grabbed her hand. “Don’t let go!” They tore over the general’s grassy grounds, slipping and tumbling and laughing.It was like that now, except for the press of people around them.Jess slowed. Then she stopped and said, “Oh.”Kestrel opened her eyes.The girls had come to a waist-high wooden barrier that overlooked a pit below. “You brought me here?”“I didn’t mean to,” said Jess. “I got distracted by a woman’s hat—did you know hats are in fashion?—and was following to get a better look, and…”“And brought us to the slave market.” The crowd had congealed behind them, noisy with restless anticipation. There would be an auction soon.Kestrel stepped back. She heard a smothered oath when her heel met someone’s toes.“We’ll never get out now,” Jess said. “We might as well stay until the auction’s over.”Hundreds of Valorians were gathered before the barrier, which curved in a wide semicircle. Everyone in the crowd was dressed in silks, each with a dagger strapped to the hip, though some—like Jess—wore it more as an ornamental toy than a weapon.The pit below was empty, save for a large wooden auction block.“At least we have a good view.” Jess shrugged.Kestrel knew that Jess understood why her friend had claimed loudly that the glass earrings were topaz. Jess understood why they had been purchased. But the girl’s shrug reminded Kestrel that there were certain things they couldn’t discuss.“Ah,” said a pointy-chinned woman at Kestrel’s side. “At last.” Her eyes narrowed on the pit and the stocky man walking into its center. He was Herrani, with the typical black hair, though his skin was pale from an easy life, no doubt due to the same favoritism that had gotten him this job. This was someone who had learned how to please his Valorian conquerors.The auctioneer stood in front of the block.“Show us a girl first,” called the woman at Kestrel’s side, her voice both loud and languid.Many voices were shouting now, each calling for what they wanted to see. Kestrel found it hard to breathe.“A girl!” yelled the pointy-chinned woman, this time more loudly.The auctioneer, who had been sweeping his hands toward him as if gathering the cries and excitement, paused when the woman’s shout cut through the noise. He glanced at her, then at Kestrel. A flicker of surprise seemed to show on his face. She thought that she must have imagined it, for he skipped on to Jess, then peered in a full semicircle at all the Valorians against the barrier above and around him.He raised a hand. Silence fell. “I have something very special for you.”The acoustics of the pit were made to carry a whisper, and the auctioneer knew his trade. His soft voice made everyone lean closer.His hand shifted to beckon toward the open, yet roofed and shadowed structure built low and small at the back of the pit. He twitched his fingers once, then twice, and something stirred in the holding pen.A young man stepped out.The crowd murmured. Bewilderment grew as the slave slowly paced across the yellow sand. He stepped onto the auction block.This was nothing special.“Nineteen years old, and in fine condition.” The auctioneer clapped the slave on the back. “This one,” he said, “would be perfect for the house.”Laughter rushed through the crowd. Valorians nudged each other and praised the auctioneer. He knew how to entertain.The slave was bad goods. He looked, Kestrel thought, like a brute. A deep bruise on the slave’s cheek was evidence of a fight and a promise that he would be difficult to control. His bare arms were muscular, which likely only confirmed the crowd’s belief that he would be best working for someone with a whip in hand. Perhaps in another life he could have been groomed for a house; his hair was brown, light enough to please some Valorians, and while his features couldn’t be discerned from Kestrel’s distance, there was a proud line in the way he stood. But his skin was bronzed from outdoor labor, and surely it was to such work that he would return. He might be purchased by someone who needed a dockworker or a builder of walls.Yet the auctioneer kept up his joke. “He could serve at your table.”More laughter.“Or be your valet.”Valorians held their sides and fluttered their fingers, begging the auctioneer to stop, stop, he was too funny.“I want to leave,” Kestrel told Jess, who pretended not to hear.“All right, all right.” The auctioneer grinned. “The lad does have some real skills. On my honor,” he added, laying a hand over his heart, and the crowd chuckled again, for it was common knowledge that there was no such thing as Herrani honor. “This slave has been trained as a blacksmith. He would be perfect for any soldier, especially for an officer with a guard of his own and weapons to maintain.”There was a murmur of interest. Herrani blacksmiths were rare. If Kestrel’s father were here, he would probably bid. His guard had long complained about the quality of the city blacksmith’s work.“Shall we start the bidding?” said the auctioneer. “Five pilasters. Do I hear five bronze pilasters for the boy? Ladies and gentlemen, you could not hire a blacksmith for so little.”“Five,” someone called.“Six.”And the bidding began in earnest.The bodies at Kestrel’s back might as well have been stone. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t look at the expressions of her people. She couldn’t catch the attention of Jess, or stare into the too-bright sky. These were all the reasons, she decided, why it was impossible to gaze anywhere else but at the slave.“Oh, come now,” said the auctioneer. “He’s worth at least ten.”The slave’s shoulders stiffened. The bidding continued.Kestrel closed her eyes. When the price reached twenty-five pilasters, Jess said, “Kestrel, are you ill?”“Yes.”“We’ll leave as soon as it’s over. It won’t be long now.”There was a lull in the bidding. It appeared the slave would go for twenty-five pilasters, a pitiful price, yet as much as anyone was willing to pay for a person who would soon be worked into uselessness.“My dear Valorians,” said the auctioneer. “I have forgotten one thing. Are you sure he wouldn’t make a fine house slave? Because this lad can sing.”Kestrel opened her eyes.“Imagine music during dinner, how charmed your guests will be.” The auctioneer glanced up at the slave, who stood tall on his block. “Go on. Sing for them.”Only then did the slave shift position. It was a slight movement and quickly stilled, but Jess sucked in her breath as if she, like Kestrel, expected a fight to break out in the pit below.The auctioneer hissed at the slave in rapid Herrani, too quietly for Kestrel to understand.The slave answered in his language. His voice was low: “No.”Perhaps he didn’t know the acoustics of the pit. Perhaps he didn’t care, or worry that any Valorian knew at least enough Herrani to understand him. No matter. The auction was over now. No one would want him. Probably the person who had offered twenty-five pilasters was already regretting a bid for someone so intractable that he wouldn’t obey even his own kind.But his refusal touched Kestrel. The stony set of the slave’s shoulders reminded her of herself, when her father demanded something that she couldn’t give.The auctioneer was furious. He should have closed the sale or at least made a show of asking for a higher price, but he simply stood there, fists at his sides, likely trying to figure out how he could punish the young man before passing him on to the misery of cutting rock, or the heat of the forge.Kestrel’s hand moved on its own. “A keystone,” she called.The auctioneer turned. He sought the crowd. When he found Kestrel a smile sparked his expression into cunning delight. “Ah,” he said, “there is someone who knows worth.”“Kestrel.” Jess plucked at her sleeve. “What are you doing?”The auctioneer’s voice boomed: “Going once, going twice—”“Twelve keystones!” called a man leaning against the barrier across from Kestrel, on the other side of its semicircle.The auctioneer’s jaw dropped. “Twelve?”“Thirteen!” came another cry.Kestrel inwardly winced. If she had to bid anything—and why, why had she?—it shouldn’t have been so high. Everyone thronged around the pit was looking at her: the general’s daughter, a high society bird who flitted from one respectable house to the next. They thought—“Fourteen!”They thought that if she wanted the slave, he must merit the price. There must be a reason to want him, too.“Fifteen!”And the delicious mystery of why made one bid top the next.The slave was staring at her now, and no wonder, since it was she who had ignited this insanity. Kestrel felt something within her swing on the hinge of fate and choice.She lifted her hand. “I bid twenty keystones.”“Good heavens, girl,” said the pointy-chinned woman to her left. “Drop out. Why bid on him? Because he’s a singer? A singer of dirty Herrani drinking songs, if anything.”Kestrel didn’t glance at her, or at Jess, though she sensed the girl was twisting her fingers. Kestrel’s gaze didn’t waver from the slave’s.“Twenty-five!” shouted a woman from behind.The price was now more than Kestrel had in her purse. The auctioneer looked like he barely knew what to do with himself. The bidding spiraled higher, each voice spurring the next until it seemed that a roped arrow was shooting through the members of the crowd, binding them together, drawing them tight with excitement.Kestrel’s voice came out flat: “Fifty keystones.”The sudden, stunned quiet hurt her ears. Jess gasped.“Sold!” cried the auctioneer. His face was wild with joy. “To Lady Kestrel, for fifty keystones!” He tugged the slave off the block, and it was only then that the youth’s gaze broke away from Kestrel’s. He looked at the sand, so intently that he could have been reading his future there, until the auctioneer prodded him toward the pen.Kestrel drew in a shaky breath. Her bones felt watery. What had she done?Jess slipped a supporting hand under her elbow. “You are sick.”“And rather light of purse, I’d say.” The pointy-chinned woman snickered. “Looks like someone’s suffering the Winner’s Curse.”Kestrel turned to her. “What do you mean?”“You don’t come to auctions often, do you? The Winner’s Curse is when you come out on top of the bid, but only by paying a steep price.”The crowd was thinning. Already the auctioneer was bringing out someone else, but the rope of excitement that had bound the Valorians to the pit had disintegrated. The show was over. The path was now clear for Kestrel to leave, yet she couldn’t move.“I don’t understand,” said Jess.Neither did Kestrel. What had she been thinking? What had she been trying to prove?Nothing, she told herself. Her back to the pit, she made her foot take the first step away from what she had done.Nothing at all. Text copyright © 2014 by Marie Rutkoski

Editorial Reviews

"*[A] spellbinding first book in a trilogy about a pair of star-crossed lovers in a society marred by class warfare....Like any epic page-turner worth its salt, Rutkoski's richly imagined world is full of dynamic repartee, gruesome battle scenes, and shifting alliances. A high-stakes cliffhanger will leave readers eagerly awaiting the next book." -Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW"*Rich characterization, exquisite worldbuilding and rock-solid storytelling make this a fantasy of unusual intelligence and depth...Precise details and elegant prose make this world fresh and vivid. The intricate and suspenseful plot, filled with politics, intrigue and even graphic violence, features neither heroes nor villains; every character displays a complex mixture of talents, flaws and motives...Breathtaking, tragic and true." -Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW"*A forbidden romance. The romance is heartstoppingly lovely and admittedly steamy . . . but the raising of stakes and the reluctance of the couple to give up their respective cause, even as they confess their love for each other, lends their relationship a complexity not often seen in the genre . . . A last-minute compromise between the lovers secures a sequel, and fans of Kristin Cashore and Robin Lefevers will be pleased to have a new romance to follow." -BCCB, STARRED REVIEW"Every line in The Winner's Curse is beautifully written. The story is masterfully plotted. The characters' dilemmas fascinated me and tore at my heart. This book gave me a rare and special reading experience: I never knew what was going to happen next. I loved it. I want more." -Kristin Cashore, New York Times bestselling author of the Graceling Realm books"The Winner's Curse is breathtaking, a lyrical triumph in YA fantasy. Marie Rutkoski writes with tremendous power and has created an epic of fearless beauty. This book should not be missed." -Ann Aguirre, New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of the Razorland trilogy"The Winner's Curse is magnificent. Gorgeous writing graces every page, and the story of Kestrel and Arin unfolds with all the complexity and beauty of a sonata. I was completely transfixed by them and their world." -Sarah Beth Durst, author of Conjured