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review 2016-09-13 01:43
Review: The Winner's Crime (The Winner's Trilogy) by Marie Rutkoski
The Winner's Crime (The Winner's Trilogy) - Marie Rutkoski

Quick review for a quick read. So. Many. Tense. Misunderstandings. Even manipulations? Either way you look at it, "The Winner's Crime" was intriguingly done in places with the back and forth tension. As engaging as it was in places, however, it felt like the book sagged in places more than it should've. Yet when the emotional quality of the work hit, it hit hard and quickly. Kestrel and Arin both have to live with the decisions they made in the previous book as well as the ones they make in this story, which set them directly in opposition with each other. Sometimes I wanted to throttle the both of them. There are a lot of political manipulations, caustic (from frankly immature and blind decision making) repercussions and intentional hiding of details in the mix of the danger and betrayal that happens in this book.

Kestrel reminds me of the equivalent of Marie Antoinette's character from "Rose of Versalles". She really doesn't think things through at all and is grossly immature and naive. Then again, so is Arin. I don't really care for either of the characters personally for their recklessness (which more often than not cost human lives and broken relationships.) Yet...somehow I found myself invested in the larger story to see what happens. Rutkoski does a great job with establishing character motivations and emotion and that's what keeps me reading this rather epic series. I'm definitely intrigued to see where this tale goes in the third book of "The Winner's Trilogy". But for me, the book was a winner, albeit with caveats.

Overall score: 3.5/5 stars.

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review 2016-07-27 02:09
Review: The Winner's Curse (Winner's Trilogy #1) by Marie Rutkoski
The Winner's Curse - Marie Rutkoski

Initial reaction: Consider me very surprised. I really enjoyed this book, and I wasn't expecting to at all. Thinking somewhere between 3.5 and 4 stars. I'm definitely reading the rest of this series.

Full review:

What a rollercoaster ride of a read this was. I'll admit I had my reservations about beginning this series, but in the end, it was a strong beginning to what ended up being a interesting story (though with flaws, as I'll discuss soon). Part of the reason why I enjoyed this read as much as I did was Justine Eyre's excellent audio narration. She nailed the performance and brought out the writing and emotion in a way that held my attention throughout the novel. Inspired by Antiquity and taken from the Greco-Roman period, "The Winner's Curse" novel is a fantasy that notes the conflict between two parties: the Valorians and the Herrani. The novel begins when Kestrel, the high ranking daughter of a General in the Valorian army, purchases a Herrani slave, Arin, in market on a whim - though she reasons he'll be useful to her household because of his blacksmithing skills. She's also intrigued by his purported musical ability, as she has a heart for music rather than following in her father's footsteps as a soldier.

Arin is a man who's lost his family in the tides of conflict, not so subtly working behind the scenes to aid in an uprising to which Kestrel is naive to. She lets him do as he pleases in places because she's intrigued by him, and the two end up having an unlikely connection that becomes more complicated as the conflicts build behind the scenes. I'll admit that it took a while for the momentum of the novel to hit the ground running, but it was the strength of the audio version and the way the writing wove the two narratives together that held my attention throughout. I expected to have qualms about the portrayal of slavery in this book, but I felt like the conflict was done in a way that was realistic - the betrayals hitting home and the onset of a bitter war a real reality with heavy costs looming in the backdrop until it broke open with subsequent events. The uprising at the ball somewhat reminded me of a scene from the anime/manga Rose of Versailles that I saw a long time ago. Injustices are present, but it still feels like it doesn't quite go as deep as it could go for those conflicts.

I'll admit that while this is strongly sold as a romance (and the focal points of the book definitely confirm that) - I'll admit I was intrigued primarily by the interactions between characters and the layers upon which they made their decisions. Rutkoski does a great job of shaping Kestrel and Arin's loyalties to the people around them, while at the same time building the conflict of their relationship to each other and the division between their societies. I almost wish the book had delved into that more and developed it to where the world was more vivid (though it proves to be functional for the story presented).

There were some scenes where Kestrel's naivete grated on me in the beginning of the story, but I felt she did have points of growth as the story moved forward, same with Arin. It's difficult to say because as a whole - "The Winner's Curse" is an intriguing story that doesn't quite go as deep as it could go - and that's what disappoints me to some degree in reflecting upon it. I like the intrigue, I like the backdrop, but it feels like it has a hesitant finger lingering over the button to lend to something bigger. The novel builds to a pulse point conclusion, and I'm intrigued to see where the overarching series goes from here on out.

Overall score: 3.5/5 stars.

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review 2016-05-06 00:54
#CBR8 Book 47: The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski
The Winner's Kiss (The Winner's Trilogy) - Marie Rutkoski

Spoiler warning: This is the third and concluding volume in this series. It's going to be absolutely impossible for me to review this book without spoiling plot from the first and second book. Therefore, if you are not caught up, please skip this review and go start at the beginning - with The Winner's Curse.


Arin is mustering the Herrani into full-on war with the Valoran empire. Leading the Dacran forces that are going to aid them, is the sarcastic and hideously scarred Prince Roshar. Arin is trying not to think about the last time he saw Kestrel and her choice to marry the son of the Valoran emperor. He needs to harden his heart and become the perfect soldier, to avenge his family and the many Herrani who have died since the Valorans conquered them in his childhood. 


Of course, Kestrel is not in fact enjoying a luxurious honeymoon, but being transported to a prison camp in the northern wastes of the empire. Betrayed by her own father, she is taken to a labour camp and fed various drug cocktails to ensure prisoner compliance both night and day. She fights to remember the reasons she risked everything, and desperately tries to stay alert enough to get a chance to escape, but soon, the drugs turn her into a mindless slave, just like the other prisoners.


By the time Arin discovers the truth about Kestrel, the war is fully under way, and it would be madness for him to go haring off to rescue her. Nonetheless he ignores the warnings of Roshar and others and risks everything to get Kestrel to safety, only to discover that she doesn't know who he is, or why she was in the camp to begin with. 


Can the Herrani defeat the might of the Valoran empire and be free once more? Will victory mean that they just get annexed by the powerful Dacran empire instead? Will Kestrel regain her memories, both good and bad - of the love she shared with Arin, but also the way her father revealed her spying to the emperor? Will these plucky YA characters get their happy ending? Will Roshar and Arin the tiger get their own spin-off book? All the questions except the last one will, unsurprisingly, be answered over the course of the story.


I started reading The Winner's Trilogy about a year ago, and I can understand why a lot of people found the story of Kestrel and Arin problematic initially. Kestrel is very naive and has lived a very sheltered life and has a lot of very rude awakenings to get through to really understand the unconscionable ways her people have treated the Herrani. Over the course of these three books, she really does grow a tremendous amount though and does as much as one person can to make amends for the crimes of her people. She tries to facilitate peace between the Valoran empire and the Herrani, making some very difficult choices and when she realises that once again she's been lied to and used as a political pawn, she risks her life to spy and get vital information to the Herrani in an attempt to save them. She keeps making difficult choices and acting like a heartless social climber, and despite his assurances that he knows her and loves her, Arin keeps falling for her act and believing her words, breaking her heart in the process. Then her own father washes his hands of her, choosing the glory of the empire over his only child. She's starved, beaten and tortured and loses all the things that make her who she is.


Anyone rolling their eyes here - this isn't an amnesia storyline just for convenience sake - it furthers Kestrel's continued development into an even stronger character than before. By being forced to piece her memories back together gradually, she also has to examine who she was and really doesn't always like what she discovers. It's quite clear that post-prison camp Kestrel is a different person than before, and Arin struggles a lot to get used to the fact that the woman he loves has changed forever, partly because he, like her father, abandoned her. 


Arin lost most of his family when the Valoran empire conquered and enslaved his people when he was a child. He grew up in slavery and fought a brutal rebellion to liberate his people, then fell in love with the daughter of the man who led the conquest. Constantly questioning her loyalties and feeling like he betrayed his people, he kept fighting to keep his remaining people safe and free. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and at present, the Dacran empire are his allies against their common foe. But what will happen if the Herrani actually succeed? Will they be able to retain their freedom, or are the Dacrans going to turn around and annex them for further territory? While Roshar is Arin's friend, he's only an emissary of his more powerful sister. The most prudent cause of action for Arin would probably be to secure the safety of his people by marrying the Dacran queen, but even before he discovers the truth about Kestrel, that's not an option he's willing to consider. 


As a lot of these YA series with the fierce rebels fighting against almost impossible odds, this book contains a lot of battle planning, political manoeuvring and guerrilla tactics. It's not all angsty piecing together of memories and reuniting of star-crossed lovers. There's plenty of darkness, because war is grim, but also a lot of lighter moments. Roshar steals pretty much every scene he's in and I'm not kidding about wanting a spin-off book about him. The growing friendship between Kestrel and Arin's cousin Sarsine is also nice. 


Another trilogy completed, with another satisfying finale. I shall have to check out some of Rutkoski's back catalogue while I wait to see what she has in store next.


Judging a book by its cover: A blond girl in a big poofy dress and a sword (or at least a bladed weapon) has been the characteristics of all three covers in the series. There are actually two versions of the cover for The Winner's Kiss. In the UK cover (this one), the dress is green. In the US cover, the dress is red, much more similar to the first book in the series. If I have to have covers that have little to nothing to do with the contents, I at least want the impractical dresses the model wears to vary in colour. Hence I chose the UK cover. A lot of much more eloquent people online have already said a lot of witty things about these covers. I can't compete with them. I will say this, if the cover designers wanted to stay more accurate to the contents of this book, model portraying Kestrel should have a scarred back.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/05/cbr8-book-47-winners-kiss-by-marie.html
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url 2016-03-31 03:04
5 Fantasy Authors I Fangirl Over

 I’ve talked on and on before about how fantasy is my favorite genre. I’m more likely to be drawn into reading a fantasy novel than any other, and some fantasy novels have inspired me as a writer too. Yes, I like to write. I’m a writer and a reader and a blogger. For the five authors I fangirl over, some of the commonalities include: a.) character-oriented fantasy; b.) mostly third-person narratives; c.) plots that go beyond the ‘lost prince trying to reclaim throne’ type; d.) complicated characters, plots, everything. And of course, the fact that I feel like my mind is getting bigger while reading their books.


I think that one of the most interesting things about Kristin Cashore’s Seven Kingdoms series is that they’re all so different in terms of plot, though they’re all high-concept works that go waaaaay beyond their simple description (“a young queen must help her country heal after the destructive reign of her psychotic father” could describe Bitterblue but doesn’t get at any of the novel’s complexities). Probably the simplest, most typical coming-of-age of her books is Graceling, but that was her debut novel, and I think that ever since then, she’s been working on adding more and more complexity into her works. For me, she was the first author I’d read in YA fantasy who was also very much writing character-oriented fantasy. After reading her work, I feel like I can’t go back. I can’t read much plot-based fantasy—they’ll never be my favorites compared to the ones that put character first. The ones where the questions and themes and symbols of the series are embedded into the characters—and yeah, plot-based fantasies can do this, but comparatively, it’s a lot harder to add in the same level of complexity into the characters compared to the actual events of the plot. Kristin Cashore is the YA fantasy author who also gets mentioned in almost every YA fantasy comparison (“Graceling meets XYZ”; “For fans of Kristin Cashore”), and that’s for good reason.


I’ve basically already fangirled hard over The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. If you follow that link, you’ll get the full sphiel on why I loooooove that series and fangirl over MWT in full, but for now… If I learned how to write high-concept character-oriented high fantasy from Kristin Cashore, I would learn how to write a high fantasy centered on a character that’s like a living legend from Megan Whalen Turner. (If this sounds familiar, that’s because Sarah J. Maas, among many others, was inspired by the Queen’s Thief series). I also think that of all the authors here, MWT probably has the *most* layered into each scene of her books, particularly as you go further into the series. The most in the sense that no scene will ever be just what it is on the surface; you might have a scene where a guard is confronting his peer, but there’s a lot more meaning embedded into the narrative and particularly how that scene contributes to making the main character, Eugenides, even more of a living legend. Yet, for all that the series shows his change in fortune, it never once fails to humanize him. Many fantasies alternative PoVs within a book so that you can relate to different characters; the Queen’s Thief series shows that you don’t need to do that to give a character complexity, but the choice of PoV and what that perspective adds are definitely questions to ask. We don’t always get the main character’s point of view, and he’s not always the main character of the book in question, but there’s no doubt that each book is adding to his character arc and that is the major one tied to the series arc.


C.S. Pacat is not a YA fantasy author as of this moment. The Captive Prince trilogy is very much meant for mature readers (but I listened to an interview with her and it sounds like she might be writing a YA fantasy right now—so maybe we’ll hear more from her in the future). I first learned about the Captive Prince trilogy from Emily May at the Book Geek; I was intrigued, but I wasn’t sure if I should add onto my TBR—especially given its heavy sexual violence. Then Sarah J. Maas recommended the books, and my feed was full of the books again. So I decided to read the beginning, and I got hooked by the promise of the characters. As this article on the Female Gaze explains, one of the crucial elements in her books is this shifting of the default to homonormative. In her world, people shudder so much at the idea of bastard children that most relationships are with the same sex. And it got me thinking about how most fantasy novels, and novels in general, fail “to realistically portray sexual dynamics that do not exist in response and relation to traditional heterosexual relationships.” (The article goes over much more than that). C.S. Pacat has written novels where the default has shifted and made me consider—well, hey, why don’t more novels do this? This is something to always keep in mind while world-building. Plus, she’s ALSO amazing at adding in many layers to each scene and creating complex, multi-layered characters; they have a certain vitality, to the point where despite not knowing what Laurent would plan next or what other comradery scenes would come next for the army, I can picture the characters.


Maggie is the most different of the authors on this list because I wouldn’t technically call her work high fantasy (though if The Scorpio Races is on a fictional island and the society is different from ours with its water horses, why can't it be called high fantasy? finally high fantasy that doesn't equate to medieval patriarchal times...). Regardless, if C.S. Pacat has taught me about the defaults in world-building and characterization, Kristin Cashore about high-concept character-oriented high fantasy, and Megan Whalen Turner about layered plotting centered around a living legend, Maggie taught me the importance of atmosphere, of mood and feeling within a scene, and how those can work to achieve characterization in conjunction with the other elements I've mentioned. Maggie has talked about how she likes to think about her writing as 'moving stuff around in a reader's brain',' which creates a specific effect for each scene (and also each image for her characters). And reading the Raven Cycle, I feel that magic is real. I feel like I'm with her characters, experiencing the wonder of the forest, the creepy delight of trees speaking in Latin. That's a rare gift to find in a lot of fantasies, which prize political intrigue over readers being in the moment with the character.


Finally, Marie Rutkoksi is a mastermind when it comes to introducing symbols within each scene. In The Winner's Curse, Kestrel agrees to something her father says, and he pats her cheek with his dirty hand. That dirty handprint is a wonderful symbol -- for the characters and modern associations. We might think of a "devil's bargain" caked onto Kestrel's face. Her father working with dirt, with his weathered hands; Kestrel wandering around the house, so focused on finding Arin that she doesn't look to see if there's dirt on her face -- so much to be said about the characters. It's just such a strong image! It stayed with me for a long time. And feeling like you're trapped in, marked so strongly by something you agreed to -- I as a reader can really relate to that feeling. In The Winner's Crime, Kestrel is eating desert with a sugar spoon during her dinner with a certain character (maybe the first chapter?). A sugar spoon, specially made, speaks to the luxury of her dining companion and his staff, the amusement and terrible waste of making a spoon that you can only ever use *once*. It also brings to mind the modern phrase of 'eating out of a silver spoon' -- except that this token of privilege is made of sugar. Still, it characterizes Kestrel well, and sets a dark foreboding tone for the rest of novel, given its place at the beginning. The spoon tastes sweet at the beginning but then by the end of the meal, it has dissolved into nothing (which, btw, matches really well with what Kestrel says at the end, no?). And note: those were only 2 images! One for each book! There are so, so many more in The Winner's trilogy.

All of these authors do amazing things with their novels. If you're a writer, especially a fantasy writer, I'd suggest reading their works for yourself to see how they've manipulated these different elements. If you're a reader who doesn't like to write, well, I'd still suggest reading these authors's works because they're brilliant. Are any of these authors among your favorites? Who do you fangirl over, and whose work makes for good lesson material for writers?

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review 2015-04-05 21:13
#CBR7 Book 33: The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski
The Winner's Crime - Marie Rutkoski

Disclaimer! I was granted an ARC of this book through NetGalley in return for a fair and objective review. The book is available now. 


This review will contain some spoilers for The Winner's Curse. I will try to be vague, but it's pretty much impossible to review this without mentioning some of the important stuff that happened in the second half of the first book. You have been warned. 

You still here? On your own head be it. Kestrel is now firmly settled in the capital, trying to put off her wedding to the crown prince of Valoria, without making it too obvious to the emperor that that is what she's doing. She desperately wants to see Arin, now the governor of the newly liberated Herran territory, but she's also not sure she can trust him and whatever happens, she needs the emperor to think her completely indifferent to her erstwhile captor. So when he arrives in the capital for her engagement celebration, she skilfully lies to him, again and again, all the while risking her own life to help the Herrani spymaster gather information against Valoria.


Every time Arin thinks he's been able to figure out Kestrel's words and actions, something happens to convince him otherwise. After he is nearly assassinated in the capital, he travels to the furthest reaches of the Valorian empire in search of allies for Herran. He endures all manner of dangers to keep his country safe, not realising that Kestrel is risking her life for the very same things, playing a very dangerous game of strategy against the emperor himself.


Anyone who was complaining about Kestrel's lack of awareness and empathy for the slaves of the Valorian empire, should be happy that in this book she is trying her very best to atone for all the unfairness she and her countrymen have inflicted on the territories they occupy. She knows she is surrounded by spies and informants and that the emperor is watching her every move, scrutinising her every statement in order to catch her in a lie or action sympathetic to the Herrani rebels. She needs to appear overjoyed at her betrothal to the crown prince, Verex, who himself is none to pleased with their coming alliance. The emperor clearly deems his son weak and disappointing and sees the marriage between his favourite general's daughter and his son as a great way to win the affections of his armies, while grooming Kestrel into a more satisfactory heir.


The romance between Arin and Kestrel is more in the background as the intrigues and intricacies of court life come to the forefront. If they could just talk openly with one another about their fears and feelings, so many misunderstandings and complications would be dispersed with, but of course, Kestrel can't be honest with Arin. She doesn't know if she can trust him, and she needs to drive him far away from her to keep him from being used as a weapon against her. For much of the book, she successfully pulls the wool over Arin's eyes. When he has figured out the truth, and confronts her with it, he chooses the worst possible moment. She has to lash out to protect herself, and manages to drive him away once more. He doesn't realise that his actions have doomed her completely.


The book ends on a very exciting cliff hanger, leaving Kestrel in very real peril and Arin apparently determined to forget about her forever. I will be very disappointed if they are not reunited in the third book, although I hope Kestrel manages to rescue herself, having shown such (sometimes foolish) bravery and ingenuity in these previous two books. Sadly, The Winner's Kiss (a promising title that seems to suggest a satisfying ending to their star-crossed romance) isn't out until March 2016, so I have a bit of a wait ahead.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2015/03/cbr7-book-33-winners-crime-by-marie.html
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