In The Winner’s Curse, the first book in The Winners Trilogy, author Marie Rutkoski introduces readers to Kestrel, daughter and only child of General Trajan of the Valorian army, and Arin, the Herrani slave Kestral impulsively purchased at auction. Theirs is a rocky relationship from the start, but one that challenges them to examine truths they each hold firmly. Between them, a dance begins, deliberate and accidental, controlled and controlling, with undercurrents of undeniable passion. Each alternates in leading the dance, sometimes in spite of their positions as slave and master, or prisoner and incarcerator. In The Winner’s Crime, that dance continues. As Arin struggles to hold onto the freedom he has won for his people and works to create a new homeland for them, he enters into an alliance with the Dacran. However, Queen Inishanaway, along with her brother Roshar, may have their own ideas for both the Harrani and Arin. Kestrel has agreed to marry the son of the Valorian Emperor to end the Valorian Empire's war with Harran, and to save Arin's life. All of her actions have dire consequences.
In, The Winner’s Kiss, the final book of the trilogy, the dance continues between Kestrel and Arin. The book opens as Kestrel deals with the repercussions of her earlier actions. Arin must navigate the treacherous political waters between the Harrani and the Dacran as the Valorian Empire prepares to wage all-out war.
In The Winners Trilogy, Marie Rutkoski explores issues of identity, power and the aftereffects of warfare on the battlefield and in the royal courts. Rutkoski also explores the concepts of freedom, confinement, and the interplay between the two extremes. Both Kestrel and Arin long for freedom, Kestrel from the rigid conformity and demands of her culture, and Arin from the servitude imposed on his. Both characters are willful, prideful, intelligent and, to varying degrees, damaged. The relationship portrayed is not one that develops instantaneously at their first meeting, but rather one that grows over time as each character becomes more comfortable and shares more of who they are and what they want. They are a perfectly matched pair of starcrossed lovers from worlds so very different there may be no way to bridge the distance, and part of that distance is of their own making. Both characters block their own paths to freedom and happiness by clinging to the comfort of what is known and considered normal (and several times through their own sheer stubbornness). The Winners Trilogy is a frustrating series, much like the novels Gone with the Wind, Wuthering Heights, or many other tragic romances.
The world Rutkoski creates is lush and well defined, with societal mores, rules of court and believable differences between the cultures. Rutkoski's writing is superb and the final pages will leave readers breathless.
Selected as one of LAPL Reads Best of 2016: Fiction.