***Spoilers: I try hard to keep my reviews as spoiler free as possible, but a few always find their way in! So, if you plan on reading this book, and don't want to read any spoilers, save this review for later.***
If you are looking for a book filled with romance, some surprise, and war, then The Winner's Curse, by Marie Rutkoski, is the book for you. The book starts off with Kestrel, the main female character, walking through town with her friend Jess. Technically, as an unmarried woman who has not yet joined the military, Kestrel is not supposed to be out without a male escort. However, since she has Jess with her, she views this as arbitrary.
Kestrel and Jess stop near the slave trading center, where there is an auction going on. Kestrel looks down into the pit where the slaves are kept, and finds herself intrigued by the slave currently being sold. He is an Herrani, a native to the land the Kestrel and many other Valiorians overtook when Kestrel was young. Cheat, the auction leader, tells the bidders that the slaves name is Smith, because he was trained to be a blacksmith. We later learn his real name is Arin.
When Kestrel is told that Arin is musical, it makes her feel an even deeper draw to the slave, and she buys him at a prices others view as outrageous. They get home, and Kestrel leaves Arin in the hands of the house servant. Arin is ordered to make horseshoes, until finally someone tells Kestrel she must pay more attention to him since she bought him. This leads to her taking him with as her escort whenever she goes out. Over the course of the novel, they learn many things about each other, not the least of which is that the Herrani are planning a revolution.
I won't go into all the details of what happens after the revolution starts, but it should come as no surprise that Arin is one of the ringleaders in orchestrating the revolution. In fact, it becomes apparent about 50 pages into the book that he is one the people behind what will eventually happen. That was probably the only thing I didn't like was how transparent it was that 1. there would be a revolution, and 2. Arin would help cause it.
Other than that, I really loved this novel. I loved the characters and the tension, the games of bite and sting played between Arin and Kestrel, the descriptions of the homes! This novel drew me in and captured my attention from page one. It was interesting to see the different relationships Kestrel had with each of her friends - they are all so well-developed and have their own relationships that stand out from each other.
Based off the way that Kestrel interacted with Benix, Jess's brother, I would have expected him to be her final love interest. I won't say how that turns out, but I was surprised by the ending of the book. It ended in a manner I would not have expected, but it worked - and I can't wait to read the next book!