Review copy provided by FSG.
Ten pages into this book, I thought, why have I not heard of her other books? A hundred pages in, I went and put them on my library and Amazon lists. Because: sold. Yes. This is one of the times when I see that something is only the first part of a trilogy and think YES GOOD MORE rather than OH CRUD NOT AGAIN.
So one of the two main characters. Kestrel. So well-done on so many, many levels. First of all, Kestrel is allowed to be a strategist, both by inclination and by–brace yourself–study. She is not merely a natural prodigy. She gets better at strategy by studying it and thinking about it. Also, she has blind spots instilled by her culture and upbringing, so even though she is both strategic and treacherous (we love treacherous heroines!), she is not infallible even in the areas of her skill. I loved that. I loved that she was a competent fighter and that she used her areas of more-than-competence to get around her areas of mere-competence.
I loved the blind spots. Really, truly I did. Because Kestrel is on the winner’s side. Kestrel has been raised by the powerful in the empire, in the slave-owning empire, and even when you have compassion for your slaves, even when you have asked for freedom for your very favorite slave and have a loving relationship with her, even when you think that you understand about the things that slaves are not free to choose–even with all of that. If you are part of that culture, if you are that part of that culture, there are elements of it that do not just evaporate like the morning dew no matter who you meet, no matter what happens. And Kestrel was written just beautifully that way.
And Arin, the other main character, has his blind spots, too. He has the places where the things he has learned has taught him to expect very different things of Kestrel than what she is willing to do, able to do, interested in doing…they are perpetually wrong-footed with each other in all the right ways. It works so very well. There are games and friendships and music and politics and I love it.
(I will note that the politics does not happen right away. Trust me. There will be politics.)
And this book: if you are thinking, oh, the winner’s curse, that’s an economics term: you are correct. It is indeed that winner’s curse. Marie Rutkoski has written a YA fantasy novel with a major central love story around an economics term. She’s explored it on more than one level. Because she is smart and trusts young people to be smart. And also old people. Whoever, really. I appreciate that a lot.