For YA, The Winner’s Curse is very good. And if that just isn’t a ringing endorsement!
I’m to the point now where I only read YA books if they come heavily recommended (or if they’ve been lauded as so terrible that I just have to read in order to satisfy my insatiable curiosity). And The Winner’s Curse came pretty heavily recommended. I follow a disturbing amount of YA book bloggers, and they all LOVED this thing. (Of course, they also all seem to be convinced that it’s fantasy, and not just ‘fantasy’ but ‘high fantasy’, and it’s VERY NOT. There is no magic here whatsoever, folks. No made up races. No fantastical creatures. I miiiiiight be persuaded by a very strong argument to categorize it as fantasy because it does take place in an entirely made-up world, but high fantasy? Hell no.)
For those of you not familiar with game theory (so: like me before reading this book, and also: like me after reading this book), the ‘winner’s curse’, in brief, is “A tendency for the winning bid in an auction to exceed the intrinsic value of the item purchased.” Even though this concept was developed specifically in relation to auctions, it applies elsewhere in situations where ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ are relevant terms. And as I discovered while reading this book, it also works wonderfully as a metaphoric cousin to the idea of the Pyrrhic Victory. Both terms refer to the idea that while one may be the technical winner in a situation, the price paid for that victory becomes a burden, because the value received does not outweigh the cost.
Enter this book. Our main character is Kestrel, the seventeen year old daughter of a famous General. Kestrel comes from a country that conquers other countries in order to build a glorious Empire. But they don’t just conquer the countries they fold into their empire. They take those countries from their previous citizens entirely, co-opting their homes, their possessions, and their lives. It is an empire basically built on slavery. The story starts at a slave auction, where due to circumstances, Kestrel ends up purchasing a slave named Arin (circumstances are always a danger for characters in novels like these). Despite Arin’s position as her slave, the two end up forming a close bond, but then of course it all blows up and reverses and there’s violence and war and panic.
This book does have a romance, I thought it was a believable one. Their dynamic is one that’s built on mutual respect, but hindered by their positions. The book was also filled with believable war scenarios and political maneuverings. It also had a nice pace, no wallowing or brooding to speak of. The world was a little thinly drawn, but I didn’t honestly expect very much more than we got for this genre. It’s been a couple of weeks since I read it, so my enthusiasm has dimmed a little, but I will definitely be checking out books two and three, if only to see where she takes the whole concept of paying too high a price for your victories. It’s something that both Arin and Kestrel have to deal with in this book, and I think it makes a really nice base to build a series on.