Author: Marie Rutkoski
Number of pages: 355
Star rating: 4/5

“The winner’s curse is a phenomenon that may occur in common value auctions with incomplete information. The winner’s curse says that in such an auction, the winner will tend to overpay” (Google).


Kestrel, the famous general’s daughter, has been illegally trading in a small market with her friend, Jess. Her father, assuming Kestrel is hard at work, has no idea what she is up to. At the market, Kestrel finds herself in the midst of a slave auction. A blacksmith is being sold for a very low price and on pure instinct, Kestrel wants to buy him.  She raises the price so high that no one else can pay for the slave except her. When she wins him and returns home to continue with her daily life of strategy and war, she discovers that the blacksmith slave, Arin, is much more than he seems to be, with secrets that just might tear her country apart.

This book was filled with lots of political intrigue! Marie Rutkoski has crafted a complex social hierarchy seemingly reminiscent of historical times. For the two main narrators, we have Kestrel: the general’s daughter, subordinate only to her father and the emperor’s nobility, and Arin, a common blacksmith/slave. However, similar to America’s past, Arin and his fellow slaves become spies in Kestrel’s house to start a revolt in the empire and bring revolutionary changes to their current society. When Kestrel learns of Arin’s conspiracy, she must choose between what she feels is right or with her previous allegiances to her father and to the government. While the answer may seem obvious to the reader, Kestrel is incredibly unsure. The author uses this dilemma to her advantage to exaggerate Kestrel’s thoughts, creating a dramatic and intense mood for most of the story. Arin, on the other hand, is initially a static character. However, as the novel progresses, I enjoyed how he developed and grew. At first, Arin completely despised Kestrel and her family, along with the government because they killed his family. As the book went on, however, he realized that Kestrel and several others were not to blame for a tragedy that occurred years earlier. His transformation was captivating and added a new layer of depth to the novel, which I found brilliant. It brought up an intriguing question: How far should one go to avenge his family? How much is too much? Arin’s subplots and inner conflicts made the book distinguishable and realistic in comparison to other books of the same genre.

It was also so refreshing to read a book centered on such a strong female lead heroine, who also was so relatable and human at the same time. For instance, she spent hours trying to pick out a dress for the winter ball and making bets with her best friend, Jess. She was, at heart, a teen girl who was just trying to please her father by being what she thought he wanted her to be; at the same time, she was attempting to sort out what she wanted to do with her life and what kind of person she ultimately wanted to become.

Overall, Marie Rutkowski has created a wonderful story that really captivates the reader for its relatable characters and their development. I really recommend this book to anyone searching for a great young adult historical fantasy(not fiction!) with lots of politics and a hint of mythology!

“It was a sin to break a deathbed promise.

Arin left without making one.”