I’ve read plenty of YA novels at this point - so many that I’m really starting to get sick of the genre entirely. I do tend to like YA fantasy, but so many modern ones are full of so many ridiculous tropes that it’s difficult for me to read anything. But this one felt...different. In a really good way.
The Winner's Trilogy follows Kestrel, a general’s daughter, and Arin, a slave under Kestrel’s rule. As time passes, their relationship changes, their roles in their countries change, and the “peace” between their nations dies completely. Kestrel and Arin must choose what’s more important - following your heart or remaining loyal to your country.
It’s difficult for me to pinpoint exactly what was different about this series, but I’m going to try. Because this is one of the better YA series I’ve read in a long time.
- GOOD WORLD-BUILDING- Granted, this isn’t the best built world I’ve ever read, but compared to most YA books I read, this world was much deeper and much more interesting than I expected. There were cultural clashes and political intrigue and lots of interesting aspects to the world that made it feel more real - and a lot less like earth with a few small changes. I really appreciated the world. Also, there were several different societies and cultures that Rutkoski created that somehow worked together. It was interesting and obviously took a lot of work to create so much.
- COMPLEX CHARACTERS - Now, again, I’m comparing this with other YA I’ve read, because I’ve definitely read more complex characters in adult fiction. But the two main characters in this series were much more complex and interesting than most YA main characters. I feel like most YA characters are so wrapped up in their love interest that the rest of the plot functions as a way to keep lovers apart. In this book, the main love story was basically put on the backburner for a lot of the series because the main characters had things to do instead of being madly in love all the time. Sure - their love story was a huge part of the series, but instead of being completely defined by their love interest, the characters were able to put it aside to accomplish things that were important to them. I know that’s kind of a low bar for characters, but it was really refreshing to read YA characters like this.
- WELL-WRITTEN - I really liked Rutkoski’s style of writing. It was fairly simple overall, but she gave the books a very dark feel, while still giving the reader a small measure of hope that our heroes would triumph. I feel like the books started light, got significantly darker, and (in the end) got much lighter again. Her style of writing reflected this somewhat and it made reading more interesting.
And the cons:
- FAIRLY BASIC YA FANTASY - If it isn’t already clear that I’m pretty fed up with this whole genre, this should help. While this series doesn’t completely follow every YA trope, it still is pretty straight-forward and basic - there’s an intense love story (which is a triangle at a couple points), a main character is the only one who can do what needs to be done, no one else can compare to the main character’s talents, etc etc. It’s getting old and this book refreshed me in some ways, but was pretty basic in a lot of ways.
- NON-REALISTIC LOVE STORY - I did like the love story in this series overall, but it was just too much a lot of the time. I did like it more than most YA I’ve read, but the love story made me roll my eyes way too much - which might be a plus for some people, but wasn’t fun for me.
If you’re interested in easy, but slightly different YA fantasy, then this is a good series for you. Also, if you’re looking to move from basic YA into more adult fantasy, this is a good first step.