Forbidden love among teenagers has been a hot topic since long before Romeo first met Juliet at a party in fair Verona. The latest YA entry in this genre has Kestrel, daughter of a conquering Valorian general, falling for Arin, a native Herrani slave. Romance and politics quickly intersect as the Herrani stage a violent attempt to take back their land, and loyalties are tested when Kestrel, Arin and their various allies must choose between love, power, security and family.

Plots, counterplots and counter-counterplots can ordinarily become confusing, but author Marie Rutkoski’s accessible writing style lets the reader follow them easily. With climactic scenes as varied as a duel and a formal ball, The Winner’s Curse seamlessly blends action and adventure with the decadence that’s become characteristic of “luxe lit.” Kestrel’s character is well drawn—she’s an excellent pianist who also has a talent for military strategy—and Arin’s blacksmithing skills and stubbornness make him a drool-worthy love interest.

Readers who like their books sprinkled with high-stakes romance, strong heroes and heroines and the trappings of royalty won’t want to miss this one . . . and will finish it impatiently awaiting its two planned follow-ups.

And what of the attention-grabbing title? As the author explains, it refers to a phenomenon in economics in which the price of winning is so high that it amounts to a different form of losing. By buying the slave Arin at a high price at an auction in the opening scene, has Kestrel won—or lost? It’s left to the reader to decide.

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