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It’s been exactly a year since my previous book review. A fine coincidence. So, I thought I would resume reviewing books with the book that prompted me to begin in the first place.
The Winner’s Curse is the first book of a fantasy, young-adult trilogy written by an American professor of literature Marie Rutkoski. It came out in 2014. I don’t think the trilogy is available in Indian bookstores. You would have to order online and the book would cost almost Rs. 700. I had read the free ebook initially; may be it is still available, I wish I had a link to share.
I can’t understand the steep pricing but when I bought the trilogy 2 years ago, the price was close to Rs. 1000. When I had read the books, I was disappointed that not many people knew about it and people have to read this gem of book. IT’S GORGEOUS, do read. Please. From all the young-adult novels I have ever read, this is my absolute favourite…nothing has topped it so far.
CONTENT & CHARACTERS:
The premise is a Medieval world of lamps, carriages, cannons, slaves, ballrooms and empires. Valoria, an ambitious, warring, uncultured state had conquered, in a bloody war, its peace-loving, unprepared neighbours, Herran, and claimed the culture, commodities, art, science and fruits of the territory, 10 years ago. However, a quiet resignation has been shaping into a war cry and the Valorians are just as unprepared as the Herrani were.
Kestrel, the daughter of General Trajan, is not the kind of warrior she is made out to be. She is not the Valorian conqueror she is expected to be. She plays the frowned upon Herrani music. She loves her Herrani nurse. She can barely stand the imperial ways thrust upon her. And she would not have staked herself at a game she began unwittingly, if only she knew that Arin is not the kind of Herrani slave he is supposed to be.
Winner’s Curse is about two enemies in love who will never have a clear win. However, both need to win. Both can see the cards in the other’s hand. The only way to win is if the other one lets them win. They let each other win, they protect each other, strengthen each other while they plot against each other; their ultimate choice being their at-war empires.
The plot unfolds and the narrative progresses from Kestrel’s and Arin’s perspective. Kestrel and Arin are very strong characters. Have them unfolded in the book the way they do, is one of book’s greatest merits… so I am not going to reveal much of them here. Their chemistry is explosive, and how and what it tempts them to do often, is also the part of the novel I don’t want to corrupt for you.
Marie Rutkoski has blown me away by her figurative language. It’s soo beautiful that I have to at times set the book aside and let those images, the lyrical emotions behind them sink in and linger in my thoughts a little longer. I am not going to give an instance, I really want you to read the book.
Even after 5 years the imagery, the dialogues, the beautifully weaved phrases have not left me. Everything written can be so subtle, sensuous and sooooooo true to life. It makes it unforgettable.
It doesn’t have much of info-dumping as in the usual fantasy novel (infact, many of its features are very unlike Fantasy) may be because the premise is very familiar and devoid of anything magical or mystical, and regardless of that the writer creates very interesting societies, circumstances and consequences. The romance is not redundant or dragged, its exciting, manipulative, stategizing and basically so different… so new.
Marie Rutkoski’s style is that of a blooming flower – steady, serene and seductive. I love that initially it doesn’t rush into things. It takes time to build up and dvelves so deeply in characters, the way they form relationships, the way they operate and the way the world operates around them. Plot and characters would have seemed frivolous if not infused with subtlety and bold intelligence. And everything becomes bigger later as promised in the initial chapter.
The other thing I like about the novel are the military strategies when a full blown conflict errupts.
I love everything about this trilogy. May be because of my preferences but you gotta be blind to not see its merits. If I gave out any spoilers, sorry but I know you’ll get over it. Please read now… I don’t what the hell you’re still doing here. But remember, I banged my head on walls for a long time after finishing the book; the loose ends, the cliffhanger or just the craving for the author’s writing style could be madenning and the tipping point was the author took time to publish the following books. So buy all the books together.
Also, I HATE….ABSOLUTELY HATE the way this book has been marketed. The covers are bad, blurbs not good enough and they are misleading with an ill-suited genre. This is hardly a fantasy.
You might find it quite odd for a literature enthusiast that I was and now a literature student, to be discovering Ruskin Bond just now. I am surprised too.
No one recommended this book to me and I did not randomly pick it up from anywhere. One very stressful day, I found myself in a book store with a very very very limited budget, in fact I wouldn’t even have had money left to go back home if I bought any book.
Tight budget and an intense craving is not good, but I was ready to take an 8 km walk home. This was the cheapest book I could find and I even saved some change for the bus ride; I instantly liked the book.
Maharani could seem like a non-fiction with a few autobiographical elements as Ruskin himself is a character here, but it isn’t. It was published in 2012, it is available as a paperback for Rs. 200 and probably even less for the ebook version.
Content & Characters:
The book doesn’t follow the conventional narrative arc- rising action, crisis, climax, resolution etc., infact, it does not follow any kind of arc. You could call it a collection of random but important episodes in the widowed Maharani’s life and at times Ruskin’s as well that are arranged, interestingly, in the best way that could bring out the characters’ varied shades of vices and virtues. But it does begin with a crisis- Neena’s or the Maharani’s existential crisis–
‘ “I think I’m dying Ruskin,” said H.H. as I took her hand and kissed it in the manner of some knight of old.’
No plot. The story is driven by all the characters in the novel, especially central are Neena and Ruskin(since it is Neena’s story narrated by Ruskin). Ruskin is an old friend of Neena’s and drifts in and out of her life.
However, the book seems to be divided in sections for some coherancy- sections or you could say Neena’s colorful phases marked by the particular lover she takes in the said phases. But it is Ruskin’s platonic perspective that ties all the phases together and gives a complete insight into Neena’s character and life.
It begins with the charming diplomat, Signor Montalban. About half of the book is dedicated to the her rendevouz with him and Ruskin’s attachment to the diplomat’s family, in particular, his son Pablo. This is the brightest point of Neena’s life, her palace and her friendship with Ruskin. We get to see Neena at her selfish, arrogant, quaint and cheeky best.
Let’s just say that for a change the rich, lonely woman does not have a tragic past, is not drowned in regrets, and does not see the world through her cynical goggles. This is the story of H.H or Neena or Maharani of Mastipur who can turn a mundane moment into a party.
Her passion are her scotch and wine and her purpose is to indulge in every pleasurable thing or person. She has a stint here and there with spirituality, discipline and the world of films. The only commitment she shows is to her dogs.
The eccentricities of other characters, like Pablo’s innocent infatuation with cinema, Signora Montalban’s steadfastness, Hans’s (the henchman of sorts) loyalty and dedication, Kartik’s and Karan’s (Neena’s sons) uselessness, the late Maharaja’s secrets and death, and the mystery surrounding the nun- this all is used to reveal Neena’s personality and also keeps you going.
However, everything dwindles away including Neena’s optimism, health and the book staying true to life culminates with the writer’s reminder that “the party cannot go on forever…”
Ruskin Bond is delightful. I read two of his books so far and he seems to be a man in love with the beauty of nature. His writing is sprinkled with lively and refreshing descriptions of this beauty around him. His word picture of the perservering honeysuckle is my favourite part in the book.
Humour is the essence of his writing. If it wasn’t was his lighthearted potshots, banter and the situational comedy, I wouldn’t have been able to complete the book.
It is a witty(style), easy to read(language), and simple(plot) book. A hot afternoon with some watermelon and this breezy book, is an afternoon well spent.
A penpal of mine introduced me to this book and the author. It sort of had a calming effect on me, like that of sea waves.
The Time Keeper is an inspirational fiction novel written by Mitch Albom. It was first published in 2012 and has been in reprint ever since. You can easily find the book anywhere in any part of the physical or virtual world.
Mitch Albom says that he wants to “provide hope and inspiration to his readers as they have provided to him.” And hope and inspiration are the essence of this book. With The Time Keeper he tries to discover the meaning of time.
When we think of inspirational books,whether fiction or non-fiction, we expect them to be preachy, unsparingly philosophical or downright unrelatable. I put the book down initially thinking it would be filled with cliches that mock the genre , vague reflections and rootless insights. I have read inspirational novels that made me feel like I have been listening to a self-important jerk for hours.
Well, we might even take it to be like one of Paulo Coelho’s books. But don’t. His books are sort-of mystical while The Time Keeper is magical.
The story is essentially about Father Time- the first person on Earth to measure time.who began to count everything from his own breathe to pebbles, sticks etc., and who eventually ended up counting hours and minutes.
An Old Guy in long, white beard(read: Supreme One) is keeping a close watch on Father Time[DOR]. When Father Time, out of deep remorse, tries to turn back Time, The Old Guy strikes and locks away Father Time in a cave where he is to wait until a certain time. Ages and ages pass and he has filled the cave walls with his story and listened to billions of voices seeking more of time or less time., until one day he hears two voices[SARAH and VICTOR], both of them are trying to make the same folly as he did- alter time. He is released and has to save them so that he may be saved.
In terms of flow of text and clarity it is just ten on ten. The book is shifting perspectives, it is moving back and forth from past, present and at times future too, but not in one instance it seems incoherent. What I truly love about Mitch Albom’s style; that which makes me read more of his work is this subtle and simple thing he does. He puts the wisdom before you just as it is. Just one simple sentence and it unleashes a stream of thoughts in your mind.
For example- “But a desperate heart will seduce the mind.”
Yeah, these are very obvious but presenting it in a way that is not explaining or persuading but simply telling is what makes it impactful.
Coming to characters. Dor, Sarah and Victor are all complex and relatable. You may love them, dislike them or pity them, but you will feel connected to them.
Overall, it is an engaging plot. You won’t probably come out of it with more appreciation for time, but you will love the time you will have spent on the book.