In a market burgeoned by epic fantasies like G.R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, Kristen Cashore’s Graceling and Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass, Marie Rutkoski decided to step forward as a brave voice with a different twist in the form of her new novel: The Winner’s Curse. Her new dystopian fantasy novel focuses on the romance between a young woman named Kestrel and her love for a young slave named Arin.
Twisting from traditional fantasy into romantic fantasy took took her by surprise, especially after crafting a modern fantasy in The Shadow Society.
“I suppose that some of the themes remain the same when you compare The Shadow Society to The Winner’s Curse — there’s betrayal, forgiveness, the legacy of violence, and the damage of retribution. This is mostly because I’ve been interested in these topics for a long time as a person, especially when I consider our world and its history.”
However, The Winner’s Curse has a darker flavor.
“The Shadow Society has a lot more humor in it. So one of the differences was that I worked to be funny in that book when I could. The Winner’s Curse is not, I think, particularly funny. There [was also a]big difference in capturing the atmosphere of the settings of these characters’ lives – noting the linoleum in Darcy’s two-bedroom ranch home, versus crafting a society in The Winner’s Curse filled with balls, exquisite dresses, and huge houses where people don’t just have a bedroom, but a whole suite of rooms.” said Rutkoski.
Another notable distinction to Rutkoski is the different points of views employed.
Rutoski is no stranger to experimenting with the written word. Barring nearly six years of graduate school, she has been putting pen to paper for most of her life.
“During grad school, I decided to give up writing creatively and focus on writing academic material. That worked until my last year of grad school, when I was living on a fellowship in London, and had the idea for what became The Cabinet of Wonders, my first book.”
Rutkoski’s fascination with military strategy in Greece was one motivational factor that kept her working on The Winner’s Curse – and even inspired the title and aspects of the story itself.
“I came upon the economic term “winner’s curse,” which describes what happens when someone wins an auction but only by paying a very steep price. I thought it was a beautiful phrase, and I was drawn to this version of a pyrrhic victory– when you win but lose at the same time. So I tried to think of a story that would have “The Winner’s Curse” as a title.”
Many readers of the novel have praised its strategy and intricate plot twists. Rutkoski admitted that some of these aspects even surprised her when she developed them.
“I’m not a heavy outliner, and outlined only maybe the first third or fourth of the book (and the outline was very vague). As I wrote further into the story, ideas occurred to me. Then it was a matter of going back to earlier parts and sowing the necessary seeds to pull off a particular turn in the plot.”
Rutkoski preferred sowing the seeds a little more in one half of the novel than the other. The Winner’s Curse is told through dual point-of-views: one for Kestrel, and and one for Arin. “I did like writing Arin! I mean, Kestrel’s my girl; I feel very close to her. But it was really exciting to write from Arin’s POV, in part because it was the first time I really got into the head of an almost adult male character. I like writing from a male POV. I think I should do it more often.”
The written word is not the only aspect of her life where Rutkoski seizes the day. She makes a point of picking up different hobbies and trying new activities.
“I’ve recently begun learning the violin. I can rock climb pretty decently and do stuff like rappel and tie knots,” said Rutkoski. “During the summer before seventh grade, I watched When Harry Met Sally once a day. I’ve learned five foreign languages and forgotten all but one — and probably only can speak French because I married a Frenchman.”
Rutkoski also enjoys her reading time – from reviews of perfume and fashion shows to authors like William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Katherine Paterson, Kristen Cashore, Alice Munro and many, many, many more. But more than reading, she prefers settling in and writing.
“In recent years, I’ve done a lot of great writing in Auvergne, France. My in-laws have an old family house there — I mean, old old; the fireplace was built in the sixteenth century. It’s not at all a touristy part of France. It’s hard to get to. It’s farmland — lots of cows, pastures, blackberries, and views of old volcanoes.”
There, Rutkoski locks up her messes and words in a secretaire desk. Back home in New York, though, there is limited space.
“In my current apartment, wall space is scarce. I write at a desk in front of a window facing north Manhattan. And that’s nice, too. I think there are birds of prey living in Washington Square Park. I see them fly above it sometimes.”