Before I got around to drafting a review of The Winner’s Curse, I was reading Of Metal and Wishes and was noticing that while the story was very different from The Winner’s Curse, it also had many similarities, so many that I felt inclined to write a different sort of review for both of these books, where I will compare similar elements of the stories and discuss what did and did not work, as well as explain the differences. There will be mild spoilers for Of Metal and Wishes, and more serious spoilers for The Winner’s Curse.
One People Group Overtaking the Other in the Past
In The Winner’s Curse, with the Valorians and the Herrani I felt shades of the Narn and Centauri from Babylon 5, which won’t make any sense if you haven’t watched the show, but basically, the Centauri overtake the Narn (twice, once in their history and then again later on the show), though on the surface the Narn seem as they would be the more powerful race, and enslave them.
In Of Metal and Wishes we had the Itanyai who had overtaken the Noor in the recent past. For some reason, I wasn’t thinking of Narn and Centauri this time, perhaps because it was less prevalent throughout the book, but I did eventually get to thinking of The Winner’s Curse.
Both of these books feature the “lesser” of the people groups revolting and fighting back, but again, I felt this was much more prominent in The Winner’s Curse, where it is clear from the start that the Herrani were overtaken and are slaves to the Valorians. In Of Metal and Wishes, I thought the Noor were just people from another land that the Itanyai didn’t think highly of and were willing to work for cheap (kind like America hiring cheap labor from other countries), but later there’s mention of a past takeover and all that.
Fantasy Settings… but Not Really Fantasy Elements
Since I really haven’t read much fantasy before this year, I was surprised when I realized that the best way to categorize these stories was fantasy even though there weren’t dragons or magic or, in the case of Of Metal and Wishes, lots of swords. Fantasy means a new or re-imagined setting though, and doesn’t necessarily have to have those other elements. So yes, they are fantasy settings, but they are different from what I would typically expect of fantasy. The Winner’s Curse actually feels more like a fantasy setting (minus the magic and creatures and whatnot), but Of Metal and Wishes takes place in a re-imagined industrial China, has a dash of steampunk, and is a retelling of Phantom of the Opera so yeah… how do you categorize that?
Also, I really appreciated that both books made a point to mention the different languages between the two people groups, even mentioning what some of the differences were! Attention to detail for the win!
Ever since I read Romeo and Juliet for school, forbidden romance has decidedly not been my favorite thing ever. The forbidden romance in both of these, as you can probably imagine, is between a girl of the dominant people group and a boy of the enslaved people group. How well did I think these romances fare? Both of them are handled pretty well, actually, but I will go further into my thoughts in the contrast portion.
I feel this is much bigger plot point in The Winner’s Curse when Kestrel is basically under house arrest in Arin’s home after the revolution begins, but it is somewhat present in Of Metal and Wishes as well with The Ghost taking in Wen. Thankfully, Wen doesn’t promise to stay with the Ghost or to love him as he loves her, but she does promise to visit. I think she truly cares for him as a companion, though she knows he’s dangerous, because he is kind to her, but that is kind of how Stockholm Syndrome works, it’s just that the only time she is really his prisoner is when she goes to see him at his hidingplace. She also makes this promise because she wants to protect and care for Melik.
In The Winner’s Curse, holy cow there was Stockholm Syndrome all over that! But what I appreciated was that Kestrel actually fought really hard against it and was always thinking, trying to plot ways to outsmart and escape Arin, even though she did care for him. She does get overwhelmed some and kisses him while in house arrest, but then distances herself away from him and eventually escapes.
The Dead Mother/The Father With Expectations
This seems to be a fairly common theme in stories in general. Both girls’ mothers had died (Kestrel’s several years before, Wen’s only shortly before the story), and both girls’ fathers desired certain career paths for their daughters. For Kestrel’s father, he wanted her to join the military and be a great strategist. For Wen’s father, he wanted her to become a doctor, which she seems interested in but they don’t have the money for the schooling.
I do love the covers for both of these books!
Kestrel’s Interests VS. Wen’s Interests
I thought Kestrel was pretty interesting. She was very intelligent, good at strategy, and she had a great passion for music. Wen on the other hand… I have no clue what she was into. She could sew very well because of both parents, and she loved the dresses her mom made for her, and she also seemed to kind of like helping her dad out with medical needs. However, I never got a strong grip on what she actually loved to do. It almost felt as if her life before the story started was irrelevant because she was stuck in this crappy situation at the factory with her dad and no money, and while I understand why that was the proper tone of the story, I wish just once she could have expressed what she wanted from life, other than to go back to the sea or for her mother to be alive. With Kestrel, it was clear what’s she was good at, what she was not good at, and what she wanted.
Kestrel’s Attraction for Arin VS. Wen’s Attraction for Melik
These were both relatively slow-burn romances for the most part. The first thing that I think Kestrel noticed about Arin is his determination, which I like, instead of her being like, Ohmygosh look at that totally hot boy for sale. With Wen and Melik, it’s similar, she noticed his quiet strength and leadership. So far, so good.
In The Winner’s Curse, Kestrel and Arin had a fair number of interactions in which she continued to see good qualities of his, plus he had a mysterious side to him, particularly when it came to the possible connection between him and music. She also started to play Bite and Sting with him and had conversations with him. I understood why she liked him when all that finally came to the surface.
Considering we had a dual POV, I felt we got slightly cheated out of seeing more of why Arin felt the same way about Kestrel. You got to hear some of his thoughts and it kind of made sense, but I would have liked more. I would also like to point out that I actually was not all aboard the Kestrel-Arin ship, which may surprise you if you already know my rating for this book. It did make me feel some feels, and I wasn’t against the relationship, but I wasn’t really 100% completely rooting for it either. I actually liked Ronan quite a bit, and I KNEW Kestrel didn’t care for him that way because she said so, but that hindered me some in being a total Kestrel-Arin shipper, in addition to wanting some more build-up on Arin’s end. Plus, I knew what Arin was planning and thought there was no way their relationship could work.
In Of Metal and Wishes, Wen kept running into Melik in various situations, like we stopped the Noor boy from assaulting her, as he cared for the other Noor who were sick or injured, etc. Then she quickly found ways to deliberately see him, fascinated by him. After a while, it was clear he cared for her and they talked about it some. What they had seemed pretty sweet and innocent for the most part, though I did think they were maybe a little too into each other a little too quickly. But I was fine with the whole thing. But then when the two got locked up in the meat locker together and had a serious make-out session, I completely lost interest in their relationship. I don’t know how to explain why I felt that way, but I did.
Ronan VS. The Ghost
Neither of these were a love triangle in the sense that the girl was conflicted about who to choose, but they did have other guys who were interested in them. (Oh, and both girls had pervy older guys who are lusty for them which is… not awesome, but I digress…) In The Winner’s Curse this guy was Ronan, Kestrel’s best friend’s older brother, whom she is also friends with. I really liked Ronan a lot, which also made it hard for me to completely get behind Kestrel and Arin (as mentioned before). He was a flirt, but it was clear to me from the start that he cared about Kestrel, even though she was oblivious at first.
Ronan was clearly set up to represent what Kestrel’s life could look like, what society expected of her. She could marry him, play her music, and lead a very safe, comfortable life (well, before the Herrani revolt she could have). Arin was a more dangerous choice, and I hate the trope of the girl choosing the “dangerous” guy, but it wasn’t completely like that here. He was actually what Kestrel was looking for in a guy in terms of qualities, but he also happened to be a revolutionary who wanted to overcome her people, so things become dangerous because of that. Honestly, I would have completely understood if Kestrel had chosen Ronan, but I also understand why she doesn’t.
In Of Metal and Wishes, we have “The Ghost,” real name Bo, who represented the Phantom figure. He… had some issues. He cared about Wen, having heard stories about her from her father (who treated Bo and saved his life after the accident that everyone else believes killed him), but he was willing to ruthlessly kill people to get what he wanted. While he was capable of kindness and I found him a bit more sympathetic than the Phantom from The Phantom of the Opera, I was definitely not sympathetic enough to really and truly like him. But I think Wen did a pretty good job though of balancing how she could help him and be there for him without agreeing to stay with him or promising to love him.
*EDIT* THIS SEGMENT IS AN ADDITION TO THE ORIGINAL POST BECAUSE I FORGOT IT WHILE DRAFTING*
Kestrel’s Friend Situation VS. Wen’s Friend Situation
One thing I really enjoyed in The Winner’s Curse was Kestrel’s interactions with Jessi and Ronan. Even though Kestrel thinks differently from them about certain matters, she doesn’t shut them out, and they don’t shut her out either. Wen, on the other hand, is less fortunate. She has one “best friend” whose name I have forgotten, and basically they don’t really seem to have much anything in common except they used to go to school together. This friend is also friends with the other guys and girls their age who work at the factory in the office/manager type positions, so Wen spends some time with them (mostly at lunch), but it’s clear she doesn’t really connect with any of them. And then some of these acquaintances (the male ones specifically) are awful to Wen and try to sexually assault her, and at another point (it was probably before the aforementioned incident, but I can’t remember for sure) they get angry with her (the guys and her “best friend”) just because she’s bringing medicine and bread to a Noor (it was probably Melik, but I don’t remember for sure). Anyhow, as much as I understand that the point was that things weren’t going well for Wen and she was lonely, I did find myself annoyed by the fact that she had no decent friends before Melik shows up. And no wonder the Ghost almost seems like good company, compared to these people… sheesh…
I got pretty caught up in both of these books for a portion of them, however, where I felt that The Winner’s Curse had a strong ending that left me wanting more, the ending Of Metal and Wishes made me feel less enthused about the story and also did not feel like a story that needed to continue, despite the open-ended feel of it.
What stands out most to me about The Winner’s Curse was it got me thinking about psychology a lot: the psychology of war, the psychology of love, Stockholm Syndrome, etc., and any book that gets me thinking about psychology definitely gets bonus points in my book. I also loved that Kestrel was able to sort of step back from her feelings and examine what needed to be done (though I do think she did sometimes allow her feelings to get in the way, she was still overall much better about not letting them control her than a lot of YA heroines), access what risks she should take, and that in the end she made choices that took Arin and the reader by her surprise. I’m pretty excited to see what happens in book two.
Content Advisory: Some mild language and violence and a rape attempt (not graphic)
With Of Metal and Wishes, I was interested in seeing how the various Phantom elements played out and found most of it really compelling, but by the end of the story I felt a little lackluster about Melik, especially when he just disappeared on Wen. He explained why later but it felt sort of flimsy, especially considering the ending already felt a little weirdly paced to me. But the final image of Bo having left Wen with the metal figures of her with the faceless guy I thought was a great image and, quite frankly, I am satisfied with that as the final image of this story and don’t really care to read the next book. I don’t want to really see how the revolution carries out or what happens with Melik. To me, The Phantom of the Opera was retold in this book and my interest in these characters does not go beyond this plot.
Content Advisory: Some gory details of violence, some sexual content but no sex scenes
What are your thoughts on these books and their similarities and differences?