Review: The Winner’s Curse, Marie Rutkoski

Is it weird that I barely noticed the author has the same name as me? No? Okay, let’s move on shall we…I heard a lot about The Winner’s Curse, and, despite the fact that I am not a huge historical fiction fan, I decided to give it a try, for many reasons.

  • Look at that GORGEOUS cover.
  • Forbidden romance? YES, I am a marshmallow.
  • Heart-pounding and great, lovable characters? OKAY I am in.

If I did expect all of these things in The Winner’s Curse, I admit that I felt a bit let-down by all of it at the end. Especially the latter point. Don’t get me wrong, it was GOOD. It just missed something for it to be absolutely perfect.

Two people, worlds apart…


β€œ She reminded herself bitterly that this was what curiosity had bought her: fifty keystones for a singer who refused to sing, a friend who wasn’t her friend, some one who was hers and yet would never be hers.”

Hearing about The Winner’s Curse before, and seeing where it’s shelved on Goodreads, I thought you could expect a fantasy world, lots of great world-building, heart-pounding action and everything. After all, A Gathering of Shadows is on that very same shelf, and have you read this book? Well, The Winner’s Curse didn’t feel pale, in comparison, it just felt like it didn’t really belong in that category. This is the story of Kestrel and Arin, two people living worlds apart, but unlikely meeting at an auction. Arin’s a slave, and Kestrel, on instinct, buys him for an atrocious amount of money. This is a story about a world torn between slaves on the one side, and the owners on the other side, people who took their country, their cities, their homes, years ago. This is the slow-building story of Kestrel and Arin meeting, growing feelings for each other, all the while war is at their door, ready to knock, and their worlds to be shattered.

…A slow-building story to a simple yet effective historical YA

The world building isn’t as complex as Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, or as developed, however, with just a few words and very few explanations and long descriptions, you’re immersed into a completely different place and time. Even if I am not into YA historical books so much, I could enjoy that story and that world, without falling in love with it – but this is probably because this is not what I am used to, as well.

Characters : a hard connection


β€œ Arin smiled. It was a true smile, which let her know that all the others he had given her were not.”

If I found the beginning of that book slow, it is mainly because I had a hard time getting into each characters’ minds. Told from a dual POV, between Kestrel and Arin, we get each perspective and thourough the story, get to know them better. If I appreciated the fact that each character was well-built and full of complexities and flaws, I had a hard time actually connecting to each of them, thus my rating at the end. I could care, and even root a little bit for them, but my feelings weren’t as strong as they could be with other characters, in other books. Kestrel is definitely a strong character – is that a word we use too often? She wants to follow her instinct, she wants to let her fingers slide on the piano, she wants to get to know Arin better. She is strong-minded and definitely a badass character. On the other side, Arin is such a smart character, but he is so closed-off, and this is probably because he is hiding a secret, but it took me way more time to grow used to him and to actually like him.

…but interesting father/daughter relationship

Something I really enjoyed, however, was Kestrel’s relationship with her dad. Her mother passing, Kestrel grew up with her dad and obviously, in a world like that, he has some expectations from her and for the kind of life she is supposed to lead. On the other hand, Kestrel had her own views on her life, and that was definitely interesting to see their point of view colliding, hopefully promising something more complex and full of conflict in the next book.

…in a mostly character-driven story, filled with promises


β€œArin wondered if she would lift her eyes, but wasn’t worried he would be seen in the garden’s shadows.
He knew the law of such things: people in brightly lit places cannot see into the dark.”

If that wouldn’t have frustrated me so much in a fantasy book where the world-building was so different, complex and mind-blowing, there, it kind of let me down a bit, because The Winner’s Curse is mainly a character-driven book. There isn’t much happening at the beginning, and during the whole book except for the ending. All thourough the story, I was following Kestrel and Arin’s relationship evolve, slowly, while on the background, events unfold and let to an ending that was definitely way more interesting and promising for the rest of the series.


Despite all the hype around that series, I couldn’t get into it fully and had a hard time connecting to each of the characters. The ending, however, made up for the slow beginning and promises some interesting events and complexities happening, both between the characters and hopefully in the world and internal conflicts that will develop in the next books of the series. I am curious so I think I might get to it soon.

Final rating:Β  3 drops!

Did you read The Winner’s Curse? Did you enjoy it? Do you want to read it?

Did you enjoy the whole series? Should I read it? Share your thoughts in comments! πŸ’¬


Marie Rutkoski, The Winner’s Curse, Β Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, March 4th 2014.

Β goodreads-badge-add-plus-fad3b68d35050280ea55d50f17c654b5

Winning what you want may cost you everything you love…

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys himβ€”with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

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Book blogger, travel blogger, writer. πŸ“š |🌍 | πŸ’ž Writing & Communications Graduate. French. Living on love, wanderlust and ya books.

58 thoughts on “Review: The Winner’s Curse, Marie Rutkoski

  1. Have you ever wondered why there seems to be so many different covers of these books? I’ve seen a red and green version of “The Winner’s Crime,” and during the sale the other day on Amazon, I bought a copy just to have of “The Winner’s Curse,” and it was completely different. It was a chick in a battle pose.
    I think the new covers are gorgeous…but I’m just confused on that.
    Great review, btw! I love the detail and work you put into it. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ohhh too bad you didn’t enjoy it as much as I did because I LOVE THIS BOOK πŸ’™πŸ’šπŸ’›πŸ’œ haha I actually went through the same thing with you, I thought it was gonna be a fantasy book but it turned out different. It’s not something I read often but I enjoyed it. The best thing about this book for me is the romance because it’s slow burning and sad 😦 the second book is even MORE heartbreaking and there are so much plot twists! I still recommend it though… hehe hope you like it better than the first!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right, I enjoyed the fact that the romance wasn’t insta-love, at all. We could really see the feelings grow, and all the complications with it. I’m glad to hear there are more plot twists and heartbreaks in the second book… it makes me want to read it! Thank you so much!! πŸ™‚

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  3. I bought this a few months ago because I was supposed to read it for my book club, and I never picked it up after reading so many bad reviews. I’m torn between returning it and reading it. I wonder if it’s one of those books where it gets better or worse. A friend told me it got worse, but I also have another friend who thought it was great so I don’t know.

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    1. I understand the feeling. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about with that book, and I was kind of disappointed…I heard that it gets better with the second and the third book is fantastic, but I still wonder whether I should go on with this, or not. I guess if you’re still hesitant, you can always start reading the beginning, and see how you like it? πŸ™‚

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      1. I’ve only talked to one blogger who likes this series, so I’m assuming I won’t like it either. I guess I could flip through the first chapter and see if it’s any good. I wasn’t a fan of the slave story so not sure my opinion will change unless something really awesome happens to him as a result. I guess if you get bored you could continue on but that’s doubtful with all the good books out there to read. 😊

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  4. I DNF’ed this book last month. I could not connect to the characters and something was bothering me. I heard it would have been good to stick until the end, but I was way too bored! I’m glad you enjoyed it, though πŸ™‚

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  5. I am developing a real issue with single dads in fiction. They are everywhere! Where are the single mums? There are many more of them in real life, but at least as far as my own reading is concerned, they are seriously underrepresented. I think maybe authors think that because it’s a less common arrangement that it’s more interesting, but I don’t think that’s true at all.

    This is one of those series I can’t help but roll my eyes at. It looks to be full of all the trope-iest tropes.

    I am with you about the cover though. I want that dress. I also want to be fancy enough that I would ever have an occasion to wear it.

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    1. OH yes you are SO right. I didn’t think about this until you just mentionned it, but now I can think of books with this, and it’s kind of annoying. I can’t actually think of a single book with a single mom..?
      Haha, I would LOVE to be fancy enough to wear such a dress. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know. it’s a weird and annoying thing. I grew up with just my mum so I have always been hyper aware of how few books there are about single parents. And especially books where it’s not an issue, it’s just the way things are.

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  6. Great review Marie! I’m sorry this book wasn’t as good for you as you hopes, but I think after reading AGOS the world-building of any book would pale a little in comparison. πŸ™‚
    I will say The Winer’s Curse was probably the weakest of the trilogy and for me that’s because of the slow start. While I was reading, for most of this book, I wondered why there was so much hype surrounding it. Once the plot kicked in action a bit more though I started to get into the story more. The second book was better but the third was definitely the best in my opinion.
    I’m glad you’re still going to carry on with the series, and I hope you enjoy the second book a little more than this one! πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so, so much! That was it maybe, I read The Winner’s Curse before, but reviewed it after reading AGOS, so I guess my thoughts were kind of influenced by that as well :/ It was an interesting read, and I’m so curious to see where their relationship goes next, as the war and everything… I’m glad to hear you liked the second and third book better, it encourages me to go on with it! πŸ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s all right ❀️ I think anything to would be hard pressed to follow the pure perfection that was AGOS! And I will admit this was the weakest book of the trilogy as well so that definitely didn’t help its case! πŸ™‚
        The second book is a lot more tense, especially with their relationship, but I thought the third was just brilliant. I’d recommend finishing the series, I don’t think you’ll regret it! πŸ˜€

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  7. Brilliant review, Marie! I loved this book (and the entire trilogy), but I definitely can see why you had the qualms you had for book one. I was really surprised by the simple world building and the slow burn romance. I’m sorry you couldn’t connect with the characters though. And yes! Being raised by a single dad, I really felt for Kestrel and General Trajan.

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  8. I liked The Winner’s Curse and went on to read the next two in the series and it was a waste of time. The second book was slow going, with nothing happening until the end, and the third book I ended up skimming. I don’t know if it was just the mood I was in, or what, but I did enjoy the first book. Disappointing series.
    I did appreciate that it was different than other YA books out there and that both Kestrel & Arin use their smarts rather than their physical strength. I thought that was a nice change to read.

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  9. The series definitely picks up with the second book, which becomes more plot driven than character. I actually really enjoyed both books, but I still need to read the third and complete the series off!! I hope you continue with this series and I think you would enjoy the second book more if you you did πŸ™‚

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  10. I haven’t read this yet, although I feel like EVERYBODY has read it. (Everybody except me, I suppose). I find books which leave all the plot to the end quite annoying, often, so I might give this a miss for a while. Btw i really like the photo you took of The Winners Curse πŸ™‚

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  11. Oh j really want to read this one! (And I must get myself a copy because look at that cover!) It sounds great, hopefully the characters become a lot more connecting as the series goes along πŸ™‚ I love a good family relationship mixed in a book so things look good! Great review, hope you enjoy the rest of the series! πŸ˜‰

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  12. Ooh, totally agree. I found it hard to understand Arin and Kestrel, and didn’t quite see how they were attracted to each other. I reckon it got better in the second book though, and they were better fleshed out there πŸ™‚
    I also loved reading about Kestrel and her father – they really do have an interesting father-daughter dynamic!
    Lovely review – I think I felt pretty much the same way about this book!

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  13. Oooh, I just recently read this book myself (and just blazed through the whole series, haha), and I’m super glad to see this review! Like you, I thought it was very misleading that it was shelved as fantasy – there was literally no magic in this book; instead it was all political/historical. I had so much trouble finding a different genre to call it – like it’s not really historical fiction, but what else is it if not fantasy??? [end ramble]

    Anyway! I agree with you that the world-building was pretty solid. For me I loved the little details that Rutkoski added, e.g. about the religion and culture of the Herrani/Valorian. Where my problem was is Arin – I just didn’t like him at all and thought Kestrel was way smarter and more responsible, haha. I also loved the father/daughter dynamic, though; I thought it was very well-done: complex and real and relatable. πŸ™‚

    Are you going to read the rest of the series?

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    1. Oh thank you so, so much Reg! I’m glad you agree about this, I feel like -or I didn’t really notice it- that no one talked about this, and I was confused. I wanted it to be fantasy? I don’t know, it was a bit confusing, I expected some fantasy to come in the story, but it didn’t.
      Arin was kind of hard to relate to, I had trouble reading his parts of the story, I couldn’t connect, or feel anything :/ But yay for the father/daugher dynamics, those were pretty amazing! ❀
      I think I will, I heard it's getting better in the second book, and that the third is absolutely FANTASTIC. I will give it a chance I think πŸ™‚


      1. I knooow! I even looked up the definition of ‘fantasy’ just so I could be sure, haha. I still really liked the world-building though, magic or not.

        Yeah, I just felt like Arin was ‘meh’ as a character – I just didn’t care for him at all and even disliked him a bit.

        I’m glad to hear that you’ll give it a chance! I’ve read the whole series now and while I don’t think it was THE BEST THING EVER, I did really enjoy it. Can’t wait for you to read them all. ❀

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I don’t know if I would personally say it got better – I’d say it mostly stays at a good level for me (i.e. four stars). For me there was a LOT of unnecessary angst in book 2 and 3, but hey, that can be enjoyable to some people. I hope you like the rest of the series. πŸ˜›

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  14. I loved your review! I’m planning to pick up this book soon but, I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant considering all the hype around it. It was great reading your review and getting to know that maybe it isn’t THAT great. I still want to give it a try and see how I feel about it, though.

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  15. I just bought this book from Book Outlet and I must say the cover definitely draws me in, but so does the synopsis! Hopefully my trait of being easily drawn into a book works with this one because you make it sound boring! It is such a disappointment when I don’t like books with a lot of hype!

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    1. I hope you’ll really enjoy it! It wasn’t boring, it was more, slow-paced, I’d say. It took me a bit of time to grow fond of each of the characters, that’s why I had a hard time with the beginning. But as soon as the action picked up, and I got used to them, it was a good book πŸ™‚ I hope you will enjoy it πŸ™‚

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