Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski


Publisher: Bloomsbury Childrens Books
Release date: July 3, 2014
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Pages: 359
Goodreads || Book Depository

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

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in Arin, a young slave up for auction. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him – and for a sensational price that sets the society gossips talking. 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 him is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

The first novel in a stunning new trilogy, The Winner’s Curse is a story of romance, rumours and rebellion, where dirty secrets and careless alliances can be deadly – and everything is at stake.


45 stars

I think this is going to become one of my new favourite trilogies. The Winner’s Curse was such a great first book and had me really excited for the next one in the series. The Winner’s Curse had everything that I love in books: a fantastically rich world, strong and complex characters, a slow-burn forbidden romance, and political intrigue.

This is a series that could appeal to all readers. It’s set in a fantasy world but doesn’t really contain any fantasy elements or magic at all. It reads more like a historical fiction novel, set in a fictional world. It’s not book that’s full of fighting and epic action, but a complex and slow-burning kind of story with lots of strategy and politics. Fans of fantasy would definitely love this, but so would historical fiction lovers too.

This book focuses on Kestrel and Arin, a Herrani slave she purchases at a slave auction she accidentally stumbles upon. Kestrel is the daughter of the Valorian general who conquered Herran 10 years ago. She, and other Valorians, now reside in the properties that were seized from the Herrani. However, even though the Valorians are in a position of power, they are still a very military-focused population and require their people to either join the military or marry and have children as soon as they turn 20. Kestrel, however, has other plans for herself.

The Winner’s Curse is definitely more of a character-driven story. I wouldn’t say that there’s very much happening in the book, but the characters are so complex and interesting that you can’t help but want to follow their story. I loved everything about Kestrel from the very beginning. Even though she’s a Valorian and is the daughter of a general, she isn’t a very good fighter. Her weapon is her mind and she’s very witty and intelligent. She’s definitely not a damsel and is able to stand up for herself and be courageous in her own way. She’s perceptive and has a talent for strategy. Kestrel is definitely not a warrior but she’s much too independent for marriage and society life, leading her to inner struggle.

Happiness depends on being free, Kestrel’s father often said, and freedom depends on being courageous.

Arin was another character that I really enjoyed. He’s also very smart and witty, though not quite as clever as feisty Kestrel. I wasn’t too sure about how I felt about him at the beginning of the book. He does some things that made me very suspicious of him and I just wasn’t sure what to think of him. But he definitely grew on me and you can’t help but love his earnestness and his patriotism. I thought he was a great match for Kestrel. They’re similar in so many ways and they’re able to really stand up to each other and take each other on. I loved the romance in this book and it had me twitching in my seat from anticipation and frustration!

Another aspect of this book that I really loved was the world of this book. I wouldn’t say that there’s a lot of world building but there was definitely enough to satisfy me. The whole world is built through learning about the politics and the social relations. We’re also told about the culture and the traditions of the Herrani and the Valorian. We get a good sense of the history of Herran and what life was like before they were conquered by the Valorians, but we also get a very good sense of the present and the dynamics between the two populations. I thought it was particularly interesting that while the Valorians are in a position of power and privilege now, they’re very much the savages of the two groups. They’re focused on war and conquering the world and have no interest in the arts or education. It was just very intriguing that the slaves seemed to be more skilled in all areas besides war.

My only small complaint is that there was no map in this book. The author does a great job of describing the setting and geography of the world but I would have liked to have seen the world for myself on a map. I flicked through the sequel, The Winner’s Crime, and that book has a map so I am happy.

Overall, I thought this was a wonderful book and I can’t wait to see what happens next. The Winner’s Curse ends on a little bit of a cliffhanger so I’m keen to dive into the next one straight away!


37 thoughts on “Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

  1. Liam's Library says:

    I also really enjoyed this book. I thought the characters and the world (its history especially) were both so rich and the story itself so different from your typical YA fantasy read. I gave it four stars though just because it felt a little directionless sometimes but it was great! I can’t believe I haven’t read the sequel because damn, that cliffhanger! Lovely review!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. aimalfarooq says:

    YAY, I’m so glad you enjoyed this. I remember going into this expecting a fluffy romance about a girly girl, and it was totally different. I didn’t expect it to be nearly as complex as it was. I personally enjoyed the Winner’s Crime even more so than the first one. I’ve been waiting so long for the third book, haha. Not… much… longer…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. aentee @ read at midnight says:

    I adore character driven stories, so I think I’ll enjoy this one. The premise with a relationship that seems imbalance (slave / owner) made me side eye a little – but after this review I can’t wait to check it out!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenna @ Reading with Jenna says:

      I think you’ll LOVE this series! You should totally dive in and join us in the painful wait for book 3 haha. The sequel is even better and definitely one of my all time faves now. The slave/owner thing isn’t too bad because, in this world, the slaves used to be the upper class so they’re not that submissive. It’s a good dynamic, I promise.


  4. Ksenia says:

    I plan to binge read this series when all books are released. I can’t deal with cliffhangers. I love forbidden romance and I always prefer character-driven stories. So my expectations are high. I love you very informative and thoughtful review!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Aila @ One Way Or An Author says:

    Yaas, I’m glad you liked this one! Perhaps I rated it a tad lower because of the lack of action (For some reason I expected more?? Idk why), but I still managed to enjoy all the political intrigue that was happening. I love Kestrel’s exuberant character and her wit, and the romance with Arin kind of gutted me. Especially at the end. GAHH MY PRECIOUS BBYS. *runs to your review of the next book*

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenna @ Reading with Jenna says:

      *deep breathing* MY POOR BABIES T_T I thought the world building and characters were so great in this one I just had to give it more than 4 stars. I’m glad I didn’t give it 5 stars though because I would’ve had to give The Winner’s Crime like 10 out of 5 HAHA.


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