Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

9781408858202The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy #1) by Marie Rutkoski
Publication Date: July 3rd 2014 by Bloomsbury Childrens Books (UK)
Rating: 4 Stars
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
Find: Goodreads | Amazon
Goodreads Summary
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 him—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.

It only took about 2 years but I’ve finally read this series. Admittedly the hype surrounding this series was intimidating but when it comes down to it, The Winner’s Trilogy lives up to all the hype. It’s a fantasy series that features no magic so it feels like you’re reading a historical novel. The book focuses on two races, both with separate belief systems, cultures and a lot of bad history between them. The Winner’s Curse focuses on Kestrel, the daughter of General Tajan, a Valorian warrior hailed for his conquest of Herran, and Arin, a Herrani slave Kestrel “accidentally” buys at auction.

The Winner’s Curse is definitely a character driven story. There’s not a lot of action and the action we do get is served as a means of exploring the way our characters react to them and how it shifts the dynamic between them. It’s a smartly constructed book that focuses on the intricacy’s of human nature and political movements. Despite being the daughter of the most influential Valorian military figure, Kestrel is not skilled in battle. No, her strength lies with her mind. She has a strong mind for strategy, one that her father wishes to utilise, but she is also independent and is not one to conform to the expectations of society. She stays true to her principles, even if they do lead her into some trouble along the way. Her thoughtfulness also sees her learning and in a sense embracing quite a few of the Herrani tradition, something that is very much frowned upon by her peers. That does not mean that she does not have any faults and Rutkoski does a great job at having Kestrel own up these faults.

We also have Arin, the slave Kestrel accidentally buys at an auction in the beginning of the book. Kestrel meets her match in Arin. He too has a very sharp mind and isn’t afraid to challenge Kestrel, something she grows to appreciate. Having said that, we have a strong cause to be suspicious of Arin but as the story progresses we see his sincerity and affection towards Kestrel fester. The romance between these two seems impossible. There is no love lost between the Herrani and Valorians and the conflict between these two races stands between Kestrel and Arin being together. There was no denying the connection between them but the circumstances around them made it near impossible to act on those feelings. It was frustrating and hearbreaking but also beautiful at times.

The world building in this book was incredible. Rutkoski does a marvelous job at distinguishing both the Valorians and Herrani from one another. There’s a distinct identity to both these race and throughout the book we learn a lot about the conflict between these two. The world wasn’t as fleshed out as it could have been but it gave us a solid introduction to the history of the world, something that is expanded upon in the following books.

In the end, The Winner’s Curse is one of the strongest Young Adult fantasy novels in existent. With strong, complex characters, a well established world, and a romance that will capture your heart.

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

  1. “The Winner’s Curse is one of the strongest Young Adult fantasy novels in existent. With strong, complex characters, a well established world, and a romance that will capture your heart.”
    ^^ /cries/ Ugh, I am just so happy that you’ve finally read this.

    I love how you designated two entire paragraphs about Kestrel and Arin alone. I love them so much individually and together? Gah, they are just so perfect for each other.

    And I 100% agree with you about this being more a historical fantasy. When I went into reading this series for the first time, I had no idea what TWC was going to be about aside from its genre. I was expecting dragons, magic, etc. So I was surprised to learn that it didn’t incorporate any of that. It lacks the typical elements of fantasy, but because of this Rutkoski is able to create a unique, lush world with things like duels, Bite and Sting games, etc.

    Ugh, reading your review has made me fangirl all over again. XD I can’t wait for your reviews for installments 2 and 3 go live. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think I could have read the book if I didn’t have you on hand to vent to. This is one series where you need a support system. 😛

      Kestrel and Arin are wonderful as individuals. They’re strong and smart and have so much hope and when they’re together they’re an unstoppable team. OTP material.

      I found the lack of magic so refreshing cause it allowed us the space to actually focus on the individuals and the conflict between people which can sometimes get overlooked when you add magic into it. There’s a richness to this world that makes it so engaging and enticing.

      I don’t know how I’m going to write the Winner’s Crime review. That book all but destroyed me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I so agree with you that one of the strengths of this series was the lack of magic (and other fantasy elements).

        I’m kind of curious what Rutkoski plans to write next though. If I remember correctly I read somewhere that she’s a teacher or professor so I’m not sure if she’s a full time writer or not. But I’d love to see what she could do with a true fantasy series. (Or just another romance.) 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t believe I waited to read this series but I’m glad I did, especially as it meant i could binge read and not wait with the agony of having to wait a year for the next installment.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Honestly one of the reasons I got the books was so I could have the cover. Thankfully the writing is just as stunning and when it comes to OTP material, Kestrel and Arin are golden, even if they broke my heart.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m thrilled that you loved this series. The OTP is one of the best OTP I’ve ever come across while reading. I also appreciated how clever Kestrel was too. And of course, Arin totally broke my heart. Looking forward to reading your thoughts on the next book!
    Lovely review, Lois.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t even know how I’ll write my review for The Winner’s Crime cause that book emotionally crushed me!!! When it comes to OTP’s I definitely agree that they are among the best of the best, even if they shattered my heart haha. Kestrel ❤ What a woman. She is golden.


  3. This is honestly one of my favourite YA novels ever so I’m so glad to find someone else who enjoys it as much as I do! I loved the writing in this most of all and the complexity of the characters! The other two books are also super amazing so I hope you enjoy them!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The combination of the great world building and character complexity made this series so amazing. I love exploring all the different dynamics. I finished the series early May and I’m just mustering up the courage to try and write my review for The Winner’s Crime.


  4. Great review, Lois! Though I’m ambivalent about the main pairing and don’t particularly ship them, I
    actually really enjoyed this series and think it’s a great example of a female protagonist who’s just very strong… er, intellectually. Like, Kestrel’s intelligence is pushed over and over again and I love that that’s the focus of her character, kind of. Will you be reviewing book 2 and 3 as well? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kestrel was the star of the series for me. It’s so refreshing to read about a woman that acknowledges her physical limitations and embrace her intelligence. I always feel like acknowledging a weakness is just a big a strength as embracing it and that’s why I loved Kestrel. I’m currently trying to find the words to write my review for The Winner’s Crime cause that book crushed me but hopefully I can get that up in the next week or so and the Winner’s Kiss the week after that.


  5. YES. I completely agree. This was such an amazing book – like you said, one of the best YA fantasies out there – and I’m so glad you enjoyed it too. Kestrel was such an amazing protagonist (she reminded me of Annabeth from Percy Jackson almost), and her romance with Arin was flawless. Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Imagine an Annabeth / Kestrel team up. Now that would be a force to be reckoned with. I absolutely adored this series, even if it did reduce me to an emotional wreck haha. Thank you for your wonderful comment.


  6. Great review!! Yes, the hype was a bit intimidating at one point, so it took me ages to finish the series- but I really liked this first one, it was such a good YA fantasy 😀 And I really liked Arin and Kestrel’s romance!! Plus I really liked Kestrel’s strength being her intellect!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The angst was another reason I put it off. I can only take so much angst but it also meant I binge read book 2 and 3 so I could get to the happy part haha. Arin and Kestrel are one of my ultimate OTP’s.


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