Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie RutkoskiThe Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy, #1) by Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner's Trilogy #1
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux on March 4th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Historical, Young Adult
Pages: 355
Source: Netgalley

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.


First off, I just want to express how much I love this cover. That dress is gorgeous and it makes me happy that Kestrel actually wears it. Okay, onto the review now!

The god of lies love you. 

So the thing with reading a book with so much hype is expectations skyrocket and with that, the higher rate of the possibility of disappointment. It’s sort of scary into a book like that. This one is thankfully one that (basically) lives up to the hype. I say basically, only because the the first half is a little weaker to the amazing bombshell that is the second half.

After having conquered the Herrani, the Herrani become slaves to the Valorian empire. Kestrel, a gifted strategist, is the daughter of a general in the Valorian army were women are expected to either join the military or be married. Arin is a slave, bought by Kestrel, who is biding his time to bring about change. They fall in love (or so says the synopsis). This sounds awfully like star-crossed lover romance, it well, it’s got to do better than that to impress me (and short answer is: yes, it does do better and it does impress me).

Rutkoski really creates an intriguing and well-developed universe. There’s no doubt the world-building is fantastically done. The way people think, react, and judge all makes sense and is understandable because there’s a history that’s been developed and ingrained into the universe. The beginning of the book however is a bit slow in the character department. Kestrel is an interesting character enough  though she sort of lacks a backbone, or rather she lacks direction in her life. She often lets Arin push her around, who in turn, despite his dark, brooding handsomeness, is kind of a jerk (though for good reasons enough). The first half is all a build-up for the fantastic political plot of the second half.

Everything and and everybody changes in the second half. All the rules changes, the stakes are higher, and the loses are deeper. This is where is gets good. A coup d’état that forces both Kestrel and Arin to re-evaluate what’s important to them, what their roles are in this revolution and what they’re willing to sacrifice. There’s two nations at stake, and it’s not just a Romeo and Juliet love story anymore, and yet I’m so invested in both this relationship, the outcome of the revolution.

The romance between Kestrel and Arin, though while is still very star-crossed, is a slow burning romance. And that makes the second half that much better when crap hits the fan. I love the change in dynamic between Kestrel and Arin. Kestrel learns to stand up for herself, to be a bit less naive. Because they don’t just fall in love in an instance, it makes it that much harder on Arin to handle these feelings. He has to decide if it’s worth giving up not only his heart, but all the Herrani’s chance of freedom for the sake of loving Kestrel (especially when Kestrel is quickly realizing you can’t also trust the people you love). (Is it sadist of me to say I enjoyed watching Arin suffer a bit because of love? He was a big jerk at the beginning.)  You know it isn’t going to be an easy road to happiness for these two.

Arin covered his face with one floured hand and peeked at her between his fingers. “You are terrifying. Gods help me if I cross you, Kerstel.”

“You already have,” she pointed out.

“But am I your enemy?” Arin crossed the space between them. Softly, he repeated, “Am I?”

She didn’t answer. She concentrated on the feel of the table’s edge pressing into the small of her back. The table was simple and real, joined wood and nails and right corners. No wobble. No give.

“You’re not mine” Arin said.

And kissed her. (91% eARC)

The ending, I wouldn’t say is a cliff-hanger, but it sure as hell is a fantastic set up for the next book (I desperately need the second book ): ). If book two is anything like the second half of book 1,or gets even better (which I hope it is!), it’ll be beyond brilliant (damn the expectations!). So overall, while The Winner’s Curse wasn’t necessarily amazing from being to end, the latter half easily makes up for it, leaving me with an intriguing and emotional read. Definitely recommend for those who love a believable romance, an intriguing political plot line and a wonderfully built universe.

She didn’t look back when he spoke again. 

“You don’t, Kestrel, even though the god of lies loves you.”

PS. The Winner’s Curse is considered a Fantasy, but it easily reads more like an historical fiction almost, since it lacks the magic that’s usually comes with fantasy.

{*Thank to Farrar Straus Giroux & Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for the an honest review.

Find Maria Rutkoski:

Website | Goodreads | Twitter

Purchase the book:
Book Depository | Barnes & Nobles | Chapters Indigo |


Author: Cyn

noun. a bum OT, procrastinator. reader. eater. sleeper. music listen-er. movie go-er. Loves food too much.

0 Replies to “Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski”

  1. Thanks for the review, I am so excited for this book I have it coming in the mail! I’ve heard endless great things about it, including the world building and the great romance! Can’t wait to read it.

    1. I hope you love it! I’m waiting for my hardcover in the mail too! Hopefully they arrive soon! Thanks for stopping by (:

  2. I’m so glad you enjoyed The Winner’s Curse, Cyn. I can’t wait to read it myself. I love that the world-building, romance, and plot are all fantastic in this one.

    1. The second of the book really blew me away! I hope you love it! It’s definitely awesome when all 3 is great! Thanks for stopping by Kim!

  3. Gads wonderful review Cyn, I actually had this pre-ordered with my audible credit, but decided I had to have Anne Bishops’ Murder of Crows first..LOL I do intend to read/listen to this so I am glad to hear you enjoyed it!

    1. I hope you enjoy it, too! It’s a pretty amazing world 😉

  4. See? That’s the problem with ARCs – you have to wait THAT much longer for the next book to come out. I absolutely can’t wait to pick this one up!!! YAY for your awesome (even though I HAD to skim) review!!!

    1. I totally know what you mean! You read the ARC and than you have to wait for the release…than you release that was just for first book and know you have to wait even longer for the next one! Thanks (: Stop by again when you’ve gotten the chance to read it! 😉

  5. Fantastic review. I’m excited to hear that the second part of the book blows one away! 🙂

    1. Thanks Pamela. The second half really did it for me haha. Definitely can’t wait for the next book!

  6. We’re definitely on the same page with this one. I agree that the first half was a bit slow, although not agonizingly so, and that a lot of Arin’s actions were dismaying–even if understandable. I was surprised that the book read more like historical fiction than fantasy, but definitely appreciated the lack of magic in this one. I loved the world-building/historical/military aspects. I’m excited to pick up book two…a year from now. Great review!

    1. Me too, it was expecting more “fantasy” since that’s what it was considered, but I love historical fiction too, so I’m totally happy with this haha. Yes, the world-building/historical/military aspects was spot on! A year is too far away!

  7. It’s still great to hear that you did enjoy this one! I have been anticipating it for months. I am so excited yet worried at the same time. Either way, looking forward to reading this as well!

    1. I know what you mean, sometimes I need to remind myself to set proper expectations for books, ha 😉 It’s definitely worth checking out, I hope you enjoy it!

  8. I’m one of those people who really doesn’t mind a slow beginning as long as the world is being set up and it’s not, like, that the character gets up and goes to school every day or whatever, so the beginning didn’t bother me, BUT the first half really does pale in comparison to the second half. I loved the complete reversal of Arin and Kestrel’s relationship, too, so each basically was forced into the other’s role and could understand the other better. But I need the second book. Now.

    1. I’m glad you still enjoyed the beginning, I did like the build up, but yeah, second half, just so much awesome, haha. Yes! the reversal & change in dynamic was definitely one of my favourite parts.
      Why isn’t it already March 2015 ):

  9. YES–to all of what you said above! And that quote you included–LOVE. Just love this couple, period. I’m scared to death for them–I have no idea how they’re going to make it work but I’m going to enjoy the ride finding out:)

    Thanks for visiting my review of TWC and leaving the link to yours:)

    1. I was so happy they had such a cute moment together (: My gosh, I can only image the stuff they’ll have to go through in the next book!! So excited.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  10. […] The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski. So this is probably one of the most recently hyped book in the YA world. I was […]

  11. I definitely agree – the first half or so of The Winner’s Curse was slow, but the second one definitely picked up the pace!
    And you’re not the only one who enjoyed Arin suffering at the end – he deserved it for being a big jerk in the beginning. ;D

  12. Good to know about the “ending”

  13. […] jealous of people, haha. I’m a little sad that the cover doesn’t match exactly like The Winner’s Curse (and the ARCs). But, serious that darn ending,As I mentioned in my review, it was a perfect set-up […]

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