Review of The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy, #1)The Winner’s Curse
By: Marie Rutkoski
Release Date: March 4th 2014
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Source: ARC (won in giveaway)

My Rating:

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.

The Story:
Sadly, there is no possible way for me to be as eloquent as I would desire in this review of The Winner’s Curse. There are those few times where a book hits in just the right way and moment to be absolutely perfect and when this occurs it seems words elude me.

I have read The Winner’s Curse twice now, both times in one evening. I find this book to be absolutely perfect for me in every way. The story flows smoothly, never feeling rushed yet at a pace that keeps me turning the pages past when I should have gone to bed. Rutkoski’s writing is lush, vivid and romantic. She is able to put so much emotion in a character’s glance that it left me breathless.

The story itself is one that is classic to humanity’s past though I wish it were not; societies fighting over land, people being separated by tradition. Rutkoski pulls many elements from history and it is evident that she has a firm grasp on history and anthropology. She writes of the Herrani, a society that has been enslaved by their conquerors the Valorians. 10 years has passed since the Valorians took control of the Herrani’s land and made them slaves.

Rutkoski chose to write in third person which allowed for surrounding descriptions as well as insight into her two main characters, Arin and Kestrel. I usually connect easier when a story is written in first person but Rutkoski was capable of conveying emotion with an ease I’ve not read in a long time.

The Characters:
I was immediately drawn to Kestrel because of her bluntness and clear lack of fitting in with her peers.  I was pulled on her emotional journey and discovery and felt things as I imagined she did.

The secondary characters were well rounded and felt real to me. I loved Kestrel’s friend Jess even though she was so much less aware than Kestrel of their situation. I felt that her naiveté was understandable and am very curious to see how her character develops later in the series. I think there will be some significant growth there. Her brother Ronan was endearing in his lightness and jovial attitude. I see him changing over the course of the series as well. I loved that Rutkowski introduced no characters that didn’t serve a purpose and felt substantial to the story arc.

This review wouldn’t be adequate without a more detailed mention of Arin our other main character. He was exactly what I seek in not only a character but also in a love interest. He was motivated by his own purposes but his affections for Kestrel cause him internal strife and struggle. Their story was a slow-burn type of friendship that slowly unfurls into something more. I adored the star-crossed lovers angle and feel that Rutkoski did it beautifully.

Final Thoughts:
I’ve hesitated in even publishing my review because I’ve gone over it for months trying to express how I felt about this story. I decided to go ahead and put this out there in case you needed a push to read this book. Obviously, it can’t be for everyone but for me and my taste it was perfection. I adore Rutkoski’s writing style and the relationships between her characters as well as the overall story.


  • I was part of the blog tour for this book. You can read my interview with Marie Rutkoski here
  • My review of The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski
  • We had to do some fan-art for this book of course. If you missed it our Lego cover of The Winner’s Curse



  1. says

    Gorgeous review Kristen. <3 YAY for finally sharing/writing it, hih 😀 I am just so glad that both you and I loved this book. Sigh. It was perfect, wasn't it? So gorgeous. I am just dying for the sequel. <3 🙂

    • says

      Such a perfect book! This was maybe the hardest review I’ve written yet. I was just incapable of forming the right words. I can’t wait for book 2!!

  2. says

    You know you love a book so much when you can’t seem to write the review because you are so scared it wont do the book justice. I loved your review and this is one books I am looking forward to reading!
    I think you did a great job expressing how you feel! It makes me want to read the book more

    Great Review!!!

    • says

      Isn’t that the truth? I can’t believe I struggled so much but I really did. I sat on my notes and rough draft for MONTHS. I can’t wait for you to read it! Hurry!! haha

  3. says

    Brilliant review, Kristen!
    I agree that is very hard to put into words how much you love a book without rambling and babbling without end or a structured sense! I read and adored this one, and after reading your review I rather feel like I want to re-read it again!!
    And the Lego cover for it is one of my all time faves!!

    • says

      Thank you Pili!! The ones we love are the hardest to write! Before I blogged and wrote reviews I’d never have thought that would be the truth. Thank you so much for stopping by 🙂

  4. says

    You know when a book was worth it when you can’t even find the words to describe what you were feeling. Thank you for deciding to publish this review! It was raw and honest.

    • says

      Thank you Meredith! really was impossible to find the right words for this book. Just such a beautiful story and *sigh* so much love for it.

  5. Alyn Y says

    It took me a few chapters to really get into it but once I was hooked, I didn’t stop reading it until I finished.

    • says

      I was immediately drawn into this book but I can see how the beginning could be slowish for others. I heard that from a good amount of people. So glad you ended up enjoying it!

  6. says

    I liked this one too. x) Although I DID have a lot of issues with the logic, and why exactly Kestrel felt so beholden to Arin’s people…I mean, on face value for it being wrong and stuff. But they were ALL so mean to her! Like she was never shown that they might be good people too (except for Arin and her nurse) but yes. Hehe. I’m probably not really making sense here anyway. But I LOVE THE COVER. And I love your Lego version! I’m dying for the sequel, because woah, what a cliff hanger ending!

    • says

      That ending was brutal! I think Kestrel felt guilt at what her people had done to Arin’s and that was why she was struggling with her duty to his people. Also, I think she was able to understand their anger at being in their position for so long. To be serving in a house that used to be yours? I think she could empathize with them. Love that you brought up this point because I’d not thought about it before reading your comment!

  7. says

    Lovely review, Kristen! You may think that it didn’t eloquently express your thoughts, but I think they came across beautifully. While on the street team for this book last month, I practically read it a second time while searching for content for the challenges, and I have to say, I think I loved it even more the second time around.

    • says

      Thank you Jen! I sat on my notes and the rough draft for months and months. I even thought rereading it would help but I continued to be flustered. I’m so glad that my love shines through 🙂 I loved it on the second read. I expect a third read in my (hopefully) near future.

  8. says

    I’m glad you liked this one so much! I loved that the revolution happened earlier than I expected. That left a large chunk at the end of the book wherein I had NO IDEA what to expect. I love it when that happens. I agree, I have no idea where this story is going to go, but I’m hoping the action picks up for the next book. I felt like it got started a little later than I wanted, but still enjoyed reading about Kestrel and Arin. Those two characters were definitely swoony. 🙂

    • says

      Most people I’ve encountered thought the first 100 pages or so were very slow. I think the next book is going to be more action based and heartbreaking. I’m excited and terrified.

  9. says

    I loved this book! We even read it for my book club, and they loved it, too. (They are a pretty tough crowd) It can be hard to write reviews for books you really love!

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