Book Reviews

Review: “The Winner’s Curse,” Marie Rutkoski

November 2, 2015
Review: “The Winner’s Curse,” Marie RutkoskiThe Winner's Curseby Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner's Trilogy #1
Published by Bloomsbury on July, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Medieval
Pages: 359
Book Depository | Bookworld | Booktopia

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.

I was somewhat disappointed by The Winner’s Curse, the debut novel from Marie Rutkoski. Disappointed because I had such high hopes for this book. The premise, the gorgeous cover and other stellar reviews really had me sold on the fact that I would LOVE this book. I guess I’m one of those in the minority that just didn’t ‘get’ the hype with this one.

 “Happiness depends on being free, and freedom depends on being courageous.”

I quite enjoyed the first half of the novel. The set-up of the world was fantastic and I really felt immersed in Kestrel’s environment. While I didn’t particularly like her life in terms of being social (her friendship with Jess was quite shallow and Ronan wasn’t even the least bit interesting when it comes to a love interest) seeing the way in which the conquering Valorians had inserted themselves into the Herrani world was fascinating.

Kestrel herself as a main character was ‘meh’. I never really quite got a feel for her, nor could I picture her when I imagined a scene playing out. If you asked me what she looked like, all I could tell you was that she had long blonde hair. Nothing else particularly stands out in my memory… While she had her strengths (music and strategizing) and her weaknesses (fighting), I never really CARED about her or her endeavours. Her passion for music was meant to be her ‘big thing’, yet I didn’t believe it. It felt a little one-tone.

“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.”

As for Arin, the Herrani slave and ‘love interest’ for Kestrel, he had the personality of a dead fish. Not once did I want to see them end up together and not once did even my pinky finger swoon over any of their romantic scenes. I have absolutely no idea why Kestrel was so entranced by him. He never showed an ounce of interest in her until their carriage kiss. Other than play Bite & Sting, they did not much else. I’ll chalk it up to Kestrel being completely bored of her life and bored of her only suitor, Ronan.

I can only hope that in The Winner’s Crime, we’ll see Kestrel’s supposed betrothed and he’ll be infinitely better than Ronan or Arin.

“Kestrel’s cruel calculation appalled her. This was part of what had made her resist the military: the fact that she could make decisions like this, that she did have a mind for strategy, that people could be so easily become pieces in a game she was determined to win…”

Once the ‘war’ started in The Winner’s Curse, my interest in the book plummeted. I had no idea where anything was going. There were too many ‘mini-plots’ within the one novel: Kestrel buying this slave, her duel with Irex and fighting the rumours that she had taken a slave lover… and then the Herrani takeover. For a medium-length book, it felt like too much. I wanted a firmer grip on the characters or to at least see them evolve a little before anything major happened plot-wise.

The Kestrel we see in the final chapter is not the Kestrel we’ve seen throughout 99% of the book. It was a weird feeling. While I was like ‘okay, yes, she’s finally got some badass to her’ I wanted to see this happen to her, and believe it. I didn’t want the Kestrel that was constantly ‘umming’ and ‘ahhing’ about whether she should betray her own people or the Herrani, and then feeling bad about her choice.

“The god of lies must love you, you see things so clearly.”
– Jess

It’s with trepidation that I go into The Winner’s Crime. I am hoping for some of the Valorian capital and more of the Valorian way of life (that is the interesting part for me!) and way less Arin and the slave uprising. I want to see a blossoming relationship with Kestrel and this Emperor’s son, and, if she does mingle with Arin again, I want to see some damned personality from him.

The Winner’s Curse was a shaky three-star rating, I wanted to give it only a two, but as the book had quite a strong start and sucked me in, I felt downgrading was a little unfair. If you’re looking for a well-rounded ‘medieval’ type fantasy book, I’d suggest reading the Throne of Glass series over The Winner’s Curse. Hopefully things improve in book two!

About Marie Rutkoski

Marie grew up in Bolingbrook, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago), as the oldest of four children. She holds a BA from the University of Iowa and a PhD from Harvard University. Marie is currently a professor at Brooklyn College, where she teaches Renaissance Drama, children's literature and fiction writing. She lives in New York City with her husband and two sons.


  • Reply Kelly November 3, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    Oh noes, I could have sworn you probably would have enjoyed this one so much more Britt. I can definitely understand the issues you had with it. I think it’s also because it isn’t anything we haven’t seen before too. It completely sucked me in, which I think was helped by the fact that I don’t read a great deal of fantasy and like the milder fantasy releases. I think you’ll enjoy book two much more. Fingers crossed. Wonderful review Britt and sorry you couldn’t have enjoyed this a little more <3
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