review: the winner’s curse by marie rutkoski

Published: March 14th 2014 by Farrar Straus Giroux
Genres & Keywords: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance
Books From Author: The Winner’s Trilogy, The Kronus Chronicles, The Shadow Society, Jacks and Queens at the Green Mill

Amazon | Barnes & Nobles | Goodreads

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.


“There is no mystery.” She decided to give a sensible reason that had nothing to do with why she had bought him.
And why had she?
Pity, perhaps. That strange sense of affinity.
Or had it been nothing more than simple, shameful possession?

“Isn’t that what stories do, make real things fake, and fake things real?”


Winning what you want may cost you everything you love.


Kestrel was a shrewd, cunning character that took a while to warm up to. She balanced on a fine line of caring for the Herrani and staying loyal to her own people.
Something I liked about Kestrel was that she wasn’t a great fighter, but a great strategist.

“A kestrel is a hunting hawk.”
“Yes. The perfect name for a warrior girl.”
“Well.” His smile was slight, but it was there. “I suppose neither of us is the person we were believed we would become.”

Before the war, Valorians had admired, even envied– yes, envied– the Herrani. After, it was as if the spell had been broken or a new one had been cast.

Arin also has his own set of priorities, ones that leave no room for romance. He is reluctant to form any kind of a connection to someone so well-associated with those who have enslaved him. Yet, despite his growing affection for Kestrel, he harbors and nurtures his secret.

Impossible. It was impossible to love a Valerian and also love his people.

It’s incredibly easy to sympathize with Arin and his people. The auctions, beatings, servitude. . . it’s disgusting. And Arin’s ability to remain resilient through it all is truly admirable.


Sadly, the side characters didn’t leave much of an impression on me. Jess, Ronan, Benix . . . I couldn’t connect with them. Even Ronan, with his quick wit and banter (my kryptonite), had no effect on me. What could have been, and probably was to other readers, a love triangle never occurred because, in my mind, there was no competition.

At first, I wasn’t convinced of the connection between Arin and Kestrel. Their “friendship” seemed flat and therefore, their slow slide into romance didn’t leave me feeling all warm and fuzzy. However, once you hit the second half of the book it becomes a lot more real and organic. Angst was the best thing that ever happened to them 😉

You could feel their longing and hurt for one another. Their desperation was tangible. The storyline is good, however, this book is definitely heavy on the romance and centered around the relationship between Arin and Kestrel. If you like forbidden romances where obstacles are tearing them apart at every turn then step right up! This is the book for you.

For a moment, he imagined it wasn’t the melody that touched his lips, but Kestrel.

The story itself was well-written and enjoyable, although things don’t really begin to pick up once you hit the 40% mark. Before that, it was just a lot of events leading up to all the action that comes in the second half. That was what saved the book, for me.

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

I was able to easily follow the world building and story elements the author created. The history and interactions between characters gives you insight into what their society is like and helps keep your interest. Especially in the beginning. After that, the story takes off and I couldn’t think past my need to know what was going to happen next. Something I would have liked to see throughout the story were clues for the reader. Instead of the events and secrets unraveling as they came, I would have liked some hints here and there that I could look back on and say, it was right here all along *slaps forehead*.


The writing was also something that saved the slow beginning. I could easily loose myself in the story because of the captivating writing. It was what helped me push through the first half.


Like any good book, the ending left me craving more. I wouldn’t say we left on a cliffhanger story-wise, although relationship-wise there are many unsolved things that need solving, like, yesterday. We’re left knowing the story isn’t finished but without the dread and heartbreak a cliffhanger leaves. In other words, I will be eagerly awaiting book two!


“So? You don’t know everything. People are unhappy for many reasons.” Arin’s voice was impatient, and she thought that they were no longer talking about the captain. “What do you know of unhappiness? he said. “What makes you think you can see into the hearts of men?”


✪ ✪ ✪  3.5 stars

The Verdict: Despite a few holes in this story that had me docking the rating by a few stars, it truly was an enjoyable read. If you’re in a book slump and looking for something easy and not too emotionally taxing, this is the story for you!



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