Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

February 28, 2014 5 stars, Book Review 21 ★★★★★

The Winner's Curse

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.

Wouldn’t it be grand if everyone could make love and not war? The Winner’s Curse was an excellent blend of romance and war. Not all out war but the brutalities that come from it, before, during and after. Told from the perspective of  Kestrel and Arin, from opposing cultures of conqueror and enslaved, it’s a tale of love that blooms against the tide of their own better judgement.

You always want what you can’t have!
– Nothing entices a romance reader more than forbidden love. So when I tell you that is what we have here – you will either drink it down like a person thirsting in the desert or you’ll run screaming if that just isn’t your thing. Me personally, I loved the way this love story was done. Not only did Kestrel and Arin seem to fight against their budding attraction, it didn’t even start out as attraction, but more of a like calls to like. Two people that understand each other which then ignites a friendship neither one of them can keep themselves from denying. Their characters are so well developed that the whole story painted such a vivid image for me as I read. I became so attached as if I really knew them and could feel their inner turmoil. The struggles with who they wanted to be against what was expected of them really got under my skin. If you’ve ever battled with your own expectations or what you think you should do versus what you really want to do – then you will sympathize with these characters.

To the conqueror goes the spoils!
The Winner’s Curse had some wonderful world building going for it. I’m a heavy fantasy reader and this definitely had a fantasy feel to it even though this world doesn’t have any actual magic in it (or at least not in this particular book in the series). The best part to me was the culture of the two peoples featured. The Herrani are an enslaved people conquered by the Valorian. Ten years Valorians invaded and took over the peninsula from the native Herrani. The Herrani value music and arts while the Valorian think that these are things that only servants and the enslaved should do. So of course you know Kestrel is given nothing but grief because she loves to make music. They are a militant culture while at the same time they have a delicate seeming upper class that is also trained in warfare. This culture was such a contradiction, but an enjoying one to learn more about. The Valorians seemed to be a strange mix of softness constantly cared for be their slaves but with that keen knifes edge for military brutality. I personally would have loved to learn more about the Herrani but as an enslaved people we didn’t get to see as much of their culture shine through. I get the feeling we will see more in the next book, which I’m very excited for.

The Winner’s Curse is the start of one epic romance that young adult readers will not want to miss!

The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy #1)

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Tabitha (Pabkins)

When I'm in the zone I can flip book pages faster than the eye can see - screaming "More Input!" I'm a book, yarn, & art supply hoarding goblin who loves to draw, make toys and craft all sorts of creepy cute things. My current habit is to listen to audio books while I'm arting it up!
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21 Responses to “Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski”

  1. Cait D

    I NEEDS THIS BOOK PRECIOUSSSSS. Yes, it is quite bad, this need of mine. XD Plus, okay well I love the cover and the blurb and the premise and…everyone’s raving about it so far! I’m usually cautious of fantasy, but I just finished Throne of Glass and am finding myself developing quite the appetite for it. XD
    Cait D recently posted…Here, Let Me Fix These Book CoversMy Profile

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      I haven’t read THRONE OF GLASS but I hear good things. I picked up a copy last year and just haven’t gotten to it. I totally need to though. Hopefully this year.

      To me this was and wasn’t fantasy. Was in the sense it was a world and land that wasn’t any of our own, and not in the sense that there were no magical elements. But still I totally consider it fantasy. I hope you enjoy….yes the precious…enjoys the precious….pets it…

  2. JennRenee

    Great review. I can ‘t wait to get a chance to read this book. I have been curious about for a while. I love a great fantasy, doesn’t have to have magic. There are a few out there I loved that didn’t have magic. I am one who tends to like Forbidden love, but get tired really easy of it, if they can’t get together.
    JennRenee recently posted…Feature and Follow Friday #97My Profile

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      I agree the forbidden love can get very tiresome. This is a trilogy so you can anticipate the couple to have a lot of turmoil at least until the end is my guess.

  3. Melliane

    I so loved this one, Krestel, Arin, Jess, they’re all awesome! And the world is so well done, I can’t wait for more.
    Melliane recently posted…GrimMy Profile

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      I think your romantic side will adore this book. Though it is that painful forbidden love story though and seeing as its a trilogy I anticipate we won’t get any relief until the end of the trilogy.

  4. Jesse @ Pretty In Fiction

    I’ve been dying to read this, though all the hype surrounding it put me off of it for a little while. I’ve read so many great reviews, including yours, that I’m starting to get excited again! Can’t wait to get my copy 🙂

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      I know what you mean how hype can do that. I usually try to stay away from reading any reviews heavily on a book I’m excited to read because I don’t want any of them to cloud my mind before going in. I hope you end up loving it!!

  5. Lee

    I’ve been dying to get this one. I was worried that the book was too overhyped and my expectations would be too high but every review I read says this one is fantastic. I will definitely have to check this one out!

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      I know this one really did have a lot of hype surrounding it! I’d say try not to listen to the hype…which is hard to do. I hope it ends up living up to it though!

  6. Jessica @ Rabid Reads

    Oh, I might die before Tuesday gets here. If I do, it will be of Anticipation Agony (I’m pretty sure that’s a real thing). I read the prequel earlier this week, and it only made it worse. Did you read it? It’s only like 14 pages and it’s free on It’s called Bridge of Snow. Anyway, SO glad you liked this, and SO jealous you’ve already read it 😉

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      nnoooooo don’t die!!! Anticipation Agony, yes so totally a real thing. It can only be cured by reading and copious amounts of …cookies! I actually have that book open on my browser for the past week and just haven’t gotten around to reading it yet! lol.

      I hope you love it as much as I did!~

  7. Pamela D

    I keep hearing wonderful things about this book. I am so happy that the cover and the text are strong! 🙂 I will have to give this one a read when I find the time. Now back to The Way of Kings…
    Pamela D recently posted…Sunday Update – 3/2My Profile

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      Ok so if you are into romance and forbidden love then you’ll like this I think. And yeah so…I’m going to start The Way of Kings too in a few days haha

  8. Jennifer @ The Bawdy Book Blog

    Oh THIS BOOK! It made my heart sing! I thought there was just no way that I would love it as much as everyone had told me I would, but I DID and I lovingly stroke that ARC. Re-readability? HIGH. Pretty much guaranteed, actually. It’s probably the best book I’ve read in ages.