The Winner's Curse (Winner's Trilogy, #1)

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

the first book in the The Winner’s Trilogy
published on March 4, 2014 by Farrar Straus Giroux
fantasy | romance | historical fiction | dystopia

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find the book on
Goodreads | Amazon

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 might be very mild spoilers. Maybe.

“How you negotiate the strengths of your opponent is more likely to decide the battle than anything else.”

Before going into this novel, I’ve read tons and tons of glowing reviews for this one. I guess you can say the hype made me do it! And that synopsis–no sane human could ignore how intriguing that sounds, right? I love historical settings with slaves, princesses (although they don’t have those here), high-ranking officials and those things, so this book was definitely of interest for me.

Let’s get into the wonderfully done setting. I loved how people were separated in sort of a caste system, but less complicated. There are the Valorians (the beautiful and powerful), and then there are the Herrani (the former in-power people until they were captured by the Valorians and are currently slaves/workers). Although I definitely don’t approve of these kinds of discrimination (sort of) in real life, I adore them in books and The Winner’s Curse was no exception. Everything was explained really well (but being a narrow-minded person, I still got confused at times) and I was never bored throughout even the longest explanations. 

That brings me to another thing–the pacing. The novel moved at a fairly slow pace, probably because of all the descriptions and development going on, which was fine by me. I wanted to speed things up a bit sometimes, but it was generally okay in terms of pacing.

Our main character is Kestrel. As a Valorian, she has to choose to either get married and be a good housewife, or join the military to help her father and be his strategist. I found her to be just an okay character. In the beginning, I actually pegged her as someone stupid, considering she never thought about giving her slaves all sorts of freedom in which they could easily find ways to betray her. I mean, it’s great that she thinks about their rights and stuff, but maybe she should limit their freedom, hm?

There’s our guy–Arin. *Insert a happy, fangirl-y sigh here.* I’ll admit: it took some time before Arin grew on me, but when he did, he glued himself to my heart. I can’t seem to shake him off! He was really, really supportive of the Herrani and he did what he could to help. He fought for their rights. He put himself in danger for a plan to help his kind get their power back. But he also had a sweet, sensitive side that I loved equally.

Overall, it was an enjoyable read for the most part. I would recommend it to all fans of high fantasy and historical fiction. A lovely piece of work, this one is. Watch out, though! That ending’s going to make you want more. *Devious wink*





Let’s discuss! Have you read this book? If you have, what did you think of it? If you haven’t, will you be picking it up anytime soon?

33 thoughts on “Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

  1. I’m glad you liked this one, Aimee! That hype monster can be so hard to get over, but I’m glad it didn’t spoil anything too much. I can see where you’re coming from with Kestrel – I suppose her attitude made sense to me though, because she was obviously not totally comfortable with slavery, and she also thought the Valorians were secure in their power, so I can see how she would feel secure in giving her slaves some extra freedoms out of kindness. I was actually expecting her to be MORE outspoken on behalf of the slaves, to be honest! It surprised me how complacent she came across some of the time.

    Arin… Oh, Arin Arin Arin… He took a while to grow on me as well, but I’m totally head over heels for him now. He’s just so believable, and I love that he’s not completely idealized, like so many male love-interests I’ve read. It made him feel so real.

    Great review, Aimee!


    1. Lol! I guess that does make sense. I did appreciate how she respected the Herrani, but sometimes I felt that she could’ve done some thinking before making some of her (unwise, maybe?) decisions.

      Yes, I totally agree! Arin was just so perfectly imperfect and I loved him, especially in the ending. There has to be a boy like that somewhere in this universe! <3


  2. I had to skim because…I don’t want to read spoilers! I’m VERY excited for this one. But the pace is a little slow? Meh. That’s not fun. I like quick reads, mostly because I’m always moving onto the next book, so I don’t like to be stuck in ONE book for three eternities. Still. I’m utterly in love with the cover/blurb. :)


  3. I’m going to be skimming this review because I also am trying to avoid the spoilers. :P It’s a shame that the pacing isn’t up to speed as to what it should be though. But ahhh…if Arin had that kind of effect on you I defintely want to meet him! x) As I’m a fan of high fantasy and historical fiction I think I’ll definitely be grabbing my hands on this one sometime soon. Great review Aimee!


    1. Arin, my dear Arin <3 lol! He was definitely NOT perfect, but in a good way. He's the kind of character that'll stick to you :) High fantasy and historical fiction rock! I hope you enjoy this one. ^_^


  4. Aww…someone got glued into your heart! Aimee and Arin, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g! LOL! Great review, Aimee! I am actually looking forward to this book. I just need to purchase it, and read all about Arin! :D


  5. Yay! (: I’ve definitely been awaiting this review, Aimee. There’s so much hype surrounding this book, omg. I really can’t wait to read this one and see what I personally think of it.

    I’m so glad the setting was well done! I think a good setting can definitely bring that historical atmosphere to a whole new level (: Arin, oooooooo! Lol he sounds like a great male lead. I quite enjoy books where the love interest isn’t perfect or you don’t love him right away. It allows for some great development. I’ve heard some mixed things regarding Kestrel. Some people love her, some hate her. I’m very intrigued to find out where I stand.

    Lovely review <33


    1. I know, right? I hope you enjoy it, Larissa!

      I looove historical-like settings, so this one worked well for me! Arin’s character really did do a lot of developing, and it was well worth the wait! He was so lovable in the end. I guess Kestrel is one of those characters that you’ll either love or hate…

      Thank you :)


  6. Ooh… I can’t wait to read this one!! A bunch of bloggers have been <3ing Winner's Curse! I can't wait to read it. I'm a bit nervous that the romance will take over the plot tho, like a bunch of books-that-will-not-be-named… :/
    Great review!


    1. The hype is intense. So many 4-5 star reviews for this one flying around everywhere! The characters spend a lot of time with each other, but the romance starts near the end… sort of. Thanks for stopping by!


  7. Ahh the romance sounds beautifully done here! I’ve really been trying to read more historical and fantasy, so the fact that this one is a mix of both is wonderful. I really do love the sound of Arin as well :D I’m super excited to read this one, glad you liked it! I’m a little worried about the slow pacing though, because it sounds like something I may end up noticing. Fantastic review, though, Aimee! <33


  8. AHHHH I don’t want to get spoiled so I didn’t read the whole thing! I’m so excited to read this book, but I do hope the book isn’t too slow for me, like it was for you. I get distracted easily :O Great review Aimee (as always!) :D


  9. I’ve heard nothing but glowing reviews for this one, so I’m really glad to hear you enjoyed it as well Aimee! It’s always hard to find the will to continue a book when the plot moves too slowly for what’s happening. Although I’m loving the sound of the romance, characterization, and writing/setting! Thanks for sharing, and, as always, brilliant review!


  10. The hype is actually scaring me, now that I’ve got a copy of this! I’ve got it planned as my next read… But what if I don’t like it? But your review helps! Slow pace doesn’t bother me much, and I’m so excited to see that you loved Arin and the setting. Great review! :)


    1. I love reading hype books just so I can find out where I stand in them. :) The pacing wasn’t too slow, but slower than a lot of other novels. I hope you love Arin as well! :D


  11. I’m soooo excited to read this book this month because I’ve read lots of glowing reviews about it. Glad that you enjoy this one, Aimee (even with some flaws…), and thanks for pointing out that the pace of the story could be a bit slow. Can’t wait to meet Arin! x)


  12. Besides the slower pace, this books sounds amazing! I honestly thought it would be another pretty book with not so great story, but I’m actually very excited to read this now! From your review, I really like Arin -a man who stands up for his people and risks his life can be nothing less than admirable- ,but I can’t say the same about the MC. So far she sounds very naive, I hope that’s not the case in the book. great review, Aimee :)


    1. A lot of other reviews have justified Kestrel’s attitude (check out Nikki’s comment above!), but I still didn’t really love her, personally. Arin is such a sweet guy, though. ^_^


  13. Hi Aimee! I’m new to your blog but I love it. The design is so pretty :) Anyways, I’d already read the Winner’s Curse and I loved it! It was the one time that the book wasn’t too hyped up for me. I found the pacing of this book okay and Arin grew on me too. At first, I liked her best friend’s brother but I guess that wasn’t meant to be. Great review, Aimee!

    Ariella @ Secrets of Lost Words


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