The Winner’s Curse

The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy #1) by Marie Rutkoski (2014)

the winner's curse

YA Fiction | Fantasy
4 Stars

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.”

pooled ink Review:

All is fair in love and war. Right? Isn’t that what they say?

Well it seems that Kestral and Arin have more than a touch of both. We don’t just taste war on the horizon, we feel its crushing weight as we slip in its thirsty blood and watch it tear everything down. And of course because neither war nor love like to play by anybody’s rules or wait for anybody’s schedule, while war charges in with decay on its breath love comes rushing in to meet it. How convenient, except that it’s not. It’s really really not and that tension is one of the strong driving forces that kept me on the tips of my toes trying and failing to find a perfect solution in sight.

The book’s description had me intrigued enough to add it to my TBR list but the cover had me doubtful enough to put off seeking it out. I’ll just say it, I don’t like the covers for this book (not a huge surprise since I almost never favor covers with people on them but this one just doesn’t feel like it quite captures the story right). I am pleased to report that this book is definitely far more than the cover promises. There are tea parties and society gossip aplenty but before the book is even halfway through trickles of darkness begin shredding their realities apart. In particular I enjoyed how packed with strategy it was. I love reading cleverness and those with a gift for strategy even if I’m not particularly gifted with it myself.

This book was not what I expected in so many ways and yet I won’t lie to you and say it wasn’t predictable. Most of it was, and it’s a rather easy read, although it was sly enough to keep me guessing at the details. It was this that had me reading so late into the night and finishing the entire book in just over a day.

Fine, the beginning kept me wary as it fell into my assumptions rather easily but I liked the characters well enough and as I kept turning page after page I found too late that it had sucked me in with its games and thrilling promises.

It really was entertaining to watch Kestral’s clever moves. She’s quick, smart, sly, and I enjoyed reading how she twisted her way out of impossible situations. It was also refreshing to see how independent and self-assured she was. Kestral really made an interesting change from the endless parade of tough females who just want to fight and not wear dresses or overlooked women with the weight of the world thrust onto their shoulders who spend half the book doubting their selves.

This protagonist is from a warrior people. She is pressured to enlist as a soldier and is praised for her skill with military strategy, but all she dreams of is music and playing the piano. She’s so clearly more cunning and troubled than her peers but she still enjoys the parties and dresses. I like her. She’s strong enough to bet on but soft enough to hope for.

In fact it’s so trendy for books to write about men who just wish to dream and women who hanker to fight. I like that swap of gender stereotypes but I also love when books take the time to show how you can choose both. Kestral wants to stay at home and play music and spend time with her friends laughing and dancing, but she’s the last person you’d want to cross because she can dress you up with the sharp cool intellect of her mind better than a blade of steel.

Kestral likes to play to the end and Kestral likes to win.

Well if the speed at which I read this book doesn’t tell you anything then I’ll say it plainly once more: I really enjoyed this book and I can’t decide if I’m surprised. It has the tense longing of a Jane Austen novel but with way more at stake and if the ruling class were decscended from brutal warriors while their slaves boasted of art and scholars (actually it sort of made me think of the Romans and how they conquered the Greeks, or even Sparta vs. Athens).

The Winner’s Curse is deliciously captivating as it charms you with expectations, teases you with games, and slices you with consequences. All is fair in love and war…just remember, you can’t have both and either choice brings a heavy loss.


amazon icon_tiny Purchase here: The Winner’s Curse 

Similar recommended reads: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman, Gilded Cage by Vic James, Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Meet Marie Rutkoski!

Marie Rutkoski

Marie Rutkoski is the author of the YA novel The Shadow Society and the children’s fantasy series The Kronos Chronicles, including The Cabinet of WondersThe Celestial Globeand The Jewel of the Kalderash. Her next project is a YA trilogy that begins with The Winner’s Curse, which is scheduled to be published in March 2014.

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.

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2 thoughts on “The Winner’s Curse

  1. Great review! This trilogy is one of my favorites, it gets better with every book, the rest are less romance and more action 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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