Book Review: “The Winner’s Curse”

“The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Curse#1)” by Marie Rutkoski

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy

Other Winner’s Curse Books

Source: Library

Summary from 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.


I found the romance in this story to be pretty dull. I didn’t see much between Kestrel and Arin to make me feel their love. I could see their interest in the other one. To me, that interest was obvious because of the fact that they come from two different groups of people. I could see that they cared about each other in the way that you wouldn’t want an acquaintance harmed in a war. But I never felt the real passion of love.

While I wasn’t invested in their romance, I did like Kestrel and Arin. I loved that Kestrel had a fantastic mind for strategy. I loved that Rutkoski mellowed it out with the fact that she wasn’t a good fighter. It’s highly improbably for someone to be absolutely wonderful at all aspects of something. Not to mention, having the General have a daughter with a great mind for military strategy is believable. We don’t know Arin very well but he seemed very pulled together. He’s very studious. He studies and thinks before he acts. I’m pretty sure he would have been a great military leader (if he wasn’t already) in his former life.

I thought the political side of the story was far more interesting than the character’s relationship. We have two groups: Valorians and Herranis. We weren’t given a full political history of the groups but I got the impression that both were quite strong and intelligent. The Valorians may have won against the Herranis years ago but that didn’t mean that they won for good. The Henrranis were able to overtake the Valorians pretty quickly. Each group has its own strengths. I’d be interested in seeing how the two groups continue to battle it out (even if the battle is over for now).

The bottom line? Interesting fantasy story with a nice sprinkle of politics.

10 thoughts on “Book Review: “The Winner’s Curse”

  1. The synopsis line for this book on my TBR spreadsheet just says “machinations!” I’m not so fussed about the romance, but I really really want to read all about the political machinations. I love that stuff.

  2. I wanted to like this book a lot more than I actually did. The idea of a character who is bad at fighting has a definite appeal, and that was one thing about the story that I did like. However, I thought that Kestrel had ridiculously good luck throughout the course of the story to the point that it’s not believable. She’s too sheltered and nothing bad happens even as the world is falling apart around her (trying to avoid spoilers, but you know what part I’m talking about). There were so many parts in the story where logically something should have happened to her and it didn’t.

    • Yeah, Kestrel definitely had some special snowflake moments. I’m hoping as the series progresses that her world falls a part some. I’d like to see her overcome some obstacles.

      • Yes. It’s when characters are actually tested that they can shine, and I’d like to see Kestrel mature a bit and start caring about people other than herself. I felt like she cared about Arin more out of rebelliousness than real feelings. I could just be a cynic. 🙂

  3. I agree! I enjoyed this book well enough, but didn’t like it as much as I wanted to. The political side was my favorite bit as well, and I wished the world building was stronger so that I could better envision the implications of Kestrel’s political moves. I think I would have liked it more as a whole if it wasn’t so hyped up.

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