REVIEW – The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

– Published July 2014

by Marie Rutkoski

Rating: ****

*May contain some spoilers!*

The Winner's Curse

Back in 2014 I read The Winner’s Curse, not long after it had officially been released. I remember loving it and feeling absolutely gutted when it finished and there wasn’t another. Then the second book was released and excitedly I read it straight away, loving it yet again. Then the third book was released and I ordered it straight away but life got in the way, I barely read anything for a long time (unless it was university related) and never got round to it. I vowed that this summer I would finish any series’ that I had started previously and reading The Winner’s Kiss was to be one of the first on my list. That was until I realised I couldn’t remember what happened towards the end of the first book and throughout the second book. I definitely read them as I gave each five stars on Goodreads! It’s summer so instead of hoping for the best, that my memory would come back to me, I just decided to reread the first two to continue onto the third and finally finish the series! I was definitely excited to start again and enjoy the books that I had previously loved!

Kestrel, a Valorian and the general’s daughter, was always seen to be odd with her love for music, lack of military ability and generosity to the Herrani slaves at her home. As a child her birthday wish was to set her nurse free as it was a great honour for a slave to be freed. She grew up persistently playing the piano, a past time of the Herrani before the war and now something only a slave should do in order to entertain the noble Valorians.

On a walk through town, Kestrel and her closest friend, Jess, stumble upon the slave markets and unable to escape the crowds they are forced to watch as a young man is advertised as a blacksmith and singing, someone perfect for the general’s house. In a whim, he is sold to Kestrel and put to work making horseshoes and armoury. That is until they build a closer relationship through playing games of Bite and Sting, the stakes being questions. Who knew questions were so valuable?

Unknowingly to Kestrel, the Herrani had been plotting a siege. Everything they needed to take back the town was ready so thye just had to wait until the perfect time. Soon enough, the general and his guard are out of town and there is a huge party the majority of the Valorians would be at on the same night. The the date it put in places and their plans go ahead. When Kestrel gets in the middle of it all, Arin does what he can to save her and keep her away from harm. Will that be enough?

Cheat, the new leader of the Herrani, is an incredibly arrogant man, and will do what he wants to get what he wants, even if that is Kestrel in a less than romantic way. She is the one thing that Arin has that he does so he plots to take her away from him. His plotting leads to his death and constant nightmares for Kestrel. Free from the rulings of Cheat, she is allowed to wander the house as though a free woman, gradually increasing her relationship with Arin until it gets too much. In an attempt to escape, Arin lets her go knowing she would bring war upon the land. In an effort to save all who she could, Kestrel cuts a deal with the emperor. The deal will save the lives of the people she cares about but will send her life in a direction that may be disliked by Arin.

The first time I read this book I think I read it in two days because I was loving every minute of it. This time has been different. I think life has got in the way a little but I haven’t found myself itching to pick it up and finish it. Fair enough, I have been slightly obsessed with my bookstagram account lately (I’ve been trying out a new theme so I keep checking to see how the photos are doing whilst also taking more)! All in all, I’ve just not read it quite so fast. That doesn’t mean I haven’t enjoyed it. I love the characters and how Kestrel and Arin’s relationship almost blossoms throughout. The fact that she owns both Valorian and Herrani traits without caring what everyone else in society thinks – I wish we all had values like that. Reading the description of her want and need to play the piano, and then how she plays it, reminds me when I was like that. I used to take lessons then after beginning learning my grade 5 songs, I moved to college where I could no longer get to my lessons on time, that and they were expensive. I now want to get back into it so trying to organise my time enough so I can try out Yousician (I used it for learning guitar until university studying got too much). It’s amazing how a book can inspire you. I know that last time I read it, this book inspired me to start writing a book myself. I never did but I had a really good idea for a story and wrote that down, so maybe one day.

I love the whole idea of the two different languages in this book. It’s always lovely to get a glimpse of what certain words mean, even if they are made up. It really resonates with the idea of races in real life society and possibly with the history of our own links to slavery. It’s all fictional but if you think of it in that way, it’s very much like real life and how our pasts might have played out. A lovely outlook on some forms of politics, within a fantasy world.

It felt as though the story dropped off half way through, which is roughly when I started getting a little bored and wanted the story to progress, or for Arin and Kestrel to just get together already. Then all of a sudden the pace picked up and I was engrossed once again. I noticed particularly how fast the pace seemed to go. Once something happens, or is mentioned that it’s going to happen, then seconds later it has happened. It jumps forward quickly. An example being Kestrel and Arin talking about an antidote for Jess, and then in the next minute Arin is up in the mountains searching for the plant. It’s a smaller book than I’ve been used to lately so perhaps that is a big reason for me thinking it moved quickly but when it mattered, the descriptions were exactly what I felt I needed. The description of a kiss, or Cheat’s death, brought out all sorts of feels. I half wished for this kind of description in other parts of the book but the other half of me knew that that would have dragged the story out even more when that probably wasn’t needed.

It is refreshing for a story to have characters that are more willing to look at politics strategically rather than facing it head on ready to simply fight without thought. Neither Arin or Kestrel were entirely willing to literally fight for their sides, both took time to work out what might be the best option for both sides. It’s difficult to choose a side also as both could be considered as bad as each other, though things are more entwined than that. The two sides cross making it too difficult to make that decision.


I really need to pick up The Winner’s Crime now. The cliffhanger at the end was one hell of a twist compared to the way you expect the story to play out. I have read it before I don’t remember enough at all to remember how things turn out in the end, or even in the middle.

If you haven’t read this series of books then I definitely recommend them! I’ve heard only great things from other reviews and I really enjoyed them myself. Hence why I wasn’t too bothered about rereading them, in fact I was pretty excited!

Onto the next book…

– KC

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