"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies...The man who never reads lives only one." - George R.R Martin

06 April 2014

REVIEW: The Winner's Curse - Marie Rutkoski

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.

My review of The Winner's Curse:

The Winner's Curse is an exquisite fantasy story, beautifully crafted with mesmerising characters, rich and vivid world building as well as a captivating storyline. The book was bursting with sumptuous and lyrical prose and beautiful language that appealed highly to the senses bringing the world alive. 

Its use of highly vivid imagery created an immersive reading experience where the reader can almost feel the exquisite silk dresses, hear the cacophony of music and the hammering of metal on metal; see the gleam of the marble buildings and taste the delicious mouthwatering delicacies. This use of language links in perfectly with the prosperous, luxurious world depicted in the story. 

The world depicted in this story had a historical feeling to it like a city out of antiquity; Ancient Rome or Greece perhaps. It added a sense of realism to a story seeped in fantasy and magic. At first I was a little disappointed in the lack of world building at times in the story. I seemed to know quite a bit concerning Kestrels home and the other surrounding estates of the Valorians but not much about the Herrani, the slaves and their homes and lives. It dawned on me that perhaps this was the point. The Valorians and their extravagant lives full of luxury and elegance take centre stage for most of the story and are brought clearly to the forefront. They live affluently, live lavish opulent lives in the very homes of their slaves, the Herrani they defeated years before. Their extravagant homes, clothing and livelihoods contrasted powerfully with the impoverished and destitute lives of the Herrani, who were torn from their homes, forced into servitude and treated like second class citizens in their own homes and in their own country. The Herrani are forced into a less important role in society, their previous lives a mystery and we only learn more about them as the story progresses and events unfold. I loved witnessing these little glimpses into the Herranis lives before and the rich world that they inhabited. 
The plot itself is an equal mix of fast paced, heart in your mouth moments and more quiet, calm scenes of raw emotion and intense drama. It is full of political intrigue, plotting, scheming and deception. It's bursting with drama and suspense - there's a constant sense of foreboding present, a feeling that something is stirring, hinting at bad things to come. There was some honestly shocking scenes that even though a little obvious - really made an impact as you were desperately hoping things wouldn't come to pass - and when they did it was agonising and painful to watch. Real nail biting stuff. Another key part of the story - the blossoming romance - was sweet and subtle and didn’t overpower the plot at all. It builds and builds as the story progresses revealing a deep connection and creating a simmering layer of tension.
The characterisation was probably my favourite part of The Winner's Curse. Many of the Valorians depicted - Jess and Ronan included, served only to embody the frivolous nature of society and their obsessions with luxury, extravagance and materialistic things. They lead lives with no meaning and no direction just floating aimlessly from party to party, ball to ball in frivolous dresses, drinking frivolous drinks and waiting for the next frivolous dance. I thought Jess was sweet but she was a girl of no substance happy enough to follow the rules in society and live a life of excess and extravagance.  

Characters who seemed to be at first completely selfish and frustrating aka Kestrel; moody and unlikeable aka Arin - grew on me as the story progressed. They were both complex individuals and ultimately kindred spirits - similar despite the social divide that separates them. Kestrel frustrated me at first but as she developed and matured she became more enjoyable and a character to root for.  She grew in confidence and power, possessing a determination to not settle and make her own way in life. She is intelligent therefore she makes up for being rather useless with a blade with her quick and rational mind. Kestrel is constantly fighting against her presumed role in society - her father, General Trajan wants her to join the military but she must also rebel against marriage expectations within society. She wishes for freedom - freedom to live her life as she chooses and freedom to choose her own destiny.  

Arin is a dark horse. There are many different sides to his character that became more and more apparent as the story progressed and his intentions and identity became clear. He is dark, handsome and brooding an instantly mysterious character with a foggy and questionable past. Bought in a slave auction by Kestrel he is put to work as a smithy but his behaviour and knowledge are anything but that of a slave and he quickly catches Kestrels eye. It is evident that there is more to his character than meets the eye and I loved the fact that as a reader I never quite knew his intentions whether they were good or bad. At first he seemed cold and distant, rather unlikeable but his warm and caring nature shines through at times and his blossoming relationship with Kestrel reveals an entirely different man.  

The Winner's Curse is truly an imaginative and breathtaking story in a rich and vivid fantasy world. It was an engaging read, beautifully descriptive with lyrical language and intricate imagery. The lavish world full of opulence and flamboyance jumped off the page and sucked me in to the world hardly allowing me to come up for air. It was a brilliant fantasy story full of intensity, drama and intrigue; I'd recommend it wholeheartedly to lovers of YA fantasy and anyone who admires beautiful storytelling. 


  1. I also enjoyed this book a lot. Glad you did as well. You wrote an excellent review. this is one of my favorite books of the year so far.

    Books of Love

  2. I can't wait to start this one! It is going to be my next read. I've heard nothing but great things about this one!!
    Great review :D

  3. Great great great review! Yes, I agree with everything (like really everything) that is stated here! I loved that Arin is a different man whenever Kestrel involve :') THAT ENDING OMG

  4. I absolutely agree! What a fantastic review you wrote too!
    I just cannot wait for the next book!

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