Book Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Synopsis: 17-year-old Kestrel is the General’s daughter. One day she buys a Herrani slave, 19-year-old Arin. They become friends somewhat, while their country is on the brink of war.


Review: This is the first book I’ve read for the Hype or Like Friday group I’m in over at Goodreads. And this book did not disappoint! I thoroughly enjoyed it! While this isn’t the best book ever, it was an enjoyable way to spend a weekend, and I’ve ordered book two from the library.

The Winner’s Curse is the first book in The Winner’s Trilogy, and it is a fun read. You’ve got a Romeo and Juliet romance, between Kestrel (a Valorian) and Arin (a Herrani). Set in a ye-olden-time period, the setting feels realistic and fresh. I call it fresh because even though this is a young-adult book, it isn’t a dystopian novel (yay!) and we don’t have any magic (double yay!). The book feels rooted in reality, and this makes the setting believable and the characters mostly believable.

I say mostly believable, because Arin, who at age 9 was taken into slavery, seems to be an expert on everything. Not only is he an expert blacksmith and strategist (although not as good as Kestrel), he’s even an expert at sewing and braiding hair.

I liked Arin and Kestrel. I liked them together and I liked them each on their own as well. Kestrel, the privileged daughter of the “highest ranking General in the Valorian army”, comes across as lonely and kind, if a bit misguided. Arin, a handsome blacksmith sold into slavery, is mysterious and magnetic (although at times seems a bit stalker-ish). I thought Rutkoski captured his sadness and anger well, without having him lose his humanity in his anger.

I liked how Rutkoski made Kestrel’s strength be in strategy and smarts rather than physical skill. Many of our YA heroines nowadays are only considered “badass” for their fighting skills. I was thrilled to see brains be celebrated over brawn (ha!). Even Arin, although muscled, has his strength in his brain as well. So this was very refreshing to read.

There actually isn’t too much I didn’t like in this book. There were a few places where I thought, “oh Kestrel didn’t really just spill valuable secrets to the enemy, did she?” and some places where Arin’s loyalty to his friend Cheat was a bit much, but those are minor quibbles.

I appreciated all of the world building that was done. It seemed like the right amount for a YA book. Enough to set the stage and make you want to learn just a bit more, but not too much where you are overwhelmed with trying to remember everything about the world.

The Winner’s Curse didn’t really “wow” me, but I did read it quickly, and I enjoyed the characters and I will read the rest of the series.

Is it the best book ever? No, but I enjoyed it.

Is it worth all of the hype it is getting? I’ve got a mixed opinion on this. I can totally see why some people would absolutely love this book. I didn’t love it, but I did really like it. I’m not running out and telling everyone to read it, but perhaps the next two books will make a die-hard fangirl out of me.

Bottom Line: An enjoyable read. I definitely “LIKE” this one!



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

  1. This book is on my list, but not super high on it (I’m going to be honest- I’m not into these covers so it pushes it down farther. I know, it’s all sorts of wrong of me.). I have heard so many good things, though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the other covers better. This cover is a little too Throne of Glass for me! It’s definitely worth reading. I just got my library copy (with the original cover on it – yay!) so will be starting book two soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m glad you liked it. I am bad though and didn’t read it. 😂 Worst co-host ever. Haha! I’ve read all the reviews from everyone in the group today, and it’s split down the middle. One thing everyone seems to agree on is that it wasn’t this amazing hype worthy book. Nice review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I probably would not have picked this book up had it not been for Hype or Like. I just picked up book two from the library, hope to get to it soon! This one is for sure getting mixed reviews. I’m looking forward to next month’s book.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I definitely wouldn’t have picked it up either. But I also didn’t read it. I said I would and the month went by faster than I realized. I’m reading super slow lately. Next month’s book I’m also looking forward to.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you about the cover. I bought my copy from Amazon, and was surprised when this cover came. My first thoughts were that it belongs to a Throne of Glass book… And after reading it, I’m disappointed they felt they needed to show Kestrel’s Needles on the cover. She’s not a fighter! At least not in book one. So why is she being marketed as a fighter? Sad that this is how they felt Kestrel needed to be portrayed to sell more books.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I don’t know that it is a re-telling so-to-speak (at least I certainly hope it doesn’t end up that way!), but there are definite Romeo & Juliet vibes! I think almost any forbidden romance at this point can be inspired by Romeo & Juliet.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This book is so interesting to be because I feel that I’ve seen such polar opposite reviews. A lot of people love it and a lot of people just think it’s completely “meh.” I haven’t read it because I think my co-blogger was in the “meh” camp, and usually I agree with her, but I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did enjoy it! I think I enjoyed it so much because it was a different YA read than what is out there right now (main character not really a fighter, no magic).
      But, unfortunately, I finished book two recently and didn’t like that one as much. The end of book two was really good, good enough for me to want to read book three, but there were about 250 pages of blah to get to the interesting part at the end. I’ve had a lot on my plate recently, so I wasn’t really giving it my full attention. But the second book also didn’t demand or inspire that attention either, so… wonder how I’ll feel about book three!


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