Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski


synWinning 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.


3.5/5 Stars


  • I adored Kestrel for the first half of the book and at the end. The middle was iffy for me. Kestrel is a fierce, independent woman. She doesn’t know what she wants, but she refuses to be what the world expects of her. She partakes in little acts of rebellion daily. She has doubts, opinions, and challenges how the world is portrayed. She’s a strategist. She studies history, battles, military tactics, and has weapons training. She uses her mind to plan tactical advantages and work through problems. The best thing about Kestrel is that she refuses to give up her passion. Music moves her, makes her feel free, and freedom is EVERYTHING to her. 
  • Arin is brooding, passionate, and determined. He plans, plots, and reads people like an expert. He gets to the heart of matters, wades through lies, and never ever forgets the past. He has a powerful sense for injustice and his hopeful view of rebellion is endearing, if unrealistic and dreamy. Arin challenges Kestrel, he calls her out on her viewpoints, and makes her rethink, reassess, and examine many sides of the issues, altogether changing her fundamentally. 
  • The alternating POVs show both sides of war. The winners and the losers, years later. It chronicles the resentment, the pain, the hatred, and the envy. What one sees as victory, the other sees as robbery. There’s so much going on that makes you question the need for war, the costs, and what they were fighting over to begin with. There are a few scenes that hit especially hard. How easy it is for someone to go from royalty to slave, scholar to servant. 
  • Cover love ❤ 
  • Kestrel’s father was my favorite character. Their father-daughter relationship is so special. He gets her. Even though he’s a terrifying military aficionado, he loves Kestrel so much and it flows off the pages. He wants what’s best for her. In their world, women have two options and he sees his daughter as a warrior. He appreciates her mind. He’s gruff, and straightforward, but sometimes, it’s funny. 


  • My biggest issue with The Winner’s Curse was the lack of chemistry. You know that Kestrel likes Arin. It’s there, yes, but it’s subtle, so subtle that you doubt it. Though they spend time together and their banter is volatile, that attraction, at least for me, didn’t pull through. It’s this hazy, almost intangible “thing” lurking in the shadows that you can’t help but question simply because the story called for a romance. You know Kestrel is curious, as is Arin, they wonder about each other all the time, but the romance, the physical attraction…at some parts felt like an afterthought to round out the story. 
  • Kestrel loses herself because of the romance. She becomes consumed with where Arin is, even more so than finding a way to escape. That bit of a warrior, that independence, and fire reduces to embers, flickering, simmering, but muted. 
  • Secondary characters, namely Kestrel’s friends made hardly any impression. When things go down hill and serious threats to their lives come into play, I found it hard to care. Kestrel’s sadness and concern was a little alien for me. There wasn’t enough build up to establish true feelings and attachment to those characters. Plus the duel scene, the randomness. I found myself wondering why some scenes were included. It almost felt like two very different books merged into one. Things needed to be taken a step further, whether it be towards the romance or the rebellion, focus wavered. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Pleasant reading, 




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

  1. This is a very interesting review. I’ve heard a lot of reviewers praise this book so much so it’s nice to hear a new perspective on it. All these views are making me curious! I probably might pick it up myself! 🙂


    • Idk, it might have been the hype factor as well. I kept hearing about it and my review schedule is so busy that it just sat around on my kindle until I had free time. When I started, I was sucked in because it does have a nice style, but I lost interest and couldn’t stay invested in the story.


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