The Winner’s Curse

The Winner's Curse

Title: The Winner’s Curse

Author: Marie Rutkoski

Series: The Winner’s Trilogy, #1

Publisher: Bloomsbury Childrens Books

Release Date: July 3rd 2014


Four Stars

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.

– Blurb courtesy of

My Thoughts On…

…The Plot

“Looks like someone’s suffering the Winner’s Curse.”
Kestrel turned to her. “What do you mean?”
“You don’t come to auctions often, do you? The Winner’s Curse is when you come out on top of the bid, but only by paying a steep price.”

It took me a while to get into The Winner’s Curse. I enjoyed it don’t get me wrong but when I started it and for the first half of the book I couldn’t understand why everyone loved it so much. It was good, but it wasn’t anything special. Then the plot kicked into high gear and everything changed; I couldn’t get enough of this book. I didn’t want to put it down and as soon as I finished I started the next book straight away.

Kestrel has lived in the Herran Colony since she was a little girl, and as the Valorian General’s daughter she wants for nothing. But once she turns twenty she needs to make a choice; she either marries to produce children for the empire, or joins their army to help the emperor wage war on the world. Then, one day, while shopping in the market with her friend, she finds herself at a slave auction. There she sees Smith, Arin, and without fully understanding why she buys him.

Soon Kestrel and Arin start playing a dangerous game. Despite both being on different sides of the war, Kestrel a Valorian and Arin and Herran slave, the two are drawn to one another. Soon Kestrel calls on Arin to accompany her everywhere, seeking him out, and risking her life for his safety.

“Survival isn’t wrong. You can sell your honour in small ways, so long as you guard yourself. You can pour a glass of wine like it’s meant to be poured, and watch a man drink, and plot your revenge.” Perhaps his head tilted slightly at this. “You probably plot even in your sleep.'”
There was a silence as long as a smile.
“Plot away, Kestrel. Survive.”

But Arin’s people are not beaten down, not content with living in slavery. Arin plots and plans with the other Herrani slaves, slowly moving all his pieces into place ready to strike back at the General and the rest of the Valorians in their midst. However Arin’s and Kestrel’s friendship, and their growing feelings for one another, create a problem for Arin and he finds himself caught between his people and Kestrel.

…The Characters

“Kestrel’s cruel calculation appalled her. This was part of what had made her resist the military: the fact that she could make decisions like this, that she did have a mind for strategy, that people could be so easily become pieces in a game she was determined to win…”

Kestrel is unlike any other character I’ve read before. She has never wanted to join the army, her strength lies in her keen mind and not her fighting skills. She wins fights through strategy rather than brute force. She seems to see through people, to the secrets they hide, and she uses them to her advantage.

At heart Kestrel is a kind person, and I loved her character. She in intelligent, quick on her feet, and loyal to her people even though she feels apart from them at times. It’s her differences that draw Arin to her.

“She reminded herself bitterly that this was what curiosity had bought her: fifty keystones for a singer who refused to sing, a friend who wasn’t her friend, someone who was hers and yet would never be hers.”

Arin was a hard character to understand, especially at first, and it took me a while to fully warm up to him. But the more I saw through his eyes and the more I saw of his actions the more I started to like him. Like Kestrel Arin has a head for strategy and as the story moves forwards you can see he is a person who gathers respect from his people, they look up to him and trust him to lead them.

As a slave in Kestrel’s home Arin is invisible to her at first, but slowly they start to see one another. Arin has had a harsh past as a slave but he refuses to give up, he is loyal to his people and he wants nothing more than for them to be free from the oppression they’ve had to live with for too long.

His hands fell away. “You, too. What a stupid thing for you to do. Why did you do that? Why would you do such a stupid thing?”
“You might not think of me as your friend,” Kestrel told Arin, “but I think of you as mine.”

I loved the relationship between Kestrel and Arin; it took a while to build into something more but it felt real. When Arin starts escorting Kestrel around Herran as she visits friends he starts to see a different side to her, and the more Kestrel comes to know Arin the more she sees him as a friend. She risks her life for him and expects nothing in return. I wouldn’t say their relationship developed fully into a romance. While both of them do share deeper feelings for one another there’s too much standing in their way, and as the story continues and sides change there’s never really a common ground they both reach. Though it’s easy to see the beginnings of the deeper feelings they both share for one another, in the end, even after everything, the two of them are still risking themselves to help the other.

…The Setting

“Before the war, Valorians had admired, even envied – yes, envied – the Herrani. After, it was as if the spell had been broken or a new one had been cast.”

I loved the setting for this book. The Valorians, Kestrel’s people, are described as savages. They have no love for music or the arts, their talents lay in warfare, and their people stretch out over most of the world . They are always at war and all they know is fighting. Arin’s people, the Herrani, are the opposite. They were the ones with a love for the arts and it made them easy to conquer, easy to enslave. The divide between the two nations was incredibly detailed, and everything from the memories Arin has of the war to his life as a slave was well-written. The Winner’s Curse is set in Herran and, even years after the war ended, you can still see the scars on its people’s skin.

All in all I thought The Winner’s Curse was a brilliant read. It may have been a little slow to start but when it did it was impossible to put down; this book was thrilling and heartbreaking and I didn’t want it to end. Kestrel and Arin are two of my favourite characters and I cannot wait to see how their journey continues in the second book.

What did you think of The Winner’s Curse? Was it a favourite of yours or could you just not get into the story? Let me know.

13 thoughts on “The Winner’s Curse

    1. My friend recommended it to me ages ago but I’ve only now gotten around to it because of all the raving I’ve seen on WordPress for this series!
      Like I said the first book starts off slow but don’t let it put you off. From the halfway or so point you won’t want to put it down 😀 and the second and third are even better.
      I really hope you enjoy the series, it definitely deserves all the praise it’s gotten.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This book is, just like ASDOM, one of those books I keep seeing around these days. Before I wouldn’t have considered putting it on my TBR, but blogging is making me WAY more curious about books outside of my comfort zone. ANYWAY, haha, I’m chatty, all of this to say, this was a great review, and thank you, I feel like I know a bit more about this whole story. The fact that YOU liked it makes me want to add it to my TBR, I’m very curious, and this different setting makes me want to check it out. Plus, it’s shallow, I know, but I really like the cover, haha! Great review 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One of my friends recommended it to me ages ago but I only just got round to picking it up now (I got an ARC for the third book so I didn’t have to wait to find out what happened in the very end) but yeah I’ve seen it on WordPress a lot, and everyone seemed to love it so I thought ‘why not?’
      I love it when people are chatty about books 🙂 it’s one of the reasons I started this blog so I could talk to more people about the books I read 😀 but I’m glad you like the review, and that it convinced you to add it to your TBR list.
      I’m the same, the covers are mainly what convinced me to check out books on Goodreads. It’s how I found so many of my favourite series, just because of the pretty covers 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Same here, I didn’t want it to end but at the same time the last few chapters, and everything between Arin and Kestrel were so heartbreaking.
      I’ve actually already read the second and third in this series (I got an ARC of The Winner’s Kiss which is what finally prompted me to start this series) I’m just a little behind on my reviews 🙂 but your right, I loved The Winner’s Crime even more!


      1. Oh!! You have to tell me how you liked The Winner’s Kiss! It’s one of my most antipicated reads for this month. I’ve been following Rutkoski since her middle-grade series so I’m hoping for a somewhat happy ending.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. My thoughts while reading, and finishing, The Winner’s Kiss was mainly excited screaming in my head 😀
        But in hoping to have the review up on Thursday so there’ll be actual thoughts and not incoherent, babbling praise.
        The Winner’s trilogy were the first books by Rutkoski I’ve read but after finishing this series I am definitely putting more of her books on my TBR list!

        Liked by 1 person

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