Book Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Posted March 8, 2014 by Stormy in Books / 20 Comments

The Winner’s Curse

by Marie Rutksoski

The Winners Curse

Original Publication Date: March 4, 2014
Length: 355 pages
Publisher: MacMillian

Obtained Via: ARC tour via  On the Same Page! 
Format Read In: Advanced Reader’s Copy
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the story morning glory

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.

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By now, you’ve probably heard all the buzz about The Winner’s Curse. It started with the cover reveal, and just grew and grew as more bloggers read and reviewed the book. Soon, it became THE hyped fantasy book of early 2014. And of course, being a fan of fantasy, I couldn’t resist, and I’m glad I boarded this train early because this will be a series I want to read as the books release! While I wasn’t completely blown away by The Winner’s Curse, I liked it quite a bit and think it’s a pretty strong set up for a series.

So before I start on what I liked, I will say that certain things kept me from outright LOVING The Winner’s Curse. First, the pacing is never consistent throughout. The book moved slow for at least the first quarter, which is quite awhile for a fantasy book to drag in my experience. I only got really invested in the story maybe halfway through, though once I was in, I was all in.

The other issue was the romance, which is quite the problem since The Winner’s Curse is suppose to be about the star-crossed lovers set within a high fantasy world, yada yada yada. Well, it’s a bit difficult to get invested there if I didn’t feel the romance between the two characters. It wasn’t a bad romance by any means, but I just didn’t feel it on an emotional level. After I finished reading, I was talking to my friend about this book and the phrase I used to describe the romance was “I could take it or leave it.” If it’s there, fine. If it’s not, The Winner’s Curse isn’t really missing anything. In some books, this wouldn’t be a big issue, but for this particular series starter, it is. I can see how a romance could develop between their characters, but I never really felt it. It made sense, but it didn’t get me invested in the outcome.

Now, to the good stuff. I thought The Winner’s Curse was well-written, and I was so pleasantly surprised at how easy I was able to get lost in this world, which can be difficult for a fantasy book. Some of the prose in The Winner’s Curse was beautiful, especially when Kestrel was thinking about how much she loved music. As someone who played piano for many years growing up, seeing Kestrel’s passion for creating music touched me on a really deep level, and immediately made me like her. It didn’t take me long for me to realize how much I loved Kestrel as a main character.

The way Rutkoski set up Kestral and Arin was amazing. As much as I loved Kestrel, I loved Arin as well, and wanted the best for him. I didn’t want him to be enslaved, but I also didn’t want anything bad to happen to Kestrel. Star-crossed lovers indeed. Even though I knew they were at warring sides, I kept hoping it would all work out. Of course, since this is the start of a series, my wish of the “happily ever after” can’t come true yet.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me with The Winner’s Curse was the world and the side characters. Kestrel’s people are known for their love of war and conquering. They never surrender or give up, and children are taught how to fight from an early age. Since Kestrel is the General’s daughter, she’s had more pressure put on her than most. In stories like this, it seems so often that the parents don’t always care for their children, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much Kestrel’s father obviously cares for her, even if he’s quite tough. It painted him in a more sympathetic light, and made it difficult to paint him off as a one-dimensional villain and enslaver. If I had to pick the best aspect of this book, Rutkoski’s ability to make characters seem real and sympathetic on both sides would be at the top.

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I was a bit torn on what to rate this one at first. It’s really more of a 3.5 stars, but while I quite enjoyed it, my reservations were enough to hold me back to 3 stars. I thought the characterization and setting was done excellently, but I feel rather “meh” about the romance and it took awhile for me to get into it. I think The Winner’s Curse works better as a series opener as it does on it’s own, and to that end I will definitely be anticipating the next installment in this series.

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3 Stars

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20 responses to “Book Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

  1. Woot! On the Same Page!
    I’m sorry you didn’t love this one. I think the hype got me a little too but the middle/end TOTALLY won me over. The pacing was really hard to keep up with though… it was a little all of the place sometimes but somehow I didn’t mind it too much!
    I could have used some more intimate moments too! I liked their relationship BUT I also wanted a little bit more of the falling in love time!

    • Stormy

      Yeah, I really needed a little more of the falling in love period! I definitely was okay with the romance, but it didn’t give me strong feels! I’m sad I didn’t love it, but I am glad I did really like it & I can see why everyone’s been talking about it! It’s definitely a good book. . . it just didn’t COMPLETELY capture me like I was hoping it would.

  2. Great review! I hope I feel differently about the romance, because that’s what always makes or breaks a book for me. If I don’t like the romance, or if I’m indifferent to it, that’s generally my feelings toward the book as a whole. I’m so scared to read this because of the hype; fingers crossed!

    • Stormy

      Hmm. I’ll be interested to see what you think of this one, did! I don’t find many romances I’m indifferent towards, honestly, so this was a new feeling for me. I’m usually in love with the romance OR I hate it with a passion. The indifferent feeling is new!

  3. Nuzaifa @ Say It With Books

    After seeing all the positive reviews I had added this one to my wishlist. I still want to read it but I think I’ll keep my expectations at a more realistic level!

    The whole slave-slave owner is something new in YA so I’m hoping TWC won’t disappoint. Great review, Stormy!

  4. Kelly

    It’s always nice to see a more balanced review for a book that’s been so hyped. If I decide to pick this one up, I’ll try to remember that it starts slow and have patience! Haha

    Sounds like loving this one depends on how hard you ship the romance. I’d be interested to see if you grow to love it more, assuming it gets developed further in book 2.

    • Stormy

      I definitely think the romance(and how you feel about it), will be a HUGE part of the book. And it wasn’t a bad romance by any means. . . I just wasn’t like ‘OOOH, these two need to get together!!” type of thing.

  5. I loved Arin! Kestrel was alright for me, but nothing great. I never really saw the two of them as a couple until, well, you know. But I do think they’re cute together, if you really think of Arin and his fluffy feelings. I absolutely loved the world. It was probably my favorite part of the novel, apart from the writing. Fantastic review, Stormy!

    Aimee @ Deadly Darlings

    • Stormy

      Thank you! Yes, the world and the writing were beautiful! I think I’d get more on board with couple feels in the sequels. There was definitely potential! It just didn’t quite make it *all* the way there for me.

  6. This book has been SO hyped and now I’m starting to see 2 and 3 star reviews for it by quite a few people. It’s making me think I’ll hold off on getting it and see what more people think.

    • Stormy

      Yeah, it’s always tough with such a hype book! I sort of wished I had read it once the hype had died down some.

  7. Cait

    I love music! I’ve read so many reviews for TWC but I don’t remember them mentioning she liked music. 😉 So YAY, I’m even more excited for it now. The awkward romance sounds like a bit of a bummer…and the hype is unreal for this one, eh? I can’t wait for it. 🙂

    • Stormy

      Yeah, it’s a HUGE part of Kestrel’s character! I really loved all the music-focused scenes. I wouldn’t say the romance was awkward, necessarily. It was just sort of shrug-worthy. Like, I had nothing against it and was fine with it, but I didn’t feel passionately about it either way.

  8. I think this cover is so pretty, but I’m juts not sure this book is for me. And what a disappointment that the romance wasn’t stronger.

    • Stormy

      Hmm. Yeah, I’d say maybe wait on it? It was pretty good, but not AMAZING. And it was a really interesting high fantasy. I quite liked some of the world stuff, though.

  9. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed this one! I’m a bit hesitant to read it because I’ve read a few negative reviews, but I definitely want to give it a go to see what all the fus is about. It’s a shame about the inconsistent pacing. I’m not a fan of slow books. I’ll admit, the biggest draw for me is Arin and the fact that he’s a slave!

    • Stormy

      I think it’s worth a read! I didn’t think it was AMAZING by any means, but it looks like a really good high fantasy starter. It definitely starts slow, unfortunately. The last fifty pages or so were definitely the best–made me gasp out loud a few times.

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