Review: The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Curse
Marie Rutkoski

Farrar Straus Giroux
I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.
Released March 4, 2014
355 pages

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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.

Some books just grab you from the first few pages and refuse to let you go. I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly why Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse hooked me so quickly, but within the first two chapters, I had a hard time putting down this epic fantasy full of conspiracies and adventure. It’s full of fantastically developed characters within a world that is both familiar and a little strange. While it feels as though the plot is pretty straight forward, slight alterations to what is expected kept me on my toes and kept me hooked from the start.

Kestrel is a smart girl with a General for a father, who is pressuring her to join the military due to her keen instinct for war strategy. While wandering the shops with her best friend, they find themselves pressed against the walls of an arena where a slave auction is taking place. A rough teenage boy with a defiant nature is on the auction block and not attracting much interest until Kestrel betrays all sense of propriety and bids for him. Once she gets him home, she finds that he’s a bit more than she could have expected.

Arin is a boy with a mysterious past, who hates Kestrel, her father who conquered his people and all the nobles that surround his new owner. He has a unique talent as a smith and quickly proves his worth not only as a slave, but as a reluctant companion to his mistress. Kestrel doesn’t quite understand why she enjoys his company, but has a strong desire to know Arin as an equal instead of just as a servant. Kestrel goes through hoops to protect him and rumors quickly spread that he’s her paramour, a bit of a social faux pas if found out in public. Of course there is another suitor, who is equally attractive and luckily a nice guy, to create the requisite love triangle.

Trouble comes midway through and the budding friendship between Arin and Kestrel is turned on its head until no one truly knows where they stand. The final 50 pages contain one surprise after another as conflict comes to a head and Kestrel and Arin continue to discover reasons why they can’t bridge the gap between their two people to form a friendship. It’s the beginning of a series, so of course there are doors wide open with so much potential for more adventure and heart break with just a tiny sneak peek of hope that maybe everything will work out in the end.

This is a great entry into epic fantasy for someone who isn’t prepared to keep track of dozens of different characters across multiple countries. The Winner’s Curse has intrigue and tension with political maneuvering without needing a chart to keep everything straight. It has quick pacing and memorable characters that will hang around with you long after you’ve finished the book. I really look forward to seeing where Rutkoski takes Arin and Kestrel next.


I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. Thanks to Farrar Straus Giroux. Opinions are my own.