The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Winner's CurseInformation

Goodreads: The Winner’s Curse
Series: The Winner’s Trilogy #1
Source: Library
Published: March 2014


Daughter of a famed Valorian general, seventeen-year-old Kestrel can either join the military or marry, but all she really wants is to make music.  All her plans crumble, however, the day she goes to the market and buys a slave.  Soon Kestrel has lost her heart and no longer knows where her true duty lies.


I read The Winner’s Curse after seeing a glowing review, but the experience only made me recall why I have recently gravitated away from books marketed as YA.  The premise promises suspense, action, intrigue, and romance, but the characters and relationships fall so neatly into the expected types and patterns that I had difficulty investing myself in the story at all.  In addition, the plot development makes little sense, glossing over what I would have foreseen as difficult circumstances, all to get the protagonists together.  Though the story picks up toward the end, the focus on romance rather than on political intrigue or military action causes the book as a whole to fall flat.

I admit that some of my disappointment in The Winner’s Curse stems from my own reading preferences–I do not enjoy many straightforward romances, preferring instead relationships that develop naturally within a larger plot line.  Ostensibly, The Winner’s Curse has that plot line.  Social unrest grows on the Haran Peninsula where the Herrani slaves plot to rise against their Valorian masters.  But all that excitement really feels like nothing more than fuel to fire the romance of Kestrel and her new slave Arin.  What, the books seems to ask, could be steamier than a high-class girl falling in love with her muscly and mysterious slave?  How will social unrest and the boundaries it draws work to keep them apart?  No matter that lives are at stake here–when will they kiss?!

Indeed, the plot really seems to revolve around ways to turn up the heat on this romance.  Marie Rutkoski wants it to simmer, so she does not allow Kestrel and Arin to admit their feelings to each other too soon.  She even throws in another guy to complete the by now expected love triangle.  But, really, the two are goners for each other almost since the time they first meet.  That mutual attraction means that Kestrel allows her slave a completely unbelievable amount of autonomy, granting him freedom to roam the house, giving him leave to visit town whenever he desires, inviting him to secret trysts so they can talk and play games, and encouraging him to speak his mind to her at all times.  She even allows him to contradict and insult her in front of her friends.  I found it hard to believe a high society girl would go so far, but even harder to believe that her friends and family let her.

Of course, people begin to talk about the true nature of the relationship between the beautiful girl and her handsome and favored escort, leading to more ridiculous drama.  To start, Kestrel cannot believe that anyone would start such a rumor–and it is not because she is young and innocent, because she certainly likes to talk about the exploits of the rest of the town.  This is from a girl whose name can barely appear in print without a comment afterwards remarking on her unusual intelligence and talent for strategy.  Smart girl that she is, she reacts to the rumors in a way that can only appear to confirm them.  At which point one begins to wonder how long it is possible to cheer on someone who seems absolutely determined to self-destruct.

Bored with a romance that felt overly contrived and cliche, and that featured a couple who have little chemistry, I plowed on through the rest of the book to discover that the final pages are the best of the book.  New complications arise that seem as if they really could deliver drama, if only Kestrel and Arin realize that their romance is possibly not the most important thing happening in the world right now.  Those last pages saved the trilogy for me.  When the sequel comes out, I just might read it.

6 thoughts on “The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

  1. ravenousbiblioworm says:

    Agreed. Mostly, we have the same sentiments. Though I find it highly likely I will read the sequel immediately upon it’s release…. since I’m finding myself not even reading the sequels of those that I greatly enjoy. TOO MANY BOOKS TO READ!


    • Krysta says:

      If I had known this was the start of a trilogy before I started reading it, I probably would have never picked it up in the first place. I’m in the middle of too many series and I just don’t know how I’m supposed to get through them all!


      • ravenousbiblioworm says:

        Oops, I meant to say UNLIKELY – but you seemed to have gotten my meaning… Exactly! I don’t mind series, if they had closure within a book (think Harry Potter) with an overall arc, but these days we are just given dead end cliff hangers… UGH. Makes it tiresome if the book is mediocre or if I very much dislike the book.


        • Krysta says:

          Yes, I figured you meant to say “unlikely”! But, you’re right. I do prefer series that have books with definite endings. That way, I feel like I can take my time getting through the series. When the book simply ends, I get annoyed because then I feel like I’m being pressured to go right out and try to get the next installment, just so I can have a whole plot. But then I never know if the next book will give me closure or if I’ll be going through twelve books trying to figure out what happens, so I’m more likely to drop the series to read something in which I’m more invested.


  2. DoingDewey says:

    Oh, too bad! I sometimes like books with characters that fit stereotypes if they’re used in creative ways, in the same way that I like seeing plots reused creatively in retellings. However, love triangles, prioritizing romance over plot, and unbelievable plots are all pet peeves of mine, so I probably won’t be picking this up.


    • Krysta says:

      Yes, I don’t always mind characters that fit stereotypes, but I thought these were used to kind of gloss over plot inconsistencies–I got the sense that I was supposed to overlook how unrealistic some of the actions were because of course you would book secret trysts with the handsome, moody slave. That’s what beautiful women do!

      The reactions on this book seem pretty diverse, though. I’ve seen a lot of people gushing over it, but also a lot of people giving more negative feedback.


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