The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Posted September 5, 2018 by Amber in Reviews / 6 Comments

The Winner's Curse

The Winner's Curse

by Marie Rutkoski

Series: The Winner's Trilogy #1
Publisher: Farrar Straus and Giroux on March 4, 2014
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
Target Age Group: New Adult
Representation: BIPOC Character(s), Black Character(s)
Content Warnings: Death, Death of Parent, Murder, Rape, Sexual Assault, Sexual Violence, Slavery, Suicidal Thoughts

Rating: ★★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads or buy the book at

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.

I have a really weird relationship with The Winner’s Curse.

I’m struggling here to find words to describe this book – I just… don’t know how I feel?  Kestrel is fine, and Arin is fine, and the storyline is fine and the worldbuilding is fine, and I guess when it comes down to it, The Winner’s Curse is just fine.  I enjoyed it enough, but I didn’t find it particularly memorable.

This novel is marketed as a fantasy, and I will give it that the world itself seems fantastical in its elements.  There’s a Roman vibe to the world – from conversations about villas to military takeovers, but other than that, this doesn’t seem like fantasy.  There’s no magic, no mythical creatures… the only thing that really makes this feel like fantasy is the fact it’s Romanesque.

I do objectively like the story here – the characters are driven and their responses are very logical to their situation.  It’s hard to talk about this book without the twist?  Which honestly didn’t feel like a twist, more like just the plot.  I thought it was interesting and reminded me a bit of Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce, so I appreciated it, but I don’t feel overly excited by it.

Usually when a plot is just okay, the characters pull me through, but I have no emotional attachment to any of them.  I just feel like I’m watching them through a two-way mirror, and I don’t feel the connection.  They’re not flat, per se, just very methodical and focused.  I’m not buying into the romance.  I’m barely buying into the friendships.

The world-building is fine – as a reader you are immersed in the setting.  I think that the action scenes are a bit quick, but you do get a feel for the world and the social/political castes, which I think can be a bit underdone in fantasy.

I honesty wish I liked this book more.  I’m interested enough to continue on with the series, but I’m just not in love with it.  And I want to me.  I mean, look at the cover.  Is that not totally gorgeous?


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Personal Enjoyment

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Code Yellow Problematic Authors Books

Marie Rutkoski has Written Books with Problematic Content.

While this author has not actively participated in harming marginalized communities, they do have one or more books that have been popularly called out for problematic content. If you would like to learn more about these incidents and what works has been criticized, please click the poisoned apple.

send me your thoughts

Have you ever wanted to love a book and didn’t?

What other Romanesque fantasies have you read?

Share with me in the comments!

stay magical amber

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Other Books by Marie Rutkoski

2 books found
The Winner's Crime




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6 responses to “The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

  1. I can relate to this review SO much. I read the book as a physical copy, but I also had such a hard time feeling the characters, in a way? I did not feel any kind of emotional connection to them overall and it made me feel sad. I felt invested, at times, especially towards the ending, but it took time for me to do so and still, something was missing :/ I have read the second book, but not the third one just yet Curiosity keeps me going there, hahaha 🙂
    Lovely review!

    • Amber

      Ugh, I am SO glad to hear, because I had a really difficult time articulating my feelings about this book! I was going back and forth with Loretta on Twitter and it was just… I like it… but I don’t? And I care but I also don’t care? I think it’s a forgettable book, but it’s not a waste of time…?

      How’s the second book? About the same?

      • I felt the same way about the second book – I wasn’t too invested in the story and characters, at first… but by the last third of the book I was invested more and really wanted to see how everything would unfold. I haven’t read the last book just yet, though, because…. even if I am still curious to see how this all ends, I just don’t feel motivated enough to get through it, especially if the beginning is as slow as the other two books for me :/

        • Amber

          So more of the same. 🙁 Ughhhh that’s a bummer. I’ll still read it, but now I don’t mind that it’s way at the end of my TBR.

  2. I’ve been curious to see what you’d say about this one! I bought it on a whim the last time I hit up Book Outlet and it’s been sitting on my shelf. People ALWAYS tell me I need to read this series, but everything I’ve seen about it seems pretty meh. I think I’ll end up feeling the same way you do. Plus, I really hate when there’s a “twist” that’s suppose to be shocking that you saw coming from miles away. Lol. Great review! We’ll have to compare notes when I read it!!

    Also, not to be a creep, but I saw on Twitter that your Disney trip is happening soon, so have fun!! I’m so JEALOUS.

    Loretta @ The Laughing Listener recently posted: Mini Reviews: Modern Faerie Tales
    • Amber

      Haha you’re not a creep. We leave Saturday and I will be spamming the heck outta Instagram with Disney pics!

      We should DEFINITELY compare notes when you read it. I wanted to like it so bad, it just didn’t do it for me.