The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski Review: Getting more than you bargained for

July 9, 2014 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | 4 stars, Books, Reviews

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski Review: Getting more than you bargained forThe Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner's Trilogy #1
Published by Bloomsbury Australia on April 10, 2014
Source: Publisher
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
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Kestrel lives the lavish lifestyle of a Valorian General’s only daughter, and such riches come at a cost for Valoria’s captives – and for her. As the Herrani face death or slavery, Kestrel’s destiny is shaped by her father. He gives her two choices: join his army or get married. Desperate to realise her own future and knowing that it will invite scandal, she pays a small fortune for a handsome Herrani blacksmith at a slave auction. Arin not only plays Kestrel’s power games, he understands what she needs and soon she is torn between loyalty to her people and her feelings for him. But Arin is not all he seems and Kestrel will learn that the price she paid for him is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

The first novel in a stunning new trilogy, The Winner’s Curse is a story of romance, rumours and rebellion, where dirty secrets and careless alliances can be deadly – and everything is at stake.

The Winner’s Curse occurs when you outbid everyone by an exorbitant amount, which means your loss was more than your gain. This was an interesting concept that was carried out throughout the novel, as Kestral gets a lot more than she bargained for when she bids on a slave.

Don’t come into this book expecting it to be a fantasy with world building and lots of action, because you’ll be disappointed. Instead, get ready to experience an amazing forbidden romance between two characters who are made for each other, yet are from different classes and cultures which have a violent history.

Kestral, the General’s daughter of the Valorian ruling class and Arin, a cunning slave from the Herrani minority, were a couple I shipped all the way through. I loved how they first formed a tentative friendship with each other, and then discovered that their strategic thinking, appreciation for the arts and intelligence were on par. The romance is developed through the course of the novel, but with layers of secrets and lies.

“You might not think of me as your friend,’ Kestrel told Arin, ‘but I think of you as mine.” 

Kestral is a fantastic character who was strong and intelligent, it was great to see a girl who could be girly and love her dresses, but also be respected for her brilliant mind as a strategist. I loved how she used intelligence and strategic thinking to get herself out of situations when it seemed there was no other way out. Arin was someone who had a few tricks up his sleeve and I really liked his cunning wit and ability to deceive. The couple couldn’t be better matched, if it wasn’t for their class and culture.

The world building is limited, it’s coined as a fantasy but purely focuses on the tensions between the Valorians and the Herrani. We’re told what we need to about the two cultures, one as the ruling class and the other as slaves. I loved the distinction between each, they are explored well throughout the novel.

He knew the law of such things: people in brightly lit places cannot see into the dark.

The writing was completely enveloping, sweeping, beautiful, and succinct in a way. It’s clear Marie Rutkoski is skilled at her craft, and it comes through fantastically in her work. Be patient as you are reading this novel, while the bulk of it focuses on the character and relationship development, it really takes off in the last quarter of the novel.


The Winner’s Curse is a fantastic, expertly written novel with a classical forbidden romance, between a brilliant strategist and a cunning slave. What it excels in, is excellent character and relationship development, with a limited view of the world around the Herranis and the Valorian. This is a couple that everyone could ship, and I can see why this is a strong contender for the best YA novel of 2014.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia for sending me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Jeann is an Aussie YA blogger and mum who loves to read and recommend books! You can usually find me fangirling about books on my various social media channels including Twitter @happyindulgence, Instagram and Youtube.

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62 responses to “The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski Review: Getting more than you bargained for

  1. Winner's Curse! Eeeeeeeepppppppppp! Lol, I just read this last week and I am still not over it! It was awesome! 😀

    Great review!

  2. Yay! I'm so glad you enjoyed this!! I definitely loved the character and relationship development, especially the change in dynamic and power between them from the "first half" and "second half" of the story. I can't wait for the next book! Lovely review, Jeann!
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  3. Wow I just realized I can add twitter account in comment box XD

    I've been seeing great reviews about Winner's Curse and I still haven't bought it. I saw it in Kinokuniya and didn't pick it because my friend got headache after reading this. Now I feel stupid. Gorgeous cover + many positive reviews, it should have been enough reasons to buy this. It's rare to have character with strong brain (I don't know if strong brain is a term), I feel like many YA characters are strong in action. I'm glad the romance started with friendship, forbidden love is old formula but always fascinating. Arin sounds like an interesting character (though his name is like a girl name XD). Next time I see it in bookstore, I won't miss it!

    • Yeah, I just added it via the Twitterlink widget on WP. Oooh I think you should pick it up Ikao, I'm glad you are keen to read it now! The writing was just so gorgeous and the characters so strong and developed. Glad to hear!

  4. Oh it was so fantastic Pili, it did feel like some sort of vague fantasy land didn't it? Because there wasn't much magic and world building but I love how you picked out the Rome and Greece. It was fantastic, I loved it! Thank you!

  5. Oh yes, you must pick it up Megan! I know with myself, it took me a long time to wait for the soaring expectations to die down from everyone's awesome reviews.

    Arin is great, him and Kestral had such a wonderful chemistry between them and they were both fantastic, strong characters in their own way. And not just the stereotypical super kickass chick but in mind you know?

    The writing was absolutely brilliant, you must buy it soon!

  6. I was pretty scared to read this after all the hype and it wasn't really a historical romance, it felt more of a fantasy but without the extensive world building you know? The writing was brilliant. Thank you!

  7. I absolutely ADORED THIS BOOK, Jeann!!

    The world building is true that is not very fantasy like, it felt more like historical fantasy (I think I've just invented the term) as in, there's no magic and it doesn't happen in a real time period, but the culture bits and references here and there made me think very much of Rome and conquered Greece, and that classical feel was done so well!

    The writing and the character development was done brilliantly, and it might have even overshadowed a bit the plot progression, but we still got plety of twists and turns that I didn't see coming! And that ending?? Woah, cannot wait for the sequel!

    Great review, Jeann!!
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  8. I just keep hearing so many good things about this book and I'm just sitting here without ordering it what am I doing with my life, honestly. But hm, I always expected this book to be one of those epic fantasies with, like you said, good world building and lots of action. And now I'm hearing that it's about forbidden romance? Not sure if that's a good or bad thing, but at least it seems to have worked well for a lot of people.

    Can't wait to meet Arin! He's got such a lovely (though feminine, lol) name, and I love that both he and Kestrel had lots of wit! That's something to don't see often in YA romances. And OMG you won't believe how long I've been waiting for a girly yet still kickass girl. Most of the heroines these days are kind of like tomboyish, you know?

    Beautiful writing is also always a plus, though it doesn't do much to affect my opinion of a book. The quotes you chose are gorgeous, though. <3 So glad to hear that you were yet another person who loved this, Jeann! Must. get. own. copy. Haha. Brilliant review!
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  9. I loved this one so much as well! The characters were a really refreshing change me. The hype scared me a bit but in the end, it didn't disappoint. Even though the world building wasn't spectacular, I really loved how she portrayed the history of the world. Sometimes, you just wonder how the world came to be but everything was explained really well for me. Awesome review Jeann!
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  10. I just got a copy of this book and I haven't been sure what to expect from it yet. But the whole forbidden romance element drew me in (and the cover also got me a little bit too) I'm glad to hear that the romance is developed slowly from a friendship, and that the heroine is actually intelligent! Now I'm even more excited to read this one!
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  11. Between your review and Bec's persistent urging that I read this, I want to pick this one up so bad right now! I was kind of expecting a fantasy but I'm totally okay with romance if it's going to be like that 😀 And those quotes… I can tell I'll like the writing too. I'm so tempted… 😛
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  12. This is one of those books that I REALLY wanted before it came out and pre-ordered it, but now it sits on my shelf unread. I do still want to read it but just can't get myself to read it rather than other books. I think it will be soon though since I've heard pretty much nothing but good things about this book plus I love romance! I think I'm going to read Stolen Songbird next and then hopefully pick up this book after that =)
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    • Oh nooo, I totally know what you mean when that happens Steph! TBH I was a bit hesitant to pick it up from all the reviews too, but I'm really glad I did. I want to read Stolen Songbird as well!

  13. Larissa Holt

    I'm so glad you enjoyed this one c: Though I did give this one a slightly lower rating (3.5) I still found myself loving this one. I totally adored Krestel as a character. She was totally a strong character, even though she doesn't fit the stereotypically "badass" strong character type. I loved her introspective and quiet nature, coupled with her strategic skill. It all made Krestel's narration more enjoyable when I actually loved her character haha.

    The writing was also totally gorgeous. It was beautiful without being too heavy and flowery. It truly used great imagery to paint pictures in my mind.

    Great review Jeann! (:

    • Kestral was a really strong character but strong in mind you know? I thought she was amazing and glad you liked her. The writing was SO beautiful, in fact one of my favourites I think! And not too flowery. Thank you Larissa!

  14. This reminds me of These Broken Stars, just because of the girl who loves her dresses, and the forbidden romance! I did try to start reading this book, but it was too slow for me. I guess, when I am actually back on track to my usual reading habit, I will tackle this book. I do like the fact that the Kestral and Arin are intelligent protagonists. So much plus factor!
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  15. EXACTLY. I really liked this book, but if I had gone into it expecting a forbidden romance in a strange, new place, I would have LOVED it. Instead, I had to reconcile my disappointment over the lack of traditional fantasy elements with my genuine interest and like of the story itself. I have a feeling the next book will go much better, b/c I know what I'm getting, so I can just enjoy it for what it is. I'm glad you liked this too, Jeann! Great review 😉
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    • That's so true Jessica, I guess I was kind of expecting more to happen throughout the book but I'm glad it eventually did at the end. Lucky reviews had prepared me for that!

  16. Oh yes I really loved this one as well and I so can't wait to have more! Krestel is awesome right? For once it's nice to have a strong heroine, not that naive. But I'm curious to see what will happen now. Great review!

  17. I so agree Jeann! This was such an enjoyable read! 🙂 The characters were all so well developed, with realistic flaws and assets. I too LOVED the writing – absolutely gorgeous, right? 🙂 Kind of reminds me of Jodi Lynn Anderson's prose a bit. And Kestrel + Arin = <3! I totally ship them, and I'm so glad to hear you do as well!

    Thanks for sharing, and, as always, BRILLIANT review! <3
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  18. YES!!! A book with intelligent and witty protagonists! Gimme! Haha. I love books that focus on character development, and a couple worthy of being shipped? Yes, please. The way you described the flow of this book kind of reminds me of Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi. Lots of character development and a lot of action near the end. I loved that book. I've known about this book for a while, but I'm now convinced to read it. Great review!
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  19. Melanie (YA Midnight

    Eee this book! I'm glad you enjoyed this as much as I did, Jeann–I'm quite sure we gave it the same rating 😀 I agree, Krestal was a brilliant MC and the writing was absolutely gorgeous.

    Lovely review, lady! <33

  20. I saw this recently at the library and WOW, it is so pretty in real life. But I didn't pick it up because I don't think it's my thing. Sometimes I pick up a book regardless of what it's about because bloggers have raved about it – and then I'm disappointed.

    And then I see another review like this and want to read it again….you're very persuasive. Or maybe I'm just easily excited. Either way, fantastic review 🙂
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  21. Ooh, I'm so glad you liked this one! I have fond memories of it, even though I think I only gave it 3-stars at the time. I just didn't really feel the spark between Arin and Kestrel, although I loved them so so much as individuals. And I DID love the world! Although it took me a moment to figure out the dates of the setting. I was thinking ancient Rome, but they they brought in the piano. So who knows. 😉 I LOVE the cover too. And Kestrel was an awesome heroine.
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