The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Publication Date: March 4th, 2014
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux BYR | Hardcover, 355 pages
Young Adult | Fantasy | Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

“The Winner’s Curse is when you come out on top of the bid, but only by paying a steep price.”

This book is hardly worth reviewing, to be honest. After all, what else could I say that hasn’t been already said? With a barrage of 5-star ratings on Goodreads, would anything I say persuade another reader to read this book? I think not. My opinion is just going to get lost in the void of awestruck reviewers; those who fumbled awkwardly, aimlessly for the right words to say. Oh well. I’m going to try my best to articulate my reading experience, nonetheless.

I’ve never been a devoted fantasy reader; heck, I’m not even a hobbyist reader of the genre. See, I’m not very adept at reconstructing worlds beyond what my feeble imagination could muster. It tends to bring on bouts of headaches and the odd times, nose bleeds. I think this is why I ADORE this book. I mean, sure, it’s a fantasy novel, but the world building is not complicated that you won’t even miss the requisite map on the inside cover normally found in books from this genre.

I’m also wary of the detailed description the authors go through when they describe the people’s wardrobe of the era. It’s not that I’m not interested in it; I just wish there was a subtle way of doing that without having a page dedicated on the outfits alone.

I think the reason why this world is easy to follow is due to the fact that it’s based on one that we’ve read and seen in films before. That is, if you’re into Greco-Roman war, and the politics of the time, then reading this book would be flawlessly easy. The Herrans staged their bid for liberty the way the Greeks delivered the nails to the Trojans’ coffin: in a very covert fashion. They didn’t see it coming.

“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.”

I know what you’re thinking: Great. Just another girl forced to marry or suffer the consequences of her choice, whatever that may be. But you would actually be wrong. The easiest way to appease its readers is if:

a. Kestrel does choose marriage, and only if she marries the man of her choosing.


b. Kestrel chooses service in military, therefore cementing her name in the YA Hall of Fame in the Female Kick-Assery Category.

But no. This girl only ever wanted to play the piano.

Pretty lame, right?

Uhm no. Kestrel is one of those selfless characters who fights for what she wants, and by using what she’s got. She’s one who sees the lies and frauds that people try to perpetrate. She has a heart for the abused (which is how she ended up buying a slave to begin with), and one who will stand up for them even if it meant taking part in a very lopsided duel. She uses her smarts; she uses what she knows about people in order to manipulate the outcome of a dire situation. This girl kicks ass in a very subtle way.

Now, if there’s one thing that’s troubling me about this book, is the potentially messy romance that’s about to unfold in the coming books: [Spoiler alert] she got engaged to the emperor’s son (to save Arin’s people), she’s in love with Arin (the slave), and Ronan remains imprisoned (and we all know this girl cannot resist rooting for the underdog). [End of spoiler]

In a way, this book instantly reminded me of how much I love Finnikin of the Rock. While the latter ripped my heart into slivers of unrecognizable mess, The Winner’s Curse spells a probable doom that I will suffer the same fate. I’m not one to look forward to an impending torture, but I can say with all honesty that I will gladly lay down my defences, and declare, I volunteer!

  • I've never really stumbled into fantasy world in book too, though it's funny because I used to be a fantasy genre gamer. Kestrel seems like a very interesring female protagonist (I love people who have passion in music). I am a little bit doubt to buy it because it's still in hardcover, but with 5 stars review everywhere I need to consider to buy it. Love your review!

  • I'm glad you liked this one. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but didn't ADORE it. I did love Kestrel and thought that she was amazing. I also really liked that there wasn't really any, well, fantasy. Yes, it was a different world, or whatever, but it really read more like historical fiction I thought. I'm definitely excited to see what happens next. Great review!

  • You just had to go and mention Finnikin, thus cementing my determination to read this. You are SO wicked!
    I'll download from Audible now, if I can. I hate it when titles are unavailable to me because I'm a Euro girl. 🙂

  • I am so glad you enjoyed this book as much as I did! I am also eager for the next book. I'm willing to gladly let Rutkoski rip my heart to shreds. I haven't read Finnick on the Rock yet but I'm going to add it to my TBR since it reminded you of The Winner's Curse and I want to read something similar.

  • Oh I really hope so, Lily. Ugh. Reading slumps are the bane of a book hoarder's existence. Really hate them! I hope The Winner's Curse will be just what the doctor ordered.

    Thanks for visiting, Lily. 😉

  • I've heard only GOOD things about this book which makes me really happy! I'm still waiting for my copy to arrive in the mail but when I do I'm going to read it RIGHT AWAY. I'm hoping it takes me off my reading slump and that I manage to devour it. Hopefully the romance is swoon worthy enough for me too! Greatreview 🙂
    Lily @ Lilysbookblog

  • Trust me, Rachel. Don't let that little spoiler thing detract you from reading this! I swear to you that you will love it. And besides, you know me. When I get annoyed with the romance in a book, I let my feelings known. EVERYWHERE. Lol.

    I hope you'll read it soon!

  • If you're a fan of high fantasy, you might be a tad disappointed in this one. It's really, really subtle. But I guarantee you'll love this novel, nonetheless. 🙂

  • Most definitely, Brandi. It's so good. 🙂

  • Oh yes. Ronan deserves his own something, doesn't he? Let's hope Marie gives him his HEA…with somebody else, of course. 🙂

  • True that, Melliane. She may be a little awestruck with Arin but she knows when she has to set all that aside.

  • I also love that she's right up front about her weaknesses. She knows where she can be beat but she'll die trying anyway. 🙂

  • She is truly amazing, courageous, and strong but in a very subtle and smart way. I hope you'll enjoy it too, Alise. 🙂

  • Thanks, Stephanie. I'll be on the lookout for your review, for sure. 🙂

  • It is comparable but only in the way I felt about the reading experience (minus the crocodile tears). Finnkin and The Winner's Curse are two different tropes altogether. Regardless, you must. MUST. Read this, P.E. 🙂

  • Oh don't worry, Faye. There hasn't been a perfectly written book so I understand why you didn't fully love this. I'm a huge fan the slow-developing romance in books, and this definitely delivered.

    Oh girl, you need to start reading Melina's books, stat!

    Thanks for visiting my blog. 🙂

  • Oh yes. I know you're a fan of Melina too, so you most definitely need to read Finnikin. Just a fair warning, it sort of starts the way Jellicoe did. A lot of foreground needed to be covered but I promise you, it'll be all worth it. 🙂

  • Yes. Do, Beth. It's absolutely lovely. 🙂

  • Read it soon, Jeann. You won't be disappointed, I promise!

  • Your comparison to Finnikin has my attention, Joy! I've seen a multitude of reviews for this like you've mentioned but I appreciate yours because it tells me several things I want to know. I like fantasy but I don't like overly descriptive, complicated world building, it distracts me from the plot, so it's nice to hear this doesn't do that. Also, I'm not thrilled about the romance situation, but it didn't make you lower your rating so I'll ignore that. I will probably wait until the next book releases to pick this up, though. I want to read a series one book right after the other, and I'm getting more stubborn about that. Wonderful review! 🙂

  • I feel like I'm one of the only ones who hasn't read this one yet, and I really really want to! Hopefully sometime this month. I have still yet to see an even slightly negative review for this, so I have no doubt I'll love it. Especially because I love fantasy, and I'm glad the world building isn't too complex. Also, Kestrel sounds awesome!
    Great review, Joy 🙂

  • Love the sound of Kestral and how she fights for what she wants. I haven't read this one yet but I can't wait to.

  • Ahh, yesss. <3 Amazing review Joy. You are awesome. And it makes me so damn happy that you loved this book as well. It was just all kinds of perfect, wasn't it? Sigh. Kestrel is amazing, yes. She's just so amazing. But yes. That ending. EVIL. But I have hope that there will be no triangle. <3 I ship Arin. <3 Though.. Ronan is all kinds of cute, to be honest. He is a great friend 🙂 Anyway. Thank you for sharing your awesome review. <3

  • I”m so glad you enjoyed this one as well, it was a wonderfuk discovery and I really loved it. I think it was nice to have a character like Krestel who isn't the average naive girl we can easily find in YA book.

  • Oh yes, it's hard to even write a review–it feels like everything's been said about it. I too loved that Kestrel isn't traditionally badass–she's not beating people up but fighting for the rights of others and the freedom to choose her future. I am right in line with you to volunteer to have my heart put through the meat grinder!

  • You have NO idea how happy I am to read your review! I just bought this book after a lot of reservations and now I am definitely happy with my choice and will have to get to this one soon. Kestrel sounds sooo amazing and non-frustrating like all the other MCs we get.

  • I had the same problem, Joy – what could I possibly say about this book?? You did a great job, though. I'm planning on a re-read soon, and perhaps then I'll try to hammer out a coherent review (But probably not.)

    Stephanie @ Inspiring Insomnia

  • Okay so I was wondering to what extent I can be excited for this book because I must be one of the last bloggers in the world who haven't read it, but your comparison to Finnikin of the Rock somehow makes me even MORE excited. 😉

    -P.E. @ The Sirenic Codex

  • I'm glad you received this well, Joy! I was thoroughly entertained, but I did find a few faults and issues here and there that refrained me from giving it a full five stars. And I never really liked Kestrel that much *prepares to be bricked* but I did love the romance a lot. It was subtle, slow, and hot, and I appreciated it so much.

    Also, I need to read Finnikin of the Rock. So many of my bookish friends worship Marchetta like she invented sliced bread (YES SLICED BREAD IS AWESOME OKAY) haha

    Great review!

    Faye @ The Social Potato Reviews

  • Love your review!! This is a must for all the buzz and 5 stars reviewsw that I keep seeing all around the blogosfera and GR. I need to buy my copy. 🙂 Oh! and I need to read Finnikin of the Rock too.

  • Ok. That's it. This will be my weekend read! I'm a little afraid to read it because of all the hype but I trust you. Great review Joy!

  • YAY another 5 star review makes me happy for this book! My copy just arrived in the mail so that means I can devour it soon because this sounds AMAZING! Lovely review Joy!