The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The-Winners-CurseThe Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner’s Trilogy #1 (1/3)
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux on March 4, 2014
Genres: [Young Adult] Fantasy
Pages: 355
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased

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4.5 Stars, Completed March 8, 2016

– SPOILER free –

To be honest, despite everyone’s insistence with me reading this, I wasn’t expecting to love this book as much as I did. There was so much that could have gone wrong with The Winner’s Curse for me (the love triangle, forbidden romance, seemingly privileged/spoiled rich protagonist, possible offensive execution with slavery, high expectations due to the hype, etc) but somehow everything ended up being so right to my utter surprise and relief.

In fact, I read The Winner’s Curse in a mere few hours. For those of you that know my reading habits well, this is a major accomplishment for me. Rarely do I ever finish a book in a day much less in a couple of hours. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m growing out of the targeted age group or what, but it’s been a really long time since I’ve been this engrossed in a young adult story for me to speed through it so quickly.

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

The Winner’s Curse focuses on the unlikely romance that buds between an owner and a slave when she bids for him at a ridiculously high price at a slave auction. After the purchase, they begin to spend time together and realize that they are much alike as they are different. And as their attachment for each other deepens unexpected but inevitable consequences come into view.

“Isn’t that what stories do, make real things fake, and fake things real?”

The genres that this book have been associated with are a bit misleading. It’s not a true high fantasy because there aren’t any fantastical creatures or supernatural evil forces. It reminds me of historical fiction because its obviously not set in the modern world with its usage of antiquity technologies such as horse riding and letter writing. Yet, it’s not from a historical time period of our world. Some even have categorized this as a dystopian just because there is some reflection on a catastrophic, misshapen society towards the later half of the book but it’s not really that either. If anything I think it’s best organized as a romance. The Winner’s Curse predominantly focuses on the relationship between Kestrel and Arin and how it affects the two races, the Valorians and Herrani, mentioned in the story.

With that being said the entire world within The Winner’s Curse is very simple for a high fantasy. As a result, this, fortunately, allowed a lack of info dumping but there wasn’t much world building either. Though, the fact that Rutkoski decided to minimize that component allowed her to focus on the romance and politics more, and I didn’t mind that in the slightest. The world Rutkoski introduces to the readers still manages to be rich without the elements of standard fantasy novels.

I also really appreciated the well done Greco-Roman influences in this story. After taking Latin, Greek mythology, and Roman/Greek history courses in high school and college, the Greek and Roman inspirations that Rutkoski drew to create this world were obvious. The differences of social class in society, utilization of a slave system, importance of warfare (veni, vidi, vici) and agriculture, and public festivities (games and lavish parties with wine) and entertainment (duels) were strongly reminiscent of the ancient Roman and Greek empires. I even noticed smaller details such as communication via letter writing and delivery by the use of birds-the Greeks did this often to broadcast the results of Olympic winners-redolent of the Greeks and Romans. I also liked the small connection with General Trajan, leader of the Valorian army that helped expand their empire, and the Trojan war.

His eyes met hers. Something in them made her think that he would never have let Irex kill her, that he would have pushed into the ring and planted a blade in Irex’s back if he had thought his daughter might die, that he would have thrown away his honor with hers.

Being so inseparable with my own father, the father-daughter relationship between the General and Kestrel was possibly one of my favorite things about this book. I don’t think parental or guardian relationships are highlighted enough in ya literature-and especially in ya fantasy. The General makes a lot of appearances in this book, and the subtle yet strong relationship Kestrel and her father share was heartwarming and realistic.

Kestrel’s cruel calculation appalled her. This was part of what had made her resist the military: the fact that she could make decisions like this, that she did have a mind for strategy, that people could be so easily become pieces in a game she was determined to win.

Speaking of Kestrel, she is a very nontraditional heroine. She would make a brilliant Greek hero-according to my Classics professor-because she’s unseasonal (isn’t like most women in her society), extreme (makes many rash decisions), and has several ongoing antagonistic relationships with other characters (Irex, Cheat, etc). I admired how the book emphasizes that she’s not physically strong but her strategic wit makes up for it and her intelligence is unmatched by others. I digress but she’d probably be someone like Odysseus (The Odyssey) than Achilles (The Iliad) since he was known for using metis (cunning) instead of bie (strength), which was Achilles’s personal merit. I also love that she’s capable of holding her own by being independent and strong willed.

His eyes met hers. They were the color of the winter sea-the water far below Kestrel’s feet when she had looked down and imagined what it would be like to drown.

Like I mentioned, the romance is the main component that drives the story forward and the romantic tensions are what makes the story suspenseful for readers. The romance is actually written in a more subtle manner but it certainly does not lack intensity. All the moments between Kestrel and Arin were either so sweet or completely frustrating. They are an official ultimate OTP in my book, for sure.

Arin, who had set hooks into her heart and drawn her to him so that she wouldn’t see anything but his eyes.
Arin was her enemy.

However, of all the possible romance tropes I absolutely despise forbidden romances. I’ve never really liked the Romeo and Juliet formula (or any of Shakespeare’s work for that matter) because often times paired with these tropes are overdramatic, restless pining scenes, which I’m not so crazy about. Luckily, the moping was kept at the minimal and I didn’t find the reinvention of the trope too upsetting. I know that it can’t be helped since it’s a romance between a mistress and slave, but I sort of wish there was some way for it to not have been one. Oh well.

With some time to cool down from my initial shock of how I waited so long to begin this captivating series, I’ve decided to downrate this book from my initial 5 stars. There’s a complex cast, rich world, and solid storyline, yet it’s still missing something that makes it an absolutely epic read that I can’t quite pinpoint. (Perhaps a small part of me can’t ignore that this is a derivative of a forbidden romance.) However, it’s laid a firm foundation as the first installment in the trilogy. And I have absolute faith that The Winner’s Crime will be as perfect as everyone claims it to be.

I am so glad I pushed this one to my top priority TBR pile. I still wonder why I waited this long to finally start this series. Next time when you guys recommend me a series like this please say: “The Winner’s trilogy urgent.” Then I’ll get it. Thanks.


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

  1. Nerdybirdy @ Daydreaming Books says:

    Yay! I’m sooo glad you loved it!! The characters sounds amazing and forbidden love you say? You already know how much I love that trope! 😀 I already have this book and the 2nd one as well but I haven’t got the chance to start it yet but definitely will after my exams get over!! I can’t seriously wait for them to get over!! It feels like ages that I haven’t read a book! Oh dear… I’m digressing!
    Great review Summer! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Summer @ Xingsings says:

      Thank you, Poulami! And oh gosh, I also wish your exams would be over just so we could fangirl together over the beauty of this series… Oh well. We can totally do it after you ace those exams! I’m sure you’ll do great and you can reward yourself with wonderful reads such as this one. 😉 I have a feeling you’ll like the forbidden romance, as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Marie @ drizzleandhurricanebooks says:

    What a great review, as always, Summer, thank you! I’ve been hearing a ton of great things about that series, but since it’s a bit out of my comfort zone, I didn’t know whether to add it to my TBR, or not. For me, it’s great that there’s a good focus on romance, and you completely got me at the great father-daughter relationship. This is something I definitely want to see more of in books, and I’m so glad it’s in that one. now I’m definitely going to read it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. FaebulousBooks says:

    Lovely review! I bought this recently and was a bit iffy as to whether I wanted to read it or not (I found it for a euro in a charity shop and thought why not) but I’m glad you seemed to have liked it a lot!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hey Ashers! says:

    I didn’t like this book nearly as much as you did, but I definitely agree with your approval of the father/daughter relationship! It’d be great to see an increase in the number of loving and complex parental relationships portrayed in YA lit.

    Do you know when you’ll read the sequel yet? The relationship between Kestrel and her father is even more significant and interesting in Winner’s Crime. =)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Summer @ Xingsings says:

      Oh no! That’s a shame but I can understand your opinions. A few of my Goodreads friends (obviously not the ones that recommended me this book) didn’t seem to enjoy it as much as I did either. However, I’m glad we can agree on General Trajan/Kestrel’s relationship. ^.^ And OH MY GOSH, I read The Winner’s Crime soon after writing this review, and it was too early to talk about loving General Trajan… I was shocked but also relieved. If he hadn’t done what he did he would have been a pretty inconsistent character (after being such a steadfast friend to the Emperor) so I admire Rutkoski for going through with making the readers hate him for his actions. Did you write a review for these books? Did you like the sequel about the same or better?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hey Ashers! says:

        Yay, I’m glad you’ve already read The Winner’s Crime! And you described my feelings about General Trajan exactly: shocked but also relieved. I absolutely loved his dilemma, the subtle-but-still-apparent agony it caused him, and his ultimate decision to remain honorable/loyal to the Empire. It’s just fantastic. Two thumbs up.

        I did write reviews, but they aren’t going up until next month. Hurry up, April!

        In terms of favorites, I think it was a toss-up between Crime and Curse–though I did prefer how active Kestrel was in Crime compared to how passive/inactive she was in (the majority of) Curse. I’ll take an active heroine over a passive/inactive one any day. =)

        What about you? Which was your favorite?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Summer @ Xingsings says:

          Ah, so you must be a big post scheduler too then. I have my review of TWC2 slated to post for this week. And I simply cannot wait for my copy of The Winner’s Kiss to come in the mail early next month! And honestly, I think I liked Curse better just because I normally love the initial stages of a romance but I do acknowledge that Crime had a lot of improvements compared to the first installment. But again, I’m going with book one for level of entertainment for me. I also really like that in Curse there was less angst and pining. I can see why people liked Crime and the development of the romance between the couple… but I don’t know, I’m easily annoyed by mopey scenes. 😛

          Liked by 1 person

          • Hey Ashers! says:

            Post-schedulers unite! =D

            You’ll definitely read Kiss before I do, then. I’ll be looking forward to your review of it.

            That’s a great point: mopey scenes are really aggravating. Here’s hoping Kiss has less moping and more romantic romance than Crime!

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Lois says:

    This is the series that everyone keeps telling me to read and I desperately want to get my hands on the books haha. II’m so glad that the final book in the trilogy comes out this month cause that way I can just binge read all three books in one sitting haha. I do love the fact that the books explores the father/daughter dynamic and I definitely agree that we don’t see enough of this in fantasy. I’m a sucker for a good forbidden romance despite the fact that I can’t stand Romeo and Juliet haha. Something tells me my shipping heart will be all over the place with this trilogy.
    The Greco-Roman influence is a definite plus for me as well cause I just find the history of those periods to be so fascinating. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Summer @ Xingsings says:

      Marathoning this trilogy sounds like a good idea since both of the first books end on cliffhangers (and TWC2’s cliffie is so UNBEARABLE). Exactly! We see family relationships in contemporary fiction all the time but it’s so rare in fantasy! Haha, Romeo and Juliet was one of my least favorite assigned readings for school in the past (but I sort of don’t see the appeal of Shakespeare in general?). And it’s since turned me off for all forbidden romances, unfortunately. YES, YOU MUST READ THIS SOON. Then we can talk about it (and The Raven Boys when I start it-which should be real soon), Lois!! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Geraldine @ Corralling Books says:

    So glad you liked it! And I’m so happy you reviewed it, because now I want to read it even more! I kinda stayed away from it, because I’m not really into fantasy anymore, but this sounds awesome, because yeah, it’s not too high fantasy, and that means less info dumping! 😀 I’ve just gotten tired of how info dumpy fantasy can be so yeah haha 🙂
    Thank you for reviewing, Summer! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Summer @ Xingsings says:

      Yes, there’s very minimal info dumping and it really doesn’t feel like a fantasy for that reason. I think you’d love it, Geraldine! Plus, the romance is just perfectly paced, in my opinion. Ah, thanks so much for reading! I hope you decide to pick it up sooner than later. ^.^

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Reg | She Latitude says:

    So glad you loved it! I’m picking this up pretty soon and I gotta say, I was turned off by the cover and the title (especially The Winner’s Kiss, because that felt very romance-centred to me), but it seems like most people really enjoyed it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Summer @ Xingsings says:

      I actually really love the cover, hehe. But I totally see what you mean; I felt the same way with the TWK’s title. It’s quite cheesy but so far the romance has been perfectly paced throughout surprisingly. 🙂


  8. SERIESous Book Reviews says:

    Woot woot! I’m so glad you loved this! It’s one of my faves–I’m even contemplating buying the series because I love it (and I rarely buy books I’ve already read from the library).

    The only thing I don’t agree with you on is the forbidden romances–I love those haha 😉
    It’s my guilty pleasure!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Rawls E. Fantasy says:

    I’ve been curious about this book for a while now, and hesitant, much for the same reasons you mentioned at the beginning (especially the love triangle). And the cover makes it look like a story of romance and nothing else. But after reading your review, it sounds better than what I was expecting. Maybe I’ll give it a shot and add it to my tbr list. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Summer @ Xingsings says:

      (This is such a late reply, sorry! I think WP ate you comment and moved it to my spam folder for some odd reason.) This entire trilogy was a surprisingly pleasant journey. I really loved all three books and now it’s one of my all time favorite series. You definitely should; I highly recommend! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Trisha Ann says:

    I have never read any negative stuff about this book. I am so intrigued to find out why. For this one, it looks like there’s a real reason for the hype. I love how your professor described the MC! From what I GENERALLY observe, academic instructors find YA novels silly. I’m glad there’s one who doesn’t 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Summer @ Xingsings says:

      Right! My professor is such an insightful and funny guy! And oh my gosh, you should really read this trilogy, Trisha. Like this has become one of my ALL TIME FAVORITES because it’s just that good! 🙂


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