Book Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Non-Spoilery Section:

If you liked “An Ember in the Ashes” then you will definitely like this book. This is a story of a rich, aristocratic girl who purchases a slave on a whim. She is the daughter of the empire’s greatest general and lives in one of the lands conquered by the empire, Herran. Her new slave is a Herrani boy looking to help free Herran one day again. But of course the two of them start to question society and what is expected of them as they grow closer. He is a terrible server but she appreciates his honesty with her and his sharp mind. He thinks she is nothing but a spoiled brat at first, but then begins to see that she is intelligent and kind. Plus there is one thing both of them adore that really brings them together: music.

I highly recommend this book. It’s the first in a trilogy and really was a great read. It’s exciting but also full of romance. If you liked Ember in the Ashes, The Selection, or Throne of Glass then I think you’ll like this book as much as I did.


So let’s start with Kestrel. I like her. One of the first things we see her do is gamble with a bunch of sailors. She lets on the fact that when it comes to games and strategy, she’s good. It gives us an impression of her being stuck up when we first see her, but then we see her question the earrings and quickly right her wrong to spare a woman a whipping which shows us a more compassionate side of her.

One thing I really liked about Kestrel is that she is not the best fighter. More times than not I feel like these kinds of stories give us females leads who are absolutely defenseless but then in 1 book they are completely trained and taking people down left and right with their new skills. Kestrel was the opposite. She has been training her entire life and is still only a mediocre fighter. That is one of the reasons her being in the duel is such an exciting scene. We know skill wise she does not have what it takes and yet she figures out a way to win anyways.

Her relationship with Arin is fabulous. Of course we know pretty quickly that he is working as a spy in her home but I just love the way they interact. I like the way she figures out that he knows her language and how to ride and is able to get him to show it. I liked the scene after Enai’s death where Arin comes in and is a complete ass to Kestrel but then he comes back because he knows what he said was wrong and false. You can tell he wants her to be his enemy, but he just can’t commit.

The duel is probably the most interesting scene. It was obvious something was going to happen at Irex’s house. I figured it would be he would attack her and Arin would save her (not that we didn’t get that scene later). But I could tell as soon as Arin made the comment about the weapons not belonging there that this had been his house. So I was not surprised when she read the inscription of the book. I did not however expect her to challenge him to a duel. I figured she would talk her way out of it. But the confession to Arin in the carriage that he was her friends was beautiful. And then Arin’s clear protectiveness over her dueling for him is just so adorable. Not even that he calls her weak but just “small”. Again I love that she relies on her smarts in almost everything she does. It’s how she tricks Arin so she can go to the duel, and how she ends up winning the duel.

Moving on I did feel like the story moved very quickly from live as always to the Herrani taking over. I wouldn’t of minded a few more chapters of Kestrel living in luxury just to see a few more interactions between her and Arin than we got. Of course the take over is hard. On the one hand, we’ve been reading primarily from Kesrel’s POV so we feel bad for her, and that all her friends and people are being murdered. But at the same time we know that her people are the conquerers so we’re really routing for the Herrani to win back their independence and not be slaves any more. I guess in the end all we’re really routing for is Kestrel and Arin.

Now moving on to poor Arin. He’s been a slave the entire first half of the book. I love his stubbornness and how blunt he is with Kestrel. Their entire relationship being built up is adorable. I love when he leaves the tile on her piano to let her know he’d like to see her and play the game with him.

But then of course he’s also so clearly fallen head over heels for him. He rushes himself to the party just to prevent her from drinking any wine. He finally confesses his feeling for her in the carriage and then of course that’s the moment everything blows up (literally). And after that he claims her as “a spoil of war” and it’s so obvious to us that he’s trying to protect her from Cheat, but for someone SOOOO smart and SOOOO good at reading people it’s infuriating that Kestrel can’t see that at all. Yes she was just betrayed by him but she seems to believe that he wants her as a “spoil” even though he never makes any moves to harm her. Even though he treks up a freaking mountain just to save her friend, and gives her the nicest suite in his entire house.

It isn’t until the incident with Cheat that she really gives into her feeling again. I loved that scene. I feel like we all saw it coming with the way Cheat had been acting with her. I appreciated that she fights so she doesn’t play the complete damsel in distress, but we also know that she’s not the best fighter, and he has a weapon and she doesn’t so she’s not able to just over power him like that. It made the scene realistic. I love when Arin comes barreling in we don’t even have to hear anything Cheat says. It’s not a long drawn out scene of Cheat accusing him of loving Kestrel. He literally puts his sword right through him and then that’s that. He makes his feeling for her so clear in that moment and it’s beautiful.

After that we get the cute scenes between them of learning to mend a button and eating together, baking together and then the only other kissing scene in the entire book. And of course, once again, right after they kiss everything falls apart. She runs away, he follows, and then HE LETS HER GO.

And of course she gets caught in a storm and when we see Arin again he’s thrilled that the army of the empire has shown up just because it meant she was safe. Now what bothered me is that for someone so smart, he can’t see that she’s marrying the prince for him. They are both so smart and see everything and yet when it comes to each other’s feeling about the other, they are so blind. He believes her so easily that she is only marrying the prince to become powerful and I just want to slap him. If he would think for 2 seconds he’d realize that this deal she’s offering him is to good to be true and that obviously it was part of the deal and she’s doing it all for him. I was so mad at him that he couldn’t see it because that is setting us up for the typical second book in a series where our OTP is fighting or separated or both (New Moon? Iron Daughter? Never Fade? Dreamless? City of Ashes?). It’s such a common theme for the second book to have the main romance fighting or leave each other and it’s so frustrating because you know they always don’t mean it or they are just trying to “protect each other” but we just want to see them together. And of course now it’s all set up for that to happen here.

I will say though that the last line in this book killed me. When Arin says “the god of lies love you” I died. I loved the subtle reference to the fact that she called him the god of lies and that he had once told her that the god of lies could not love her. It was such a beautiful but painful sad last line.

Just a few other tidbits: I wish they had gone into more detail on her appearance, or anyones. I feel like I know her hair color and eye color but that’s about it. Not that I needed a chapter on her appearance but a little more would’ve been helpful when she was describing anyone because I don’t even feel like I got a great picture of Arin either so they were a little hard to picture. (Same for Jess, Ronan, her father…everyone).

Also does anyone else have the itching to braid after this? Personally I love braiding hair and can do some fairly intricate ones so reading a story with so many reference to braiding hair makes me want to do my own, which is why I wish Marie had described appearance in more detail. I would’ve loved to be able to picture what her hair looked like for the winter ball.

Overall I thought this was a really great story. I’m actually not sure if I’m going to give it a 4 or 5 star rating on goodreads yet (wish they had half stars). It held my attention the entire story and I could not put it down plus I just enjoyed the overall plot and characters. But for some reason the timespan of Kestrel being Arin’s prisoners felt like it dragged a little bit for me so I feel like 4.5 would be perfect but of course that’s not an option. But like I said I really did enjoy the story and have high hopes for the rest of series so go read it if you haven’t and if you had comment below so we can discuss it!


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