Review: The Winner’s Curse – I asked for politics, not pretty dresses!

The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy, #1) by Marie Rutkoski
Publication date: March 4, 2014 by Farrar Straus Giroux
Genres: Fantasy | Romance | Young Adult
Pages: 355
Links to: Amazon | Goodreads

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.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.


I spent a large amount of time wondering what the hell I should write for a review, deciding whether this book was as bad as my boredom led me to believe or if it was a case of “it’s me not you.” After a while of pondering, I finally got my answer, so before starting to bore you with what will be a long review, let me put things clear: This is not a bad book.

No, it’s not – I mean it. Mediocre… maybe, but not terrible. Disappointing… definitely, and here’s why:

First, I must start with the simple facts – the things easiest to analyze in books. Some may disagree with me, but please remember this is all my opinion. So, without further ado, let me explain how the book was in general, being as objective as possible.


Kestrel, an aristocratic 17-year-old Valorian lady finds herself one day in an auction in which Herrani slaves are sold. The Herrani have been slaves to the Valorians for quite a while now, so no problem there. However, while being there, Kestrel does something stupid, or rather, something impulsive: She buys one of the slaves there by bidding a large amount of money – more than what he was worth – without knowing the consequences this will bring in the near future, because this slave – Arin – hides something behind his defiance mask.

I won’t get into details about that here because I’m saving them for parts 2 & 3 of the review, but in plain words, the synopsis was magnetizing. It’s intriguing enough for making me want to read the book, and it’s vague enough for me not to spoil myself and for making me finally decide to read it.


They’re okay. Not exactly fleshed out or very developed, but they’re not stupid. Kestrel is likable. She’s cunning and is always planning a strategy for anything in case she might need it. Arin is mysterious, and although he’s a strategist too, I’m not gonna lie and say I liked him because honestly, I didn’t, but again, my reasons will be explained later.

World building:

Bad. Simply bad. There is just one thing that is clear in this book in what the world building is concerned: The Herrani are slaves to the Valorian. Yeah, so what? You’re not telling me how come they are slaves to them. No, no, don’t say it’s because “they are too poor to kill and too cowardly to die” – that’s not an explanation. I know that happened after a war, but there are no details.

Besides, this is set in a fictional world (or so I think), so why weren’t there explanations for how the systems worked? All we know is, again, that Herrani are slaves to Valorians, and that Kestrel is a Valorian from the high society, but that’s all, and it is not enough for me.


Beautiful. Marie Rutkoski knows how to write. The descriptions may not be overflowing in details, nor they send shivers down my spine because they’re so prosegasm-inducing like Rick Yancey‘s or Leah Raeder‘s are, but it flows naturally, which is to say, it is not clunky or dense and it works perfectly, in my opinion.

Now… I’m going to address my enjoyment of the book. I’m dividing it in two parts because for me, halves 1 & 2 of the book are completely different.

A word that can describe this half of the book is this: Fluff.What we have here is balls, pretty dresses, discussions about “should I marry or should I enlist to be a soldier?” and boring interactions between Arin and Kestrel. Obviously, this is a set-up for an incoming and very cliched romance. The politics I wanted were not present, and it was really boring.

I would have abandoned the book had it continued that way, but thankfully, it picked up, and it was in the second half when things finally got real and the politics I was promised made their appearance, which is what I’ll now talk about.

Conspiracies, rebellion, politics. What I was waiting for ever since I started the book. There is finally some action, and the Pride-and-Prejudice part of the book ended. This half is what made me keep on reading. It wasn’t perfect because there were still some shadows of the previous half (romance, anyone?), but at least it didn’t take the central stage.

The ending of the book promises the next installment will probably be better since now all things are settled up, and I sincerely hope it is that way, because I don’t think I’ll be able to endure more… fluff.

The disappointment I mentioned at the beginning is owned, then, to the fact that this focused more on building a romance than the politics I was fooled into believing it was about, but to be as fair as possible, I’m breaking down my rating into several aspects I consider important:

Plot: 2/5 stars
Characters: 3/5 stars
World building: 2/5 stars
Writing: 4/5 stars
Entertainment factor: 2/5 stars
Ending: 3/5 stars

The average of that is 2.67 stars, which I’m rounding down to 2.5. I’ve been told book 2 is better than this one (read: focuses less in the romance), but in any case, I’m lowering my expectations so as not to… ehh, get disappointed again.


2 and half stars



5 thoughts on “Review: The Winner’s Curse – I asked for politics, not pretty dresses!

  1. Oh dear, I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy The Winner’s Curse! I can agree with some of your criticisms, and think they are justified. If it’s any assurance, The Winner’s Crime is MUCH better than the first book. It’s probably my favourite in the series – it has definitely more politics, more backstabbing, and lots of (great) tension.

    Also, on the worldbuilding, I do agree that it was a bit sparsely explained. I do think that Rutkoski was going for a reflection of how colonialism/imperialism works and its aftereffects though, I do agree, it could have been done better.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yup, this is definitely a book where the romance takes precedent over the fantasy/politics aspects. While I gave it 4 stars at the time, I certainly wasn’t blown away by it – and had honestly been expecting much more, from the raving, glowing reviews! But yeah, book two does step things up a notch.


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