The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

January 15, 2015 Reviews 16

The Winner’s Curse by Marie RutkoskiThe Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Narrator: Justine Eyre
Series: The Winner's Trilogy #1
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Listening Library on March 4, 2014
Genres: Dystopia, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 355
Length: 8 hours 24 minutes
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library

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 SERIOUSLY underestimated The Winner’s Curse. The cover and blurb are, much like the story itself, full of deceptions and little tricks. I only saw them AFTER finishing The Winner’s Curse, when I looked at them again thinking, “This isn’t the story that they made me think it would be.” But it was. I just didn’t look or read closely enough. And that is why you have to read The Winner’s Curse. Every detail is put together perfectly, for a deadly combination.

I say deadly, because, if – like me – you’re thinking that this will be a somewhat sweet YA romance, tinged with some sort of conflict, you missed the same little details I did. This is absolutely a romance, but there’s really nothing YA or sweet about it in my opinion. The Winner’s Curse is about a deadly game, confused by intrigue, deception, brutality, and love. My ONE complaint – and it’s not a big one – is that I could always see every step. The Winner’s Curse is written from a dual POV and the result was that I watched the game unfold, fully aware of the intricate plans. I would have liked to be as shocked by the twists and turns as the characters sometimes were.

And yet, I can’t fault the dual POV, because it was Rutkoski’s own little scheme – worked out on me. It was an evil little plan that tore me apart as much as the main characters – Kestrel and Arin. I grew to love them both, which left me with a confusing lack of clear villains.

Kestrel is a young woman living in a world where she has two choices – marry or enlist. On one hand I loved that this world had no qualms about women being tough and fighting. On the other, for their only other option to be marriage just sucked and reminded me that this was still a paternalistic world. Kestrel’s father is one of the most celebrated war generals of her people, so what he wants for her is no secret. It’s what everyone expects from her. But Kestrel isn’t a great fighter. She has the basic skills, but she has no desire to kill. And she’s always slacked in her fighting in favor of a frowned upon skill, playing the piano. Don’t let that fool you though. Kestrel is no weakling. She is cunning and, when she chooses to be, is ruthless. She’s a master strategist, reads people incredibly well, and is not easy to fool.

The heart can confuse things though. Arin immediately strikes a note inside Kestrel’s heart – from the moment she sees him on the auction block and pays a ridiculous fee for him. He’s strong and stubborn and as you grow to know him, you see what Kestrel sees. You see his intelligence. You feel for him, for the life he had ripped away when Kestrel’s people invaded his land and turned his people into slaves.

And that’s the heart of why The Winner’s Curse is so good. On one hand you love Kestrel and grow to like her friends and even her father. You want them to be happy. But you hate that Arin and his people are enslaved, and you want their freedom. This is a war society – reminiscent of the Roman Empire, after their conquest of Greece – and the brutality of living off the spoils of war is painted vividly.

I think this story will speak to so many different kinds of readers, but I especially recommend it to history buffs, like me. I found so many connections to geek out about. This is a war society – reminiscent of the Roman Empire, after their conquest of Greece – and the brutality of living off the spoils of war is painted vividly.

Finally, I have to add that the narration was fantastic. I’ve never listened to anything narrated by Justine Eyre before, but she is now on my short list. She brought the characters to life and I easily forgot she was reading a script. Even her male voices were strong and varied, making The Winner’s Curse a real treat to listen to.

I can’t wait to pick up the next book! I’m so glad book club made me pick up The The Winner’s Curse I really had underestimated it.

4.5 stars I loved it

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About Marie Rutkoski

Marie Rutkoski is the author of the YA novel The Shadow Society and the children’s fantasy series The Kronos Chronicles, including The Cabinet of Wonders, The Celestial Globe and The Jewel of the Kalderash. Her next project is a YA trilogy that begins with The Winner’s Curse, which is scheduled to be published in March 2014.

Marie grew up in Bolingbrook, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago), as the oldest of four children. She holds a BA from the University of Iowa and a PhD from Harvard University. Marie is currently a professor at Brooklyn College, where she teaches Renaissance Drama, children’s literature and fiction writing. She lives in New York City with her husband and two sons.


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About Berls
Berls has been a book lover her whole life. She reads pretty much every genre and is currently working hard at making her childhood dream of becoming an author come true. She loves sharing her thoughts about books, blogging, and just random fun stuff. She's a challenge and read-a-thon junkie, so it's no wonder that she loves co-hosting the COYER reading challenge. Leave a comment, Berls is always happy to chat!

16 Responses to “The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski”

  1. Bookworm Brandee

    You’ve sold me. I’m wishing I had this one on my bookshelf already so I could pick it up NOW. Alas, I do not. BUT I will see about wiggling it into my budget soon. I seriously love the sound of The Winner’s Curse, Berls. When I was reading the part in your review where you said you could see every step because of the dual POV, I was thinking that perhaps that was part of the author’s plan. And then you basically said that. I love it when I read a book that I underestimated…it’s a thrill. And that this one weaves in history…I hope I can squeeze this one in soon! Brilliant review, my friend!
    Bookworm Brandee recently posted…Release Day Blitz & TWO Giveaways ~ Strange Magic ~ Michelle MankinMy Profile

  2. Anya

    Yey! I quite enjoyed The Winner’s Curse especially for what you pointed out: it is not sweet and is quite truthful about living in a warring land. It’s great to know this narrator is awesome, I’ll have to see if she’s narrated anything I want to read!
    Anya recently posted…When Life Gets HardMy Profile

  3. Trish

    YAY! I loved this one too. I loved the forbidden romance, the characters and all the political strategy. I’m kind of like Kestrel, I’ve no stomach for fighting but background strategy, that I could get in to! And you so rarely see it in books. Can’t wait to read the next book soon 🙂

    • Berls

      Well it’s not set anywhere real, but it sure FELT like ancient Rome. Being fully aware was good in some ways, but I think I would have liked to be shocked too (possibly better). I can’t wait for the next one 🙂
      Berls recently posted…2014 Book of the Year | FinalsMy Profile

  4. Lupdilup

    Oh Berls! I’m in trouble now! Before I used get some time before the audio was available, but now is right there! It’s going to be a very expensive year, I just added a book from Kimba’s blog (just now) that sounded great, and now this!..I will definitely get it.
    Thanks, great review 🙂
    Lupdilup recently posted…Golden Son Audiobook by Pierce Brown (Review)My Profile

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