The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski – 1-Star Book Review

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So I was really, really looking forward to this book. Not only did the premise sound promising (and a bit unique) but I’d read so many good reviews on it. My anticipation for it was high. Unfortunately, it just didn’t resonate with me. The characters felt stilted and I wasn’t able to connect with them at all. Additionally, the romance aspect didn’t seem healthy nor did the story adequately deal with the suffering of slaves. It was a decent, if average, read but not a series I’m likely to continue with.


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.


Kestrel – Oh man… I hated her so much. This sounds exaggerative but I’m being honest here. I really wanted to like her as she seemed like a strong character. Her inability to think about how her actions affected others was something I just couldn’t get behind though. On the one hand she performed actions that made her seem like she was in support of a modicum of freedom and dignity for slaves but on the other hand she was so naive and insensitive in regard to the abuse they suffered daily. Case in point (and without revealing too many spoilers) when the tables were turned on her powerful status and her freedom was taken away, she was afforded much better care than she had provided her slaves and yet she still wouldn’t see how the Arin’s actions were justified. She seemed personally affronted that he might want freedom. How in the hell does that make sense to her? She honestly annoyed me so much and made me really dislike this book.

Arin – The only saving grace of this book. He was such a strong-willed character that had seen so much hardship, pain and abuse. The fact that he could still feel empathy, kindness and (misguided, in my opinion) loyalty to Kestrel was phenomenal. Rutkoski’s writing of him didn’t make this emotional growth seem unrealistic or trite though. Arin’s warring loyalty and guilt for his conflicted emotions was heart-breaking and made him the sole reason I kept reading. While I couldn’t understand how he could come to love a heartless gal like Kestrel, I still respected him for it.

Side characters –They were there. That’s all I can say. None of them appealed to me or seemed to add much to the story at all. They were under-developed and just seemed to drag out some chapters unnecessarily.

For me, the characters really let this book down. The world-building was decent and the history concerning the Valorian colonisation and oppression of the Herrani was interesting but it all just seemed like superficial information. Just enough to make the story-line between Kestrel and Arin make sense but nothing else was built on to this. I was also expecting a fantasy element… which was not there? It had the average dystopian feel to it though, so that provided some much needed tension and atmosphere to keep the story going.

While I’m not always a fan of the slave trope, I’m not opposed to a story that respectfully covers it. The romantic element in this story that dealt with the slave trope felt unhealthy and uncomfortable to read at times. Kestrel’s ability to ignore Arin until she wanted something tipped the power scale a bit too far, despite their slave-master relationship. Additionally, their lacklustre chemistry just didn’t justify how they came to fall in love. Around half-way through the book they were suddenly in love and all they’d done was play board games…??? This just didn’t make any sense to me.

// have you read this book? do you agree with my thoughts on it? //


24 thoughts on “The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski – 1-Star Book Review

  1. Fantastic review! I haven’t heard of this book til now and might have been drawn to it due to that cover. The heroine sounds like she would enrage me too much to be worth reading, lol. This premise is really something though, seems risky to make an effective book out of it since a realistic depiction of a slavemaster’s daughter as a protagonist seems set up for a failure when it comes to likability.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Kitty Marie! This book really made me angry so I was nervous about writing a review as so many people loved it. I didn’t want to offend people (as the book had offended me). I was definitely expecting some sensitivity and respect in terms of the slave theme but that just wasn’t the case. It was surprising to say the least. The cover is gorgeous though ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m sorry you didn’t like this one! I did enjoy this one but haven’t continued the series yet because I’m terrible at that, haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I remember reading your review for it. I’m so glad you enjoyed it more than I did. We can’t all love the same books 🙂 I hope you enjoy the second book when you get around to reading it!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I was really angry after having read this book. I wanted my review to be honest but not offend the tonnes of people who loved the book (despite how the book offended me). Kestrel was annoying af though! Thanks Amanda 🙂


  3. Great review Jen, you really covered the parts that matter and explained them perfectly. I haven’t read this series nor does it in my TBR but at least now, I’m sure I won’t pick it up. I don’t like romances that are not believable. I don’t characters falling in love just because it’s what the author wants, there must be an apparent development.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Lili! I was a bit nervous writing this review because so many people love the book and I really didn’t like it. Not everyone’s going to love the same book though. I’m also not a fan of insta-love! The author had 300 pages to develop something realistic 😛 Jen

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have this belief that anyone who can’t understand that people have different preferences are not worthy of my time. hehe. That’s what I keep in mind when I write a review of beloved books that I end up not liking.

        Also as an aspiring writer, there’s this quote above my desk that says, “There’s no awful books, just different readers” which always reminds me that not everyone will like the book I’m writing because everyone has different preferences.

        But I do think the quote is kinda not true anymore this time because of books that are badly edited which makes them awful.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Completely agree with you Lili! I’m starting to build up confidence in my opinion and not being as shy to share my thoughts 😀 You’re a writer? That’s awesome! I love the quote, although bad editing is definitely something that makes my twitchy when reading 😛


    • Thank you (happytonic? can I call you that?). I hope you enjoy the book (more than me) if you get around to reading it. So many others have loved it and the premise is quite original so it’s nice to read something new 🙂 Jen

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t enjoy the book that much. This happens though. We aren’t going to love every book that exists even though we love books. I want to say that I love the fact that you stuck to your opinions without being overly negative about the book. Not many negative reviews have this quality. Keep up the great and honest reviews. I’ve loved every review I’ve read!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Willow! I was so looking forward to this book and it just ended up making me angry. I tried to write an honest review that wouldn’t offend anyone but still convey how much the book had offended me. Thank you so much for your support of our blog and reading our posts! ❤


  5. Ohh, I’m so sad you didn’t like this one.
    I remember I liked it when I read it, although I thought some parts were problematic. I don’t even remember now what was it that bothered me.
    I never continued with the series, even though I planned at first. Not sure if I will anymore…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Irena! I was really looking forward to it but sadly the problems in it were just a bit too much for me to enjoy the book despite them. I hope you continue on with the series if you enjoyed the first book! Don’t just take my review for it. Lots of people have loved it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Emer! I’d heard a lot too but after reading it I was just so angry. I couldn’t understand how other people loved it. I tried to write a review that would be honest but not offend anyone (as the book had quite offended me) 😛

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh I feel that! I always think that as long as I’m honest with my own opinions anyone who wants to get irked or offended by them can kindly remove themselves (or be removed lol!) from my vicinity. Always speak your truth <3333

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I haven’t read it but plan(ned?) to at some point 🤔 I know I agree with your reviews most of the time regarding books we’ve both read so I think I might trust you and pass. If you hated Khestrel, there’s a 90% chance I will too 😬

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad we have similar thoughts on books and in our reviews 😊 I always feel bad warning people off books just incase they would have loved them. I really disliked Kestrel though!! 🙈


    • I had a hard time reading this book and expected the slavery aspect to be dealt with sensitively and it wasn’t. Don’t just take my word for it though. So many people have enjoyed this book. It could just be me 😛 Thanks Joanna!

      Liked by 1 person

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