High Fantasy · review · YA

The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy #1) by Marie Rutkoski

16069030Hardcover, 368 pages
Expected publication: March 4th 2014 by Farrar Straus Giroux
Source: Publisher

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.


Marie Rutkoski’s second foray into YA literature after The Shadow Society is a modern high fantasy featuring a warrior’s daughter, a slave and a bloody revolution. I did not like The Shadow Society for many reasons but The Winner’s Curse successfully got me invested in the story and its characters. Before we continue, here’s a little aside.

There is such a difference in the high fantasy written by say Cinda Williams Chima and Alison Croggon, even Alison Goodman and to some extent, Kristin Cashore and all the other “high” fantasy I come across. I don’t know if it is because there is a disparity in the level of complexity interwoven in the stories or the density of the language used or even because the audience may be different. The authors mentioned write a more complicated world with multiple plotlines occurring simultaneously that give the story a greater depth and texture than the other lite high fantasy. This is not necessarily a bad thing; I just think the different is worth nothing and perhaps studying someday.

Going back to Rutkoski’s book, it definitely falls into the lite fantasy portion. It follows Kestrel who insists on disappointing her father by not being a warrior and preferring to make music instead. She is the daughter of the General, a highly decorated warrior of the empire who has conquered and colonized the country in which they currently live. The colonizers have made slaves of the natives, treating them worse than they would their pets. On an outing, Kestrel stumbles onto a slave auction and is manipulated into buying a slave.

The book deals with themes of colonization, discrimination, class and hierarchy. It is also morally ambiguous and presents a truly interesting conundrum. Obviously, there is romance between Arin, the slave, and Kestrel and it is an interesting, crunchy romance because I was convinced of the impossibility of it and I wanted to see how they would work it or even if they would be able to. The novel presents fascinating new cultures and a new kind of heroine who may not be physically strong but has the mental acuity to become a self-actualized person. The characterizations are well done as the love interest is given a vulnerability that makes for a more human, more relatable personality.

I did think that the villain of the piece could have done with a lot more work. I felt that the issue with him was too neatly resolved and his true character should have been a lot more complex to be truly satisfying. I was also not a fan of the ending as I felt the emperor got too late an introduction to have the effect he should have. We do not get to see all his facets but are presented with just one side and yeah, well.

When all is said and done though, I was entertained by the novel and I do look forward to see how the next one moves the story forward.


One thought on “The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy #1) by Marie Rutkoski

  1. I haven’t read The Shadow Society, but it seems like most people who did liked this book more. I’m glad you enjoyed it, despite the slight issues! I do agree that the emperor was introduced quite late, but it didn’t bother me quite as much, as I feel like I’ve gotten enough of a sense of his character to be curious about him in the next installment. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all unravels from here. Lovely review, Nafiza! :)


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