The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

four and a half out of five dragons
four and a half dragons

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I HATE this cover for The Winner’s Curse. It’s so damsel in distress with a pretty dress to distract the viewer. I hate it. Kestrel may not be a great fighter, but she is absolutely not a damsel in distress. This cover might suit some books like Wither by Lauren DeStefano (I stopped reading the series at the end of the first book. Not my style) where it’s all glitz and slow death, but if they wanted a girl in a pretty dress they can at least go for something like Paranormalcy by Kiersten White where the viewer can at least see she’s in motion and ready to fight not fainting.

Let me begin by saying I listened to this as an audiobook. The narrator, Justine Eyre, was amazing! I honestly didn’t even attempt to critique the first half of the book’s plot because I was so enthralled by the narrator. She did these amazing accents that drew me in to the characters and their allegiances. Seriously, I wish all narrators were this good at accents and switching pitches for genders.

At one point I texted myself, “I’m actually surprised by this book. I don’t know what’s going to happen.” This was at about the 75-80% mark. And I wrote it because it had so much more plot than I expected which was a huge positive in my opinion. I suppose I was expecting a sort of run of the mill story with very little plot and too much boring characterization. What I got was a cool idea that flowered into a revolution where I honestly couldn’t decide on the best ending. This wasn’t the typical “the protagonist is the hero/heroine of course.” This was a book where the reader has to think and decide who is the hero/heroine rather than having it handed to them.  

Marie Rutkoski’s writing has some of the most believable world building I’ve seen in recent YA novels. I haven’t so completely bought into a YA revolution since The Hunger Games.

I’m glad that Kestrel wasn’t painted as a badass fighter who could take on anyone. She had more of a nuanced feel that comes from truly good characterization. She didn’t love fighting and use it as an outlet for anger or as an escape. She didn’t become a badass with little effort like so many YA heroines these days do. She wasn’t flat and boring either.

She had passion for music and for the people that matter to her. The musical inclusion was a great touch as it gave Kestrel an outlet and a connection to Arin. She was an intellectual with a head for strategy and a heart for music.

I think it was a good plot inclusion that Kestrel, and the other people in her caste, had two options for their lives, to be married or to join the military, rather than just one option as is so often the case. She literally had to choose to be a lover or a fighter. Often the characters are only given one option and they basically run to the opposite corner to escape it (if they must marry then they turn into fighters instead) whereas in this book the two most opposite options are already included so it falls to the ones who choose to fight to find some middle ground.

The ending was believable for the most part. The reader could follow along with how things played out and believe that things could have happened that way. However, there was one tiny point where I found myself questioning if it was realistic.


I don’t know if the emperor would have agreed to basically give up an entire peninsula and its people when it could easily win just because Kestrel agreed to marry his son. Maybe it’s because, as Kestrel points out, the empire is stretched thin these days and perhaps couldn’t hold all its colonized areas, but it still makes it seem like the empire is defeated.

I’m willing to reserve judgment on this until I read the next book because there could be some more explaining in that one. Such as perhaps the emperor was already considering not fighting and decided that he might as well get a daughter in law out of it. Though I still don’t know why he picked Kestrel out of a hat of other possibilities.

**end of spoiler**

I myself have the Winner’s Curse now because I must finish this series and I have way too many books I need to read anyway. The Winner’s Crime is now on my phone as an audiobook, of course!

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2 thoughts on “The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

    1. It may be the website, or the internet you’re using. It also may be that specific post. I’ve had trouble with it in the past and am looking into editing it. Please look around the website and let me know if it keeps having issues.

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