Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

04/08/2016 Reviews 8

Review: The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski‘Arin wondered if she would lift her eyes, but wasn’t worried he would be seen in the garden’s shadows.
He knew the law of such things: people in brightly lit places cannot see into the dark.’

A couple of weeks ago I published a blog post about just how crazy my physical TBR pile had become, and I asked readers to suggest which book I should tackle next. The one that seemed to come up the most in the comments was The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, so I decided it was time to finally read it after having owned a copy for literally ages!

The Winner’s Curse is the first book in the Winner’s Trilogy which tells the story of Kestrel, the daughter of one of the most well-regarded generals in the empire. Years after a devastating war in which the Valorian people took over the country of Herran, Kestrel lives in luxury and prosperity thanks to her father’s position. However, things are far from perfect as she faces the big decision that all Valorians her age must make: to either join the military or get married. The impossible decision she finds herself faced with is made even worse by her growing love for a Herrani slave, Arin, who has a few secrets of his own…

I can definitely see why so many people suggested I start on my physical TBR list by reading this book! As I had been told, this was a fantastic read and I absolutely adored both the characters and the vivid world Marie Rutkoski has crafted within this book.

Kestrel has quickly become one of my favourite heroines ever (and I didn’t think anyone could surpass Celaena Sardothien!) thanks to her uniqueness in the world of YA fiction. Generally a tough heroine in YA is tomboyish and extremely physically capable. Kestrel meanwhile is only a passable fighter, but is incredibly sharp and intelligent and wields her mind as her greatest weapon, and I absolutely loved that! She strategises and thinks her way out of the many bad situations she finds herself in and is cool under pressure, and in many ways she comes across as a lot braver than some of the more physically capable heroines I’ve read about.

I also liked the twist with the Valorian society within this book. Usually tough heroines who can fight are seen as oddities in the worlds of their books, whereas women being tough and in the military is considered relatively normal in The Winner’s Curse, and is something Kestrel actively wants to avoid because she doesn’t want to kill people. It seems like both men and women are faced with the choice of the military or marriage at the age of 20, so I liked this sense of equality, even if this choice seems harsh and oppressive.

I also really liked Arin as a character, although at first he seemed so mysterious that it took me a while to grow to like him. In some ways he’s the typical love interest – handsome, brooding and troubled – but somehow he seemed much more fleshed out. Perhaps this was because of his actions towards the end where he has to decide whose side he’s on and proves himself to be an incredibly moral and principled character, however torn he finds himself between his duty to his people and his love for Kestrel.

Because of the book’s relatively short length the pace was very fast, and I really liked how there wasn’t really any slow moments or sections that lagged. I also think that the world-building done in such a short book is seriously impressive! I have read much, much longer fantasy books than this where the world of the story has been so much less vivid and developed, and I liked how subtly the world was woven (as opposed to the info-dumping you often find in fantasy books!).

However, my one criticism of this book was how quickly Kestrel and Arin’s relationship developed as it just seemed slightly forced at parts, although again this is probably because of the length of the book. I felt like their relationship was convincing once it reached its peak, but they seemed to go from barely knowing each other to grappling with their forbidden love for each other very quickly.

On the whole though, I absolutely loved this book and can certainly see why it was so heavily recommended to me. I really can’t wait to read the rest of this trilogy, particularly considering the way the book is left, and I’ll hopefully be getting to The Winner’s Crime and The Winner’s Kiss much quicker than I got to this!

Rating: 4/5

8 Responses to “Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski”

  1. Melissa @ Quill Pen Writer

    This series is one of my all-time favourites! <3 Like you said, the world-building is subtle but at the same time rich and deep. I also love the writing style which is simplistic and beautiful. Kestrel and Arin are my favourite romantic couple in fiction. I'm so glad you enjoyed the book as much as I did!

    • Laura

      I loved the writing style so much! It was very naturalistic and didn’t seem forced, but was so beautiful at the same time.
      I’m so glad you loved this series so much! I can’t wait to read the rest of it 🙂

  2. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this book, this series is one of my favourites and I literally stumbled across it having head very little much about it before. Once I read it and then discovered everyone else seemed to enjoy it as well. I am so glad you like Kestrel as she is such a fantastic lead character and her entire relationship with Arin is just awesome. I didn’t notice the forced aspect, but then it has been a while since I last read this book and I have read the other two so I suppose that has coloured my view of things.

    One thing I loved about this series is the world building and the society itself felt very genuine and it was only reading the last book when I read the acknowledgements where the author said what books she had read and what helped inspire her that I fully understood the work which went into I do feel like that comes across in all the books. I hope you manage to get to the other two books sooner rather than later as it is such a fantastic series.

    • Laura

      I think the reason I felt the relationship was slightly rushed and forced initially was probably just because I’m used to reading fantasy books that are the size of doorstoppers! In books that length I guess the romantic elements tend to be very slow building, whereas this one gets to the point a little faster.
      It does seem like the author has put so much work and thought into the world she has created and it really shows! I read the acknowledgement of this one and learnt about the whole ‘winner’s curse’ and thought it was so interesting, and it does make for a really great premise 🙂

  3. Jessica Elizabeth

    Ah, this is such a great review! I enjoyed it immensely and totally get where you’re coming from when it comes to the flaws of the novel. For a fantasy novel, The Winner’s Curse is super short and I think that if it had a bit more room to grow and develop further you would have liked it more than you did (not saying you didn’t like it, naturally, I know you did!!) but it’s still a good step when it comes to drawing people into the fantasy genre.

    Also, totally agree with you on the twist re: strong women. I loved seeing that it wasn’t *unusual* in that corner of their society. I really dig it.

    Anyways this was a pretty pointless comment but I loved your review so here I am, haha!

    • Laura

      I’m glad you enjoyed this book too! It was pretty awesome 🙂
      It’s definitely one of the shorter fantasy book I’ve read, so I think it could have been developed a lot more had it been longer, but it definitely managed to do a lot with the amount of time it had.
      I think the whole ‘strong women being normal’ thing was one of my favourite things about the society in the book. I really can’t wait to learn even more about the wider world of the story in the next book! 🙂

  4. Zoe @ Stories on Stage

    Yeah! I am so glad you enjoyed this so much Laura. 🙂 I completely agree with everything you’ve said too. Kestrel is such an amazing and intelligent protagonist and her relationship with Arin is written perfectly. Can’t wait to see what you think about the sequels as well! Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! <3

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