Book Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Posted March 23, 2014 by Kara in book review, Kara / 7 Comments

Book Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie RutkoskiThe Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Published by Farrar Straus and Giroux on April 10th, 2014
Genres: fantasy, young adult
Pages: 368
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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Kestrel lives the lavish lifestyle of a Valorian General s only daughter, and such riches come at a cost for Valoria s captives and for her. As the Herrani face death or slavery, Kestrel s destiny is shaped by her father. He gives her two choices: join his army or get married. Desperate to realise her own future and knowing that it will invite scandal, she pays a small fortune for a handsome Herrani blacksmith at a slave auction. Arin not only plays Kestrel s power games, he understands what she needs and soon she is torn between loyalty to her people and her feelings for him. But Arin is not all he seems and Kestrel will learn that the price she paid for him is much higher than she ever could have imagined. The first novel in a stunning new trilogy, The Winner s Curse is a story of romance, rumours and rebellion, where dirty secrets and careless alliances can be deadly and everything is at stake.

I just finished having a very interesting discussion about what constitutes a fantasy novel. I learned quite a bit. See, up until today, I didn’t consider The Winner’s Curse a fantasy novel. It just didn’t read that way to me. Sure, it takes place in a fantastical world, but that was the only element that made it fantasy. I didn’t think that was enough to classify it as fantasy. Turns out I was wrong. This article helps a lot. The thing is, this is actually the first fantasy novel I have read that did not have any magic or creatures or anything else that was similar. So this was completely a learning experience for me and I am glad that it happened.

But this leads into my review in a particular way, and that is, The Winner’s Curse never read like a fantasy novel to me. Even though it is and I liked it very much, if you are reading this expecting to be all “woo woo fantasy,” it actually feels more historical to me. And definitely more of a romance novel than anything else. But that’s an important point, because if the romantic element is an important part for you when reading, you are most likely going to love this book. As someone who is kind of MEH about romance, I am still able to realize how strong that part of the book was here. And I really did enjoy the characters and the romantic tension. Not my favorite thing in a book, but it worked for me regardless. 

Let’s get the background out of the way. There are two races (I guess you would call them that) in the novel: Valorians and Herranis. The Valorians are rich and skilled in warfare. The conquered the Herran peninsula and took over, making the Herranis slaves. Kestrel, the General’s daughter, inadvertently buys a male Herrani slave at an auction, and their relationship evolves from there. The book gets off to a bit of a slow start after the initial auction, and that’s the reason I wasn’t in love with it like some other readers. I felt the pacing was off. After about page eighty, I got invested again, and then some other stuff happens with politics and the military and warfare, and yeah it sort of sounds boring but it’s not. 

The writing really worked for me in this novel. I really loved Kestrel as a character and I enjoyed her voice. I loved how she refused to be pigeonholed though people continued to try to categorize her. She wasn’t a poor little rich girl; she was so much more than that. And that was the same with Arin. He was so much more than just a Herrani slave/warrior. And Kestrel and Arin together? FIREWORKS.

While I am on the subject, you can play Bite and Sting here. So….worldbuilding. I could have used more. Part of the reason I found it lacking was the missing sensory language. I want to smell, hear, see in my head the world I am reading about. The writing is a bit bare bones in its approach, and with a fantasy novel, I need all of that stuff. I need details. The one war scene towards the end (y’all know what I am talking about) was so short and lacking for me. I wanted more. More of everything. That said, I am sure I will get more in the next book, and I will be reading the next book because The Winner’s Curse was a whole lot of fun.

7 responses to “Book Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

  1. I’m glad you explained why this book didn’t feel like a fantasy novel to you even though it is. I wasn’t planning on reading it, but now that I know it doesn’t necessarily feel like fantasy, I might give it a shot.

  2. I got all excited about playing Bite and Sting but either my work computer won’t allow me to play (thoroughly possible.) or I’m doing something wrong because I can’t figure it out. Lol
    I was of the same thoughts about TWC not being fantasy. That article did help but I totally thought high fantasy was fantasy with ALL the magic and wizards and dragons and crazy stuff going on. Clearly I was wrong. lol But ahhh… Megan Whalen Turner’s series I’d consider fantasy and it’s also lacking in magic. Very interesting. Thanks for posting that link! Super helpful. Glad you enjoyed TWC as much as I did. 🙂

    • OH POOH! I just checked it and it is working fine here! I hope you can get it to work for you. 🙁 Yeah, that article really helped me because this was the first non-magical fantasy I have ever read. So now I have a new perspective going into these things!

  3. At first, this book gave me the impression of ‘just another pretty cover with a pretty girl in a pretty dress” so I was going to write it off. Then the positive buzz started and I started reading reviews and before you know it: I want to read this one too! Your review motivated me to do so even more because like you: I’m not all that into romance books or romantic aspects in my stories. Seeing that you were won over by the writing style, characters and premise are big plusses to me! I do enjoy historicals quite a bit so I think I’ll enjoy this one too. Lovely review ^^

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