Who Knows Why The Winner’s Curse is Popular? Certainly Not Me…


Title: The Winner’s Curse
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner’s Curse #1
Publication date:  March 2014
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
ISBN: 0374384681
Length: 355 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance


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.

My Thoughts

As you might have guessed from the title, I did not enjoy reading The Winner’s Curse. In fact, between the four main problems I had, and all the secondary issues, I’m struggling to see why people might like it.

  • Kestrel as the main character and focus of the book

She did nothing??? Apart from buying the slave (whom I’ll be calling X because revealing his name is sort of a spoiler), and a few other scenes here and there, she spends most of her time angsting and talking. If I wanted to read about Bella Swan, I would’ve just reread Twilight.

There are aspects to her character that I liked (her ability to manipulate a situation to her advantage, the way she struck deals), but overall she was rather bland and such a dick sometimes. I mean you expect me to like a character who treats the Herrani like shit from the very beginning even though she’s supposed to be special, caring, and whatnot. Newsflash: Telling me she freed one slave and was nice to one slave doesn’t excuse her behaviour from the very beginning.

This line is from the very first scenes of the book:

‘we are not poor. We have no need of a gift from someone such as you’

Nice, dick.

It doesn’t get any better after this.

Basically, I have a lot of problems with Kestrel, but I firmly believe that the book could have been so much better if it had been centred on X and his struggles, rather than her whining and angsting.

  • The use of slavery as little more than a way to set up a plot

So the Winner’s Curse is set in a world where slavery is ubiquitous, and it genuinely does affect the characters. The secondary characters that is, because X is hardly affected by this position beyond the first few of his chapters.
Actually, one of the things I really appreciated about the book was the mindset X is in during those first few chapters, because he’s genuinely treated like a slave in the reader’s eyes, so much so that he doesn’t even call himself by his own name. He is just a tool, a machine, little more than an animal in the way he perceives himself. But once his name is revealed, his entire demeanour changes and his status as a slave is rendered almost insignificant.

If anything, the whole slavery aspect felt like a convenient way to give the romance a forbidden feel, which didn’t do it any favours.

  • The forced romance

Not only was there an unnecessary forbidden aspect to the romance, but the romance itself felt entirely forced on both Kestrel and X’s sides. I mean they have maybe one interaction before Kestrel decides that X is the only one who’s honest with her, and then it’s just downhill from there. The worst part is, the idea of ‘show don’t tell’ is entirely lost on this book since we’re only told of their many interactions rather than shown how they impact both of them.
Since their romance is pretty much what the entire plot revolves around, the fact that it was executed in a way that felt, at the very best, forced created a glaring problem in the book.

  • The place of the climax within this book

You might be wondering what I mean by this. Well, the way The Winner’s Curse is set up everything culminates to a single event within the story which happens a little more than halfway through the book, which made everything that followed feel like it belonged in the sequel. Honestly speaking, the rest of the novel (about 40%, mind you) had little to no build-up to it, which made it feel both out of nowhere and entirely flat (admittedly, the fact that the book goes from an action-filled climax to more of Kestrel whining and angsting probably didn’t help my opinion of it much, either).

Since I read this book as part of Hype or Like Friday, my verdict is it was all hype. I don’t see why it’s so well-loved across the blogosphere, and I very much doubt I’ll be continuing with the series after this.

If you’ve read The Winner’s Curse, does it get any better?


18 thoughts on “Who Knows Why The Winner’s Curse is Popular? Certainly Not Me…

  1. I see so many bloggers saying a lot of the same things you said here and despite the fact that I haven’t read it, I have no idea why it’s so popular haha I still kind of want to read it, but I’ll definitely be picking it up from the library so I don’t have to spend money on it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I can see why, tbh, and I would’ve trudged through the series myself if it didn’t have one too many things that just didn’t work for me. There are definitely elements to it that could redeem the series as a whole but I’d have to be persuaded to continue after this.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My co-blogger read this and also didn’t think it was that great, so I’ve decided to pass on it. I usually trust her opinion on books (We both agreed Red Queen was “meh”), so I’ve kind of also been baffled by its success.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. From what I’ve gathered it gets better as the series goes on (even though it still has problems with the story arcs and Kestrel not doing anything), so I’d attribute its success to that.


      1. People tell me that about a lot of series. And I’m just sitting here thinking “But if the first book wasn’t that great, why did you even read the next ones?” :p I guess I just DNF more series than a lot of other people do.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I DNF so many series that I’ve resorted to having a list for them. I understand the idea of a series getting better as the books go on, especially with debut authors, but I do expect the first book to be at least somewhat engaging!


      3. Yeah, I have so many books I want to read, I’m not sure why I would keep reading a series knowing I don’t like it but hoping it *might* get better. I’d rather just read something else that could turn out to be wonderful.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I read The Winner’s Curse, enjoyed it, but didn’t love it. I just finished The Winner’s Crime (book #2), and nothing happens in the book until the very end. I’m glad I got it from the library. I think I will read book 3, as the ending to book 2 was good. If you didn’t enjoy the first book I doubt you’d enjoy the second.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve been told the series in general has serious pacing problems so I’m not surprised by this. I don’t think I’ll continue with the series, it wasn’t nearly engaging enough, but I’ll be looking out for your thoughts on the series!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I was (of course) nodding along with everything you pointed out.

    “The worst part is, the idea of ‘show don’t tell’ is entirely lost on this book since we’re only told of their many interactions rather than shown how they impact both of them.”

    This is very well put! I swear, I should just wait for you to read things, then link people to your reviews; they’re always beautifully succinct. 🙂

    Honestly, I wish I hadn’t read the rest of the trilogy after slogging through the first book. Hours of my life were lost on books not worth the time. That said, I’d of course love to see your critiques of books #2 and 3 if someone does convince you to give them a try!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Why thank you! Most of my reviews just look like barely structured rambles to me so you have no idea how happy you made me with your assessment of things.
      Honestly I don’t think I’ll continue on with the series because I’ve heard the pacing problems only persist with pretty much nothing happening until the very end of book 2, and I’d rather not slog through that.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a brilliant rant! I’ve read a lot of raving reviews for this book, and I really wasn’t so sure about it. Now I’m definitely giving it a miss.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve seen this around the blogosphere but I’ve never really known what it was about until I read this review (it’s got a nice cover though, I’ll give it that). Thanks so much for your warning – I was actually planning to read this book, but I won’t now. The blurb doesn’t look particularly riveting, either. I hate annoying main characters – I love anti-heroes, but there’s a difference between an anti-hero and a bitch. Sorry. Thanks so much for saving me a few hours of my life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m very glad I could help! You’re absolutely right about the blurb, I’d seen the book floating around myself but the blurb never really caught my attention (in fact I pretty much forgot what it said the first few times) but I will say it does, sort of, fit the book itself.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I actually really enjoyed this series, but your review does bring up some valid points that I never really realised or considered while reading. Personally, I think I liked the third book the best but I thought all the books were quite different. Chances are you may like the rest of the series better , the slavery factor in their relationship is no longer there which made me like the relationship a lot more 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Having a slavery factor in a relationship doesn’t bother me if it’s done right since it allows for so much more complexity because the characters have to get over that slavery factor without creating a power imbalance, which is not the easiest things to show as an author. What bothered me more here was the pacing and and the characters themselves; I’m still on the fence about continuing the series but I might just give it a try if I’m in the right mood!

      Liked by 1 person

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