The Winner’s Curse

The Winner’s Curse is the first novel in the Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski. I read this to prepare for a convention panel I had presented with a friend, but it has been on my TBR for a while.


Kestrel is the daughter of a prominent general, living in the house and country of the conquered Herrani people. She is beautiful, but her beauty is not as important to Kestrel as her music. Within the year, like every young person her age, Kestrel must decide to either join the military or marry. Her father wishes her to enter service and become an even more brilliant tactician than she already is. But Kestrel wants to continue with her music, a past time often frowned upon.

One day, Kestrel unwittingly enters a slave auction. At first an observer, she soon finds herself bidding on – and winning – a young Herrani blacksmith. Though slaves lose their original names, Kestrel discovers that her new acquisition is known as Arin. At first, neither of them get along; in fact, Kestrel – the rightful owner – does not give Arin any work and so the house butler forces the blacksmith to forge countless horseshoes. Upon hearing this, Kestrel takes Arin as her companion escort, as young women cannot travel unattended.

Soon, the pair discover they speak each other’s languages and have a great deal in common. Thus begins first a friendship and a rumor, which soon turns to something more. But Kestrel is unaware that Arin is actually part of a secret rebellion, one that seeks to free the Herrani from their conquerors. Kestrel has always been sensitive to the plight of the Herrani and reluctant to enter the military. Will she side with her father and her people? Or will her heart guide her towards Arin and his rebellious wishes?

I was intrigued the first time I read the summary for the Winner’s Curse. It seemingly had all the fantasy elements that I like in a book: a strong hero/heroine, a touch of realism, and a well thought out world. The prose is beautiful as Marie Rutkoski is an English professor. I thought I would really enjoy it.

However, I was a tad disappointed with the story. I’m not sure why. It is a bit slow paced, being more focused on world and character building than action. I usually like stories that take their time and build on itself. Being a trilogy, there is likely more coming that I haven’t yet seen. But I just don’t feel interested enough to continue – at least not at this juncture. Perhaps in the future when my TBR isn’t so enormous and overwhelming (like that will ever happen).

My rating: 3/5

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