Title / The Winner’s Curse, The Winner’s Crime and The Winner’s Kiss
Author / Marie Rutkoski
Publication Date / 2016
Overall Star Rating / ★★★.5
Goodreads synopsis of Book 1: 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. Quick disclaimer, the pictures below were sourced from Goodreads as I don’t own physical copies to take pictures of :).
It is a three book fantasy series set in the fictional world. To be honest I wouldn’t really categorise this as fantasy – to me it seems more like historical fiction with a lot of romance, especially book 1. The first book in the series is probably the weakest, in my opinion. It is also the one I am going to be talking about the most, to avoid spoilers for the sequels. I found that it was too romance driven and everything else seemed to take abit of a backseat. That is something that I personally struggled with, but it may not be an issue for other people. The romance seemed a bit unbelievable and frankly kind of boring. It was not helped by the fact that the two main characters were quite flat for me. There is a vague sense of insta love but nothing major. Before I move on for the romance element, I just want to add how unlikely/coincidental the first meeting was. It kind of bugged me throughout the first book. Moving onto the characters. In book 1 I was not a huge fan of Kestrel – I questioned her choices and I wondered at how easily she got attached to Arin. Another point of note, is that Kestrel is constantly said to be very intelligent, especially in strategy/tactics. Yet she never once suspected anything – there were times I was left wondering at why she hadn’t noticed certain things. I guess she was busy falling for Arin. I would say that she gets better throughout the trilogy, but I wasn’t blown away by her character. Arin was OK – I think he improves as well, but he is also quite frustrating a lot of the time. In terms of the secondary characters, they are mostly forgettable. There are a few I liked but generally I found them to be a bit flat. The world building was disappointingly vague. A small amount of history is mentioned, but I would have appreciated more insight and depth. The world seemed to be quite an interesting one, but it was let down by a lack of information.
Book 2 got a bit better, in my opinion, but it also seemed to be quite alot of filler. I think the main thing I preferred in the second book was that it is a bit less romance centred. We have more of the politics and intrigue going on instead, which I much preferred. The characters were good, but I still didn’t really love any of them. However I did like that we got to see Kestrel’s sneaky/cunning side a bit more. Although it is perhaps less romance focused, I did get frustrated with the constant will they/won’t they conundrum – the angst was occasionally too much for me. It frustrates me, because the readers have a very good idea (at least I did) of what is going to happen with the relationship and the attempt of a suspenseful build up kind of bugged me. The lack of communication was infuriating. Onto the third and final book. In my opinion, book 3 was the strongest. I enjoyed the direction of the plot and the development of the characters – I finally started to like Kestrel and Arin. The war strategies woven into the story was interesting to read. The battle scenes were a little choppy at times, and the ending is kind of anticlimactic, but generally speaking my reading experience of book 3 was quite a bit more enjoyable. That is not to say it is perfect, however.
Overall I liked this trilogy but I did not love it. For me, it was too romance driven and the characters were mostly flat. I liked the political intrigue and war strategy, but the trilogy could have done with more detailed world building. If you don’t read a lot of fantasy and are interested in trying out YA fantasy, then this may be a great place for you. As it is pretty light in terms of fantasy, in my opinion. As long as you also like romance. If you don’t, and want more fantasy elements then I would probably avoid this. Would I recommend it? Yes but not too everyone. As I have mentioned multiple times now, this trilogy is pretty romance heavy, so if that is not your thing I wouldn’t recommend. If you are a fan of popular YA fantasy series such as the Throne of Glass series, the Grisha trilogy or the Falling Kingdoms series, then this trilogy is probably worth a read.
Let me know your thoughts if you’ve read the series. Do you have similar thoughts to me, or completely different? I hope you are having a great day and I will see you next time.