THE WINNER’S CURSE by Marie Rutkoski – A Dual Review

Marie Rutkoski
368 pages
Publisher: Macmillan
Release Date: March 4th, 2014
Source: Publisher
Rating: LOVED


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.

THE WINNER’S CURSE mixes fantasy and romance into one epic story that’s sure to transcend time. Here at IceyBooks, we’re proud to say the hype is right – THE WINNER’S CURSE is a beautiful, heartbreaking must read.

Asma: I shall start off by saying THE WINNER’S CURSE ruined my life. In a good way.

Hafsah: That’s a pretty bold statement, considering your life is just beginning…

Asma: Oh, yeah? Can you explain your love for it in one sentence?

Hafsah: I don’t even know how to begin expressing my feelings for this book.

Asma: …

Hafsah: I WIN. Anyway. THE WINNER’S CURSE was everything I thought it could be based on the hype. In reality, it was so much more.

Asma: Although the beginning was rather slow—and I’m ashamed to admit I actually considered putting it down—the storyline picked up and the characters soon had more depth.

Hafsah– Yes! The first twenty or so pages had me seriously doubting the hype, but I was fascinated by the way you can almost see the plot intensifying. Marie Rutkoski spins a flawless story within the pages of her latest novel. Something wholly original to expect: Bite and Sting. A game of tiles (almost like a card game) invented by the author, and masterfully used to bring our two protagonists together.

Asma– Which reminds me, the story was told from the point of view of both Kestrel and Arin, giving us a detailed, yet interesting, look at both sides of the story.

Hafsah– Kestrel and Arin. Those are two utterly beautiful names. As is ‘Herrani’ and ‘Valorian’.

Asma– I know, right? When it comes to names, Marie Rutkoski has some of the best.

Hafsah– I should add: the story is told in the third person. And while there are many stories told in third person, very few authors do it right, and we’re often left feeling like we’re missing a personal connection to the characters. In THE WINNER’S CURSE, however, it was well-done.

Asma– Especially considering that one of our narrators is a boy. While there are several books with female and male alternating narrators, there aren’t many where you can easily tell the difference between the two.

Hafsah– The writing was descriptive and lush. Beautiful. It wasn’t overly decorative and, well, simply put, it was perfect.

Asma– More than anything, I absolutely loved the storyline and it’s execution.

Hafsah– I wholly agree. The concept of Kestrel (a Valorian) purchasing Arin (a Herrani slave) is something I’ve never seen done before. The relationship between a master and her slave fascinated me before I picked up the book, and I’m glad to see how Marie delivers. I love those stories with a hate-to-love relationship, and that’s what I got in THE WINNER’S CURSE.

Asma– But Arin and Kestrel’s awesome relationship is not all you can expect. You’ll be torn. By nature, Kestrel and Arin are enemies. She’s the general’s daughter, the very man who conquered and pretty much stole Arin’s life and loved ones. You won’t be able to root for either side. And that made THE WINNER’S CURSE all the more unputdownable.

Hafsah– I like how you put Arin before Kestrel, though I felt Kestrel was more of the main character than Arin.

Asma– Of course I put Arin before Kestrel, he’s too good to be second.

Hafsah– Yes. Arin is the dreamiest. And the last line. His last line. It just killed me.

Asma– Which reminds me of the tearful, dreadful, and terribly sad ending. *sobs*

Hafsah– Anymore adjectives?

Asma– Yes, how about soul-ripping?

Hafsah– Nice.

Asma– Now, if you’ll be so kind, I’m still drowning in the sorrowful ending.

Hafsah– Sigh. See? THE WINNER’S CURSE turned Asma into an emotional mess. I loved the painful ending. Any book that can tear me to pieces, fill me with warm and tingly feelings, and make me smile in the dead of the night, is a perfect book.

Asma– I have to admit that although I hated the ending, I still loved it at the same time.

Hafsah– Before we conclude, I’d like to mention the incredible world-building. I already noted the game, Bite and Sting. But there’s more. Food, customs, languages. And Kestrel is a pianist. All of this combined, Marie Rutkoski can only be described as a genius. How can someone incorporate so many details, an amazing plot, fleshed out characters, and beautiful world-building into just 368 pages?

Asma– I think we should stop now. We love this book enough to write a whole book on our love for this book.

Hafsah– *scratches head*

Asma– Was I being too complex for you, my dear sister?

Hafsah– I… I think I got it. But I agree. We should stop. This book is amazing. Out of the three dual reviews we’ve done thus far, I think THE WINNER’S CURSE is my favorite. This beautiful fantasy releases on March 4th and I suggest you pre-order it right away. You don’t want to miss out.

About the Author:

Marie Rutkoski is the author of the YA novel The Shadow Society and the children’s fantasy series The Kronos Chronicles, including The Cabinet of Wonders, The Celestial Globe and The Jewel of the Kalderash. Her next project is a YA trilogy that begins with The Winner’s Curse, which is scheduled to be published in March 2014.

Marie grew up in Bolingbrook, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago), as the oldest of four children. She holds a BA from the University of Iowa and a PhD from Harvard University. Marie is currently a professor at Brooklyn College, where she teaches Renaissance Drama, children’s literature and fiction writing. She usually lives in New York City with her husband and two sons, but she and her family are living in Paris for the 2012-2013 academic year.

Add THE WINNER’S CURSE to Goodreads
Find Marie on her Twitter | Goodreads | Website


Hafsah Faizal is a YA author, designer, and blogger. Her designs have graced the sites of New York Times bestselling authors, bloggers, and more. She resides in Texas, with her family.



  1. Reply


    February 17, 2014

    I loved your dual review. I’ve been looking forward to reading this and hoping it would not disappoint so I loved this comment:

    Hafsah: I WIN. Anyway. THE WINNER’S CURSE was everything I thought it could be based on the hype. In reality, it was so much more.

    Also I hadn’t seen in the other reviews that i’ve read that it’s slow in the beginning and will pick up pace. That’s good to know so I won’t start reading the book and immediately feel frustrated that it’s not up to hype.

  2. Reply


    February 18, 2014

    You guys need to do more of these! They are great, and you guys have me even more excited for The Winner’s Curse, I can’t wait to read it! Great review :)

  3. Reply


    February 18, 2014

    Fun double review, ladies! I plan on getting my hands on this one as soon as it comes out-the world building sounds to die for! Plus you have totally got me curious about that sad ending.

  4. Reply

    Jennifer aka YA Book Nerd

    February 19, 2014

    Love this conversation. I found this book hard to talk about too – and I loved it :)

  5. Reply


    February 20, 2014

    Wow those names really are great! Although it’s somewhat ambiguous as to what gender those characters are lol. It feels like Kestrel could be either a girl’s or a guy’s name…
    GAH! SOMEONE GIVE ME A COPY OF THIS BOOK STAT. I’m so dang curious as to what this feels-inducing last line is!

  6. Reply


    February 23, 2014

    I’m glad you guys loved this so much! I just finished reading this a few days ago. I though the beginning was a little slow, but the second half was amazing. And it has me soooo excited for the next book! Lovely review!

    Cyn @ Book Munchies (: