The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

shvf's review against another edition

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_gyska1's review

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adventurous emotional fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No


leurireads's review against another edition

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  • Plot- or character-driven? N/A
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No


Ladies and gentlemen my worst 2024 read so far! Coloniser romance, coloniser apologist, the author showed her white saviour complex very thoroughly! 

General spoilers ahead!!!

Reading this book was very much like reading current news and the main protagonist being a coloniser who we should sympathise for and root for because she’s battling her feelings of loyalty to her people or to heart left a very bad taste in my mouth. It starts with her questioning her people's actions while very much benefiting from them (does it not resonate with current life events?)then its her being angry that the oppressed people who she previously sympathised with have fought back and are trying to reclaim their home (again does it not resonate?) Arin the love interest, the slave, the colonised who chose the women he loves over his people??? Again bad taste in my mouth!!

 I’m supposed to start sympathising with kestrel & its basically like sympathising with an !srael! :) IK she later on switches sides but for all the WRONG reasons :)

Wdym love can bring peace between the oppressed and oppressor? This is such a poorly executed concept and the fact that the main character is part of the colonisers’ empire is just disgusting. I do not wish to sympathise with her I do not wish to read her horrible thoughts of the oppressed and I do not wish to see how she dehumanises them to the point she’s just exchanging lives with the emperor, it was basically a “listen dont colonise them (the man I love is part of them) but colonise the other side instead” the worse part is that she didnt choose to switch sides out of humanity and morals, no she switched sides because she wants a man!! One more thing I need to add is the fact that ARIN who was a slave and whose home was colonised is the one who keeps APOLOGISING to the coloniser!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

 this is such a horribly executed concept, bad writing and lacks depth. I have so much to say about this but mostly, if you as an adult have read this in this day and age and ENJOYED this book then some self reflection is due. 

 I will not continue this series & I will not recommend it to anyone ever.

eesh25's review against another edition

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This is a book that I liked enough to wish I could give it a better rating.

It follows Kestral, the daughter of a Valorian general. She lives in a society where, by the age of twenty, you either join the military or you get married. Kestral wishes to do neither. Slavery is very prevalent and when Kestral finds herself falling for a Herran slave she bought, it's a problem. On top of that, her slave, Arin, has his own secret plans.

So, positives first. I really liked Kestral.

Usually, in YA, a strong female characters means some who is either good in physical fights, or someone who's stubborn, reckless and downright annoying. Sometimes, they're both (*cough* Sardothian *cough*). Kestral is refreshing because she's smart, perceptive and very strategic. And considering this story is quite slow and character-driven, Kestral being interesting was important. She was refreshing and I enjoyed reading from her perspective. She made the book interesting. In fact, all the characters were fairly interesting.

That's the only just-positive thing I have for this book. Others are a mix. Like Arin.

I didn't think much of him in the beginning and though he grew on me since he was a really good guy, and fairly smart too, I still wish he didn't so often let his emotions get the best of him. And I have a feeling that wish will be granted to some extent in the next book.

The romance was also very good. But sometimes, the intensity of their feeling was more that what made sense, from what we'd seen.

The writing was good and flowed well, but it was a bit pretentious at time. These line, for example:

He walked, thinking of the things he had learned in the parlor. his mind touched them, considering their shapes and sizes as if they were beads on a string.

And then:

Arin let this new information slip along the string in his mind, click against the other beads, and be silent.

It was a bit much.

For the negatives, I have two things. One was the fact that this book is being categorized as a fantasy when it isn't a fantasy at all. It's mainly a romance with class oppression and rebellions. If someone read this book looking for a fantasy, that person would be very disappointed, and kinda bored. Thankfully, I'd already heard that this was mostly a romance.

Lastly, there wasn't much world-building. The book told us some stuff but not enough to paint a picture of the world. There wasn't much information about the system (were there slaves everywhere or just in Herran? Was the entire empire Military based?), about the geography (what kind of terrain was the world, or even the Valorian empire?) or about social classes or castes (Valorian, Herran, barbarians and what else? What differentiates them?). I would have liked to have a clearer picture.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read, but very contained. I'm looking forward to the next book not just because of the story, but also because I think it will expand, and explain, the world it's set in.

Whether I recommend the series depends on how much I like the next book.

phoenix2's review

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The Winner's Curse is the first book of the YA fantasy series with historical novel vibes.

The book is classic YA, with many tropes and twists that could be found in nearly all the young adult books of that period. And yet, the story is interesting, thrilling, and and suspenseful, even making one want to read more. The romance was angsty enough to keep things thrilling to the very end, which was an open one, giving room for the story to unfold properly in the second book. Actually, the whole book kind of felt like it was setting the pieces down for the rest of the series.

So, three out of five stars for this one; not a very deep book but an adictive read nevertheless.

madelynskies's review

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challenging emotional tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? N/A
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


yukarin's review

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3.5 Stars

Okay, where do I begin. I hated the main characters friends because they only pushed her their own way and for their own convinience. I don't think Kestrel is all that intelligent and strong minded since she made quite a few stupid decisions through the story (also very thoughfull decisions but we are talking about the things that annoyed me first). Also the romance: Kestrel was loving one paragraph and hating her love interest the next one. That's not how I picture a hate-to-love relationship because there was no real progress to the loving part only a constant change in heart which annoyed me quite a lot. Because of that I found Kestrel quite indecisive and egoistic at times.
Plotwise the book was neatly done. I liked the overall story, setting the romance aside.

I hope that my problems with this first book will go away or lessen in the next books.

erikajay's review

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I love the enemies to lovers trope! And it is done very well here.
The world building was great. The history is well explained and you get a real sense of the two groups of people in the city. Because of that, we’re able to understand our characters better and see both of their motivations.
Character development was also great. Both of our main characters are interesting and complex. We get both of their POV, which makes the book a lot more interesting.

bookph1le's review against another edition

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Well, that was disappointing. After all the hype I've heard about it, I expected more. I am such an anomaly, apparently. I never seem to like the books everyone else raves over. And the cover? It's another girl in a princess dress. I'm bored. Complete review to come.

Full review:

I finished reading The Winner's Curse several days ago, and the more time that passes, the more inconsistencies I see in it. This book is getting a lot of attention and hype, and I admit that I do not understand why this is. The writing is pretty good, but this book suffers from so many tropes and so much nonsensical logic that I find I like it less the more distance I have from it. Since my major problem with the book stems from events in the plot, there will be some huge spoilers in this review, so don't read any further if you don't want key elements revealed to you. I prefer not to spoil things in my reviews, but in this case there's no avoiding it.

My first problem with this book is Kestral. She felt like something of an empty shell to me, probably because I never got a good feel for her psychology. My other issue with her is due to her erratic decisions and actions. One minute she's fired up about something, but the next she gives in when she shouldn't. She's also a very odd mixture of bold and feisty yet meek and submissive. I think because she seems so directionless and so unaware of her privilege I really couldn't get behind her. She also has a little of perfection about her in that, even though she has ostentatious "flaws", she's still pretty awesome in general. She doesn't really mess up much, or when she does the reader is supposed to feel sympathetic and not really blame her for it, which I found odd. She came across as a spoiled rich girl to me, and I never got the sense that she really grew, so it was hard for me to care about her. Plus, for all her supposed cleverness, she proves very thick near the end of the book, which made me shake my head in disgust.

I liked Arin better, but I didn't like the characterization of him. Look, Arin is a slave living under the thumb of an oppressive regime. He's seen his country taken from its people, pillaged by a greedy empire lacking all human empathy, and watched friends and family be killed or turned into possessions. He has every reason to be angry, to want to rebel, and to react as he does, and I find it hard to believe that readers wouldn't get this. So why does the author feel the need to provide loopholes for him? It's as if she's afraid he'll be interpreted as evil when it makes no sense at all to see him as evil, given what he and his countrymen have been through. Really, the reason this is done is so that Kestral won't hate him and will still feel angsty about him, which is just such a cop out to me. I'd have preferred for her to hate him or to have to struggle with bad feelings about him and rise above them, but all of that tension is removed.

This leads me to my biggest issue with this book. Never mind that her reputation is in tatters, something that should matter a WHOLE lot more to her than it does. When Kestral finds out that Arin has betrayed her, she's angry. That makes sense. But then, instead of doing anything about it, she pretty much submits to becoming a prisoner in his house. Sure, she makes some attempts to escape, but they're feeble at best, especially since she's supposedly such a brilliant strategist. As I said, I don't think Arin is a bad character for what he does, but it would make sense that, from Kestral's perspective, he's a bad, bad dude. She's been drinking the Kool-Aid of her empire her whole life, her father holds a prominent position in it, and a lot of Valorian civilians are slaughtered in the rebellion. Yet Kestral mopes around about how much she lurves Arin. No, just no. Her sense of betrayal should have run so deep that she'd immediately run to the emperor and tell him what happened. Instead, she hangs around in Arin's house making out with him. I could understand her having conflicted feelings, but I cannot believe that she wouldn't feel an all-consuming sense of rage and loathing when she first finds out that he was spying on her and her father and using the information he gained to help organize the rebellion. I could buy that sense cooling with time and distance, but not while she's still with Arin, especially since she still fails to really get his perspective by this late in the game. Not to mention that the two of them have only just admitted their attraction to one another and have spent precious little time together. How could she already love him enough that she wouldn't want vengeance?

And here's where the author gives Arin several outs. For one, neither Jess nor Ronan are killed by the poisoned wine, which makes no logical sense at all and is clearly done just to make sure Arin doesn't look too much like a bad guy, because then there'd be no reason at all for Kestral not to go crazy on him. That would wreck havoc with the romance, though, so we can't have that, can we? Then, the author takes Cheat and turns him into a would-be rapist, and of course Arin saves the day just in the nick of time.

Here I must pause for a moment to send a message to every author: Do NOT use rape as a plot device. Don't do it, don't do it, don't do it. It's lazy writing and it's just plain wrong. I'm not saying you can't write about rape, but if you're going to do so, it needs to be done in a thoughtful manner and NOT as a means of allowing the hero to swoop in for the rescue, thereby proving what a standup sort of guy he is. I absolutely loathe when authors or TV shows or movies or video games toss rape into the mix as a way of illustrating how awesome the hero is. It minimizes the impact that rape has on people.

When I first finished reading, I wanted to give this book two stars because the writing is solid and the world building was excellent. I had a clear sense of the world, and the author weaves a lot of politics and social structure into the novel, providing a strong sense of place. But these good qualities aren't enough to redeem the glaring flaws, flaws so glaring that they destroy the foundations of the entire book. In the end, I can only give this book one star because I can poke so many holes into it that nothing more than Swiss cheese remains.

lidotchka's review against another edition

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★★★★★ - Re-reading
I read this book for the first time a few years ago and I am very happy to see I still love it.
Kestrel is an amazing main character of course, as well as Arin. The plot is very interesting and something I've never seen before (very different from all these YA books which seem to all tell the exact same story).
I highly recommend this book, it's amazing.