Steph Sinclair's Reviews > The Winner's Curse

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
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Mar 07, 2013

it was amazing
bookshelves: macmillan, young-adult, 2014-release, e-arc, ebook, 2-am-or-later, 2013-favorite, 2013-reads, all-time-favorites, awesome, beautiful-prose, best-characters, best-relationships, come-out-already, cool-author, deserves-every-one-of-those-stars, epic, forbidden-love, high-fantasy, i-didn-t-see-that-coming, i-loved-it, i-need-the-next-book-like-yesterday, i-need-to-buy-this-book, left-me-in-a-sad-emotional-state, made-me-think, mind-blowing-good, oh-yeah-baby, omg-that-ending, original-and-creative, pass-me-my-tissues, pure-win, smart-heroine, so-glad-i-read-this, strong-heroine, surprised-me, yeah-baby-5-stars, just-take-my-heart-already, bea-2013, print-arc, audio-books
Recommended for: Everyone better read this one... OR ELSE (especially High Fantasy fans).
Read 2 times. Last read March 7, 2013 to March 13, 2013.

A year ago when I first heard about The Winner's Curse, it was during the Fierce Reads tour where I had an opportunity to interview a few MacKids authors, including Marie Rutkoski. It was a lot of fun and remains one of my favorite interviews I'd ever conducted. I really enjoyed The Shadow Society, Marie's YA debut novel, and loved her writing style, so I knew I'd be more than eager to check out any of her future works. I asked what she and the other authors where working on and she mentioned The Winner's Curse, which I mistakenly called in my mind "The Winter's Curse." When she explained the premise, I was instantly intrigued. Later, when Kat and I were offered the opportunity to be early readers, we were both honored and delighted but, admittedly, hesitant. A novel exploring a relationship between slave and master can only go one of two ways: really awful or amazingly well. And for us, there's always that fear of disliking a book written by an author you like personally.

Our fears were unnecessary.

I remember it being well after midnight when Kat texted me saying she had finished the book. In one sitting. The same day we received it. She immediately demanded that I finish so we could gush. Gush? That was all the incentive I needed to carve out a few hours of the next day for reading. Me, being the slow reader that I am, sat reading all day and into the night. When I finished, it was late, my house was quiet and I was alone on my couch. It was the perfect opportunity to have a good cry. Kat and I FaceTimed and chatted about our favorite parts, swooned over Arin, admired Kestrel's tenacity and wit, discussed the intricately woven theme of Bite and Sting, fangirled over Marie's prose and cried together over the heartbreaking ending because parting from this book and characters was such sweet sorrow.

We knew this book was special so we did what any self-professed book nerd would do when they read an amazing book: We leveled up to Book Pushers and, as Gillian from Writer of Wrongs would say, started flinging this book at any and all of our blogger friends' faces. Many of them have loved it just as much as we did and have reviewed it to the point where I'm not sure what else I could say about it. So here I am, a year later, after reading The Winner's Curse twice and listening to the audiobook. Anyone who's chatted with me over the years would know that I don't re-read books at all. I don't have the time or usually the inclination, but I made time for this one because it really did a number on the feels, yo.

I'm going to give you five reasons why you should read this book and even consider giving the audio a chance.

1. The narrator, Justine Eyre

One word, guys: BOSS. The accent that she did was fantastic. It really put me in the rich setting of the Valorian society. My reality faded away as I listened to her describe the clothing, the buildings and the people. She has this gritty quality to her voice, that perhaps may turn some off, but for me it was perfect. It held so much emotion, especially when she did the dialog for Arin. When he talked to Kestrel, I could feel his heart breaking, his sorrow, his regrets, his resolve wavering. And when she did Kestrel, I could feel her resolve, her uncertainty, her sadness, her wavering loyalty between Arin and her people.

I was really, really surprised with it because I'm picky when it comes to narrators. Everyone knows a narrator can make or break an audiobook, and for me, Justine Eyre enhanced a novel I already loved. In fact, I come out feeling like I loved the audio slightly more than the print.


2. Arin & Kestrel's relationship

This isn't your usual romance. Theirs is a complex love that doesn't blossom overnight -- yay, no instalove! -- but it also sneaks up on you in a way. You get a sense that they have grown fond or used to each other, but you don't know if or when it's ever going to manifest into something else until it does. The problem comes with the issue of slavery. While they have these feelings for each other, the question remains on if it's real if the other doesn't have the true freedom to choose. Can you really love your master? They both know that a relationship between them won't be true unless they are both equal. Unfortunately for them, neither of their societies don't see them as such.

What I really loved about the book was that even though at the heart of the story it's a romance, neither Arin or Kestrel allows their relationship to dominate their common sense. In the midst of their feelings, there's a war and it is a very real threat. Both have high stakes in this game of love and war: family members, friends, loyalty to one's country. It's complicated. It's not so easy for them to run away from their responsibilities to be with each other, and that's what makes their relationship so fascinating and complex. There's no right or wrong answer and, as a reader, it makes it more unpredictable.


3. The Setting

I love how The Winner's Curse feels both Fantasy and Historical at the same time. The women wear gowns equipped with daggers, are allowed to fight in the army and have influence. The society lives for lavish balls, duels, high social gatherings and gossip. They are in no way technologically advanced since they rely on lanterns and horse or boat travel. It's one of those books where I'm not exactly sure what genre it would fall under. Let's shelve it on the Awesome Shelf, shall we? Because that's essentially what it is and that's the only thing that matters to me.

If you've read other reviews that mention the world building a little lacking, it's true. However, this did not bother me and I think it's less apparent with the audio version. I got such a great feel for the culture, that didn't get a sense that I was missing anything. It seems to me, based on how The Winner's Curse ended, that that'll be elaborated more in books 2 and 3. So I'm not too worried in that respect. There's was enough going on without having the geographical locations of all cities thrown into the mix.


4. Kestrel

Kestrel isn't your usual heroine. She's not a Katniss or a Rose or even a Tris because she's not a fighter. That's not to say she is weak by any means, but she's different. She, instead, is one of the smartest heroines I've read about. What she lacks in fighting skills, she more than makes up with her mind. She is sharp and even her father, a high official in the army, notices her tactical mind. He urges her to enlist and use her talents to help her country. However, Kestrel doesn't have any interest in joining the army and is faced with marrying, another choice she dreads making.

One of my favorite scenes with Kestrel involves a duel that she wins not by strength, but with strategy. She's cunning and the type of character you'd want in a game of chess. Or if the zombie apocalypse came, Kestrel would be the one to come up with the plan to get to the safe house. She might not do you any good protection wise, but the plan would be solid.

She's also fiercely determined. Kestrel knew her limitations, but still, she didn't let that stop her from her goal. She would find unique ways around her problems that didn't require brute strength or violence.


5. The Pier Scene 

The first half of the novel may read slow to some, but then you hit the climax and everything from then on is pretty fast paced. It's where Arin and Kestrel's feelings for one another truly shine through despite the problems that arise. The tables turn and Kestrel finally understands Arin better, and because of what Arin went through for years, he doesn't want the same for her. And the feels, the feels, the feels!

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The Pier Scene, and even the one before when Arin sings to Kestrel, was easily my favorite scene in the book. I don't even think there is much dialogue at that part, but wow. When Arin looks at Kestrel with that longing and she him with want, but resolve. It really emphasized how complex things were for them and it was so hard for me to read. I wanted one thing, but NHFHDJDBJFBFLFKDMGVDJBHJJVH!!!!!

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Man, spoilers, I tell ya. I can say no more! But by the end it was like my soul was hurting from the emotional turmoil. Marie, why did you make me feel these things?

 photo feels_zpsc9c78723.gif


It's no secret I loved this book, guys. I'm not sure what else to say but: THIS BOOK, READ IT.

Enter over at my blog to win the audiobook of The Winner's Curse, donated by Marie Rutkoski!



So amazing!

This book had everything I wanted. It's much too early to put a review up, but trust me, YOU WANT THIS.

It had some of this:

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With a little of this:

 photo forbiddenlove_zps1e213695.jpg

And romance between two of the best characters that made me go:

 photo Ishipit_zpse88b87ac.gif

And then my feels all went and 'sploded all over the place and made me feel something like this:

 photo canthandletheseemotions_zpscd037ff9.gif

And with that ending just smothered in perfection, I'm not ashamed to admit some of this happened after I realized I'd have to wait until 2015 for the sequel:

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Basically, I'll be re-reading this book soon and that's pretty much the highest praise I can give it.


Disclaimers: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher for review. I also received the audiobook for review. However, I ended up purchasing the audiobook with my hard-earned cash money, so there's that. No monies or favors were exchanged for my review and high praise. I loved it all by my lonesome.

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Quotes Steph Liked

Marie Rutkoski
“Isn't that what stories do, make real things fake, and fake things real?”
Marie Rutkoski, The Winner's Curse

Reading Progress

March 7, 2013 – Started Reading
March 7, 2013 – Shelved
March 7, 2013 – Shelved as: macmillan
March 7, 2013 – Shelved as: young-adult
March 7, 2013 – Shelved as: 2014-release
March 7, 2013 – Shelved as: e-arc
March 7, 2013 – Shelved as: ebook
March 10, 2013 –
20.0% "Ohhhh... interesting!"
March 12, 2013 –
March 12, 2013 –
46.0% "Oh, Kestrel. You clever, clever girl."
March 13, 2013 –
91.0% "This book is doing a serious number on my feels."
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: awesome
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: 2-am-or-later
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: 2013-favorite
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: 2013-reads
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: all-time-favorites
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: beautiful-prose
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: best-characters
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: best-relationships
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: come-out-already
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: cool-author
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: deserves-every-one-of-those-stars
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: epic
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: forbidden-love
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: high-fantasy
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: i-didn-t-see-that-coming
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: i-loved-it
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: i-need-the-next-book-like-yesterday
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: i-need-to-buy-this-book
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: strong-heroine
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: left-me-in-a-sad-emotional-state
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: made-me-think
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: mind-blowing-good
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: oh-yeah-baby
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: omg-that-ending
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: original-and-creative
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: pass-me-my-tissues
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: pure-win
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: smart-heroine
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: so-glad-i-read-this
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: surprised-me
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: yeah-baby-5-stars
March 13, 2013 – Shelved as: just-take-my-heart-already
March 13, 2013 – Finished Reading
June 2, 2013 –
page 1
0.28% "This is the first book that I've attempted a reread for in years."
June 3, 2013 – Shelved as: bea-2013
June 21, 2013 –
page 70
December 13, 2013 – Shelved as: print-arc
March 9, 2014 – Shelved as: audio-books
March 10, 2014 – Shelved (Audio CD Edition)
March 10, 2014 – Shelved as: audio-books (Audio CD Edition)
March 10, 2014 – Shelved as: young-adult (Audio CD Edition)
March 10, 2014 – Shelved as: 2014-release (Audio CD Edition)
March 10, 2014 – Shelved as: macmillan (Audio CD Edition)
March 10, 2014 – Shelved as: high-fantasy (Audio CD Edition)
March 11, 2014 –
5.0% "I didn't image the characters with this accent when I read it, but I really like it. The narrator is great." (Audio CD Edition)
March 12, 2014 –
40.0% "Reaching my favorite part!!" (Audio CD Edition)
Started Reading (Audio CD Edition)
March 13, 2014 –
90.0% "My love for this narrator is eternal." (Audio CD Edition)
March 13, 2014 – Finished Reading (Audio CD Edition)

Comments (showing 1-50 of 119) (119 new)

Christina (A Reader of Fictions) How do you have an e-ARC of this already? It doesn't even have a release date? *curious*

Steph Sinclair Macmillan offered it.

Soumi seriously...i so badly want to read it

Experiment BL626 This is good so far?

Steph Sinclair Yeah, I'm really liking it so far. The beginning was a little slow, but the plot is excellent.

Experiment BL626 Excellent! Not a word I hear from you often. Promising, very promising, indeed.

... And now jealous.

Jamie (The Perpetual Page-Turner) I saw Kat freaking out about this one!!

Steph Sinclair Jamie wrote: "I saw Kat freaking out about this one!!"

Jamie, there are no words. I really loved it!!

Danielle (Love at First Page) Steph, is there a love triangle in this? :) So excited to read it!

message 11: by Kaitlyn (new) - added it

Kaitlyn Wow, 5 stars? I enjoyed The Shadow Society by this author, so I'll definitely have to check this one out - glad that you loved it so much. :)

Steph Sinclair @Danielle, No. :D

@Kaitlyn, Yup! I loved the writing style in The Shadow Society, but I feel like The Winner's Curse is a much stronger novel.

message 13: by Sandra (new) - added it

Sandra It's not on NG yet... :(

message 14: by Steph (last edited Mar 14, 2013 04:13PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Steph Sinclair No, it probably won't be up until later this year, IF it goes up on there at all. (I'm guessing here. I don't really know.)

message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

What is that second gif from?? gorgeous!!!! I want to watch whatever it is

Steph Sinclair Rachel wrote: "What is that second gif from?? gorgeous!!!! I want to watch whatever it is"

I wish I knew! It wasn't labeled. :(

Christina (A Reader of Fictions) The picture of the couple is from the movie Silk.

message 18: by Tina (new) - added it

Tina You're getting me excited. Even better than The Shadow Society??

Steph Sinclair @Christina (#1), Thank you! You're like a sponge of knowledge.

@Christina (#2), YES! The plot was sooooo solid and the characters were so very well written. I wish I could say more, but I'm sworn to secrecy!

Soumi Step, I'm so jealous....Grrrr....I want to teleport inside your computer and read it.

Steph Sinclair Trust me when I say, this one is worth the wait!

Soumi Waiting is killing me darling *sob sob*

Serena 2014??

Jamie (The Perpetual Page-Turner) You and Kat are killing meeeee!

Ellie Loredan You got me at the Anastasia gif. Me want - like now and not sometime in 2014. Grrr.

Wendy Darling Okay, I was suspicious of your rave and Kennedy's because I couldn't get into Shadow Society at all. But I saw you rated that a three, so...I may have to check this one out!

Kat Kennedy I haven't read Shadow Society, so I can't compare them - but this novel was as close to perfect as it gets for me.

Steph Sinclair Wendy, I think you'll like this one a lot more. Very smart heroine and strong plot.

Megan How the heck did you get an ARC of this?! IT DOESN'T EVEN COME OUT UNTIL 2014!

Steph Sinclair Megan wrote: "How the heck did you get an ARC of this?! IT DOESN'T EVEN COME OUT UNTIL 2014!"

The publisher kindly offered an e-copy to Kat and I.

message 31: by Lia (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lia Dear Steph, as an avid fan of your reviews, I have to say that this is not a nice thing to do. You know we'll lose sleep over this book now, and we'll only get it in 2014. Do you really take pleasure in torturing us?

Wendy Darling That's awesome to hear, Steph and Kat--I'll be on the lookout!

*dissolves into a puddle of neediness*

Rashika (is tired) I am so excited for this book, I loved Shadow Society and I am assuming she has grown a lot as a writer in this one.
and it's High Fantasy. I want this book .-.
I have to wait till 2014 :/

Faye, la Patata Sounds like my kinda book :3

★ʜɑʋɘɳ★ 2014 *cry*

message 37: by Anne (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anne Rutkoski's writing is godlike and her other series was fantastic! Glad you liked this one; I have me official seal of go-head from you now.

Christina (A Reader of Fictions) Steph, you'll be happy to hear I read a hundred pages on the plane during take-off and landing.

Steph Sinclair @Everyone: It's so worth the wait, IMO and if you loved The Sadow Society, you will love this more. If you didn't love it, you may find The Winner's Curse to be loads better. I hope you all love it as much as I do. :)

@Christina, And??? How is it going for you?!

Christina (A Reader of Fictions) Really good so far. Still waiting for it to grab me by the feels though. :)

Steph Sinclair Kat was grabbed immediately, but for me, it felt more gradual. By the end, I was a mess. Lol.

Christina (A Reader of Fictions) I do really like Kestrel though. She's a different kind of strong heroine and I love it.

Angelica You are so lucky!! How did you get to read this book so early on?

Steph Sinclair Right? I like how smart she is. Very strong willed. I also love how she doesn't *want* to be a solider, but still has this strength to her character. She's a different kind of kickass.

@Angelica, The publisher sent me an eARC to read. Like I said, it's so worth the wait, IMO. I really can't wait for everyone to read it!

Nikki That Anastasia gif made me instantly add this to my to-read shelf! Can't wait to read it even though it's publication is ages away :P

message 46: by мєℓ (new)

мєℓ March 11th 2014!!!Holly molly....:/

message 47: by Stephenie (new) - added it

Stephenie Oh man! I can't wait to read this! Thank you!!

message 48: by Birte (new) - added it

Birte Oh my... So long to wait? And the first gif... Did the book really has something from Anastasia or did you simply mean the balls? =)

Steph Sinclair Birte wrote: "Oh my... So long to wait? And the first gif... Did the book really has something from Anastasia or did you simply mean the balls? =)"

Nothing from Anastasia, but it does have balls and dancing. :D

message 50: by Birte (new) - added it

Birte Too bad T_T But balls and dancing still sounds pretty good :D I'm also excited for the cover!!!

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