Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies's Reviews > The Winner's Curse

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
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really liked it
bookshelves: ya, social-issues, romance, fantasy, asshat, alpha-male

Actual rating: 3.5
“A kestrel is a hunting hawk.”
“Yes. The perfect name for a warrior girl.”
“Well.” His smile was slight, but it was there. “I suppose neither of us is the person we were believed we would become.”
The second half of this book was exceedingly better than the first. The first was plagued with a rather weak, insipid heroine, an asshat of a "slave" who, seriously, did not act like a fucking slave at all, more like the king of a castle. I disagree with slavery (no anyone in their right mind would ever admit to agreeing with slavery), but the point is that within a book, the role is there to be played, and the so-called slave in this book was more in control than any slave I have ever imagined.

Furthermore, the first half of the book was plagued with feeeeeelings and a girl who---instead of wanting to be a fucking bad-ass soldier like her father hoped---merely aspires the piano.

Womp womp womp.

To add further to the insults, there is a clichéd as all hell love triangle between a "brute," a dark, brooding, wild slave, and a handsome, blond-haired, affable young nobleman.


The Summary: Kestrel is the pampered daughter of a general in the Valorian army. She holds a prestigious position in society---not very long ago, the Valorian army conquered the Herrani. The Herrani are now slaves, and their Valorian overlords have overtaken their country, their homes, and enslaved their people.

Kestrel is 17, she doesn't have a lot of options in life. At 20, citizens are either forced to marry or enlist in the military. Kestrel wants neither.
“But when you are faced with only two choices— the military or marriage—don’t you wonder if there is a third, or a fourth, or more, even, than that?”
She has a talent for music, she wants to play the piano...but it is a shameful talent, because music is not an option for a well-born young lady. Only slaves play music.
If the Herrani hadn’t prized music so highly before the war, that, too, might have changed things. But in the eyes of Valorian society, music was a pleasure to be taken, not made, and it didn’t occur to many that the making and the taking could be the same.
One day, Kestrel is dragged to a slave auction. A young "brute" of a slave caught her eyes.

His name is Smith. The auctioneer wants him to sing, to put on an exhibition. He doesn't.

Kestrel wants him, she feels inexplicably drawn to him. She bids an astonishingly high sum for Smith.
Kestrel drew in a shaky breath. Her bones felt watery. What had she done?

The pointy-chinned woman snickered. “Looks like someone’s suffering the Winner’s Curse. The Winner’s Curse is when you come out on top of the bid, but only by paying a steep price.”
Smith is a smith, or rather, a blacksmith. His real name is Arin.

After her purchase, Kestrel tries to forget about him, but she can't. Amidst the high society gatherings, amidst her suitors, among them, is the earnest, handsome Ronan. Ronan is her best friend's brother. He has long held her in his regard.
Shouldn’t she care? Didn’t she welcome Ronan’s attention?
She doesn't. It is Arin who holds her thoughts.

Unbeknownst to Kestrel, Arin has his own secrets and plans, and which might cost Kestrel's life.

The fate of two nations are at stake.

The Setting & Plot: This is your typical high fantasy, and it is very well done. I have no complaints as to the world building whatsoever.

There is no info-dumping, and everything made sense. The two nations and how one came to enslave the other are well explained. I love the minor details, like the fact that music is looked down by the conquering Valorians because it was valued by the country which they defeated.

I absolutely loved the political plot. The second half of the book was amazing, and it saved this book. The first half of the plot plodded on, cluttered with Kestrel's indecisiveness, Arin's prickly behavior, peppered with balls and sneaking music sessions and shopping and suitors. There were very minor but definite clues as to what would transpire in the second half of the book, everything was very subtly done.

There are mysterious deaths, hints of unrest, duels...minor nuances that led up to the tremendous and shocking events of the second half.

Kestrel: She took a really fucking long time to grow on me. There are some characters whom I absolutely adore and admire from the very beginning: Kestrel is not one of them. She is initially...not so much weak as indecisive. She's the sort of typical teenaged girl in that she's not sure of what she wants in life, except that she doesn't want to be what her father expects her to be. Which is a soldier.

Initially, Kestrel appears spineless. I have to confess I looked down on her for choosing to want to play music over that of a bad-ass soldier girl.
"...she had no natural talent for fighting."
Not only that, her skill is in being a military strategist. Kestrel has a brilliant mind for strategy. She chooses not to exercise it. She flaunts society's rules instead of helping her nation establish its dominance.
“Imagine how the empire would benefit if you truly worked with me,” he said, “and used that talent to secure its territories, instead of pulling apart the logic of customs that order our society.”
“Our customs are lies.” Kestrel’s fingers clenched the fragile stem of her glass.
She is indecisive about everything. She doesn't want to get married. She doesn't want a career. Kestrel is the sort of girl who just wants to float along in life doing whatever she fucking pleases, without consequence.

She is weak, even when it comes to being a mistress in her own home. I like that she is gentle with her slaves, but there is a line between kind discipline, and cruelty, and Kestrel doesn't seem to be able to distinguish where that line lies. Kestrel constantly lets Arin, her SLAVE, talk back to her in front of her friends, in front of her peers.
“What did you say?” Arin whispered in Valorian. He was staring at Jess. “Of course you have no gods. You have no souls.”
She doesn't do anything about his rudeness, his VERY PUBLIC rudeness.

She allows Arin to walk all over her, while he is his slave. She gives him the ability to bargain for his cooperation. She allows her own reputation to be sullied because it was rumored that they were lovers. She receives mocking letters because she cannot put these horrible, shameful rumors to rest:
Do you think you are the first? it read. The only Valorian to take a slave to her bed? Poor fool!
Let me tell you the rules.
Do not be so obvious.
Kestrel puts herself in danger for him, she puts herself up to a DUEL, risking her own life for a slave when all he would have gotten are lashes in punishment. She gives no thoughts to her father, to the fact that she is his only surviving relative, his heir. All she thinks about is saving fucking Arin's skin.
His hands fell away. “You, too. What a stupid thing for you to do. Why did you do that? Why would you do such a stupid thing?”
“You might not think of me as your friend,” Kestrel told Arin, “but I think of you as mine.”
Bold words. It doesn't change the fact that her decision was was fucking stupid.

To my relief, in the second half of the book, Kestrel grew. She develops a spine. She learns to listen to herself. She learns to stand up for herself. She learns that it is wisest not to entirely trust someone.

Arin: An asshat, but thankfully, one that also grew on me. Arin has his own incentive, his own plans. My problem with Arin is that he's transparent as fuck. Arin wouldn't know subtlety it if bit him in the ass.

A slave is not supposed to talk back to his mistress. A slave has no rights to demand anything of his mistress. A slave with a plot should blend in, instead of sticking out. A slave with a higher purpose shouldn't do fucking stupid things like get caught stealing a book, in doing so, risking his own fucking life.
“He has stolen something.”
There must be some mistake. Arin was intelligent, far too canny to do something so dangerous. He must know what happened to Herrani thieves.
Nope, no mistake. He did something incredibly stupid that risks his entire mission for the love of a sentimental fucking book.

I did eventually grow to like Arin. It is a hard life, and Arin has had to suffer a lot for his mission. I understand his anger, I understand his frustration, and I do admire him. It has been a hard life for Arin. He has been enslaved since childhood, and I truly felt for his fate.
"Swallow your pride.”
“Maybe that’s not as easy for me as it is for you.”
He wheeled on her. “It’s not easy for me,” he said through his teeth. “You know that it’s not. What do you think I have had to swallow, these past ten years? What do you think I have had to do to survive?”
The Romance: Bleh. Bleeeeeeeeeh. I really wish there wasn't a love triangle. Especially when I sympathized so much with "the other guy." The really, really nice other guy about whom Kestrel can't be bothered to give a fuck. Ronan ;_;
She tried to push away thoughts of Arin on the auction block, of the look in his eyes when he asked where his honor was, of him swearing at her guards in his tongue. She held Ronan more tightly, pressing her cheek against his chest.
Thinking about someone else when you're in another guy's arms. DAMN YOU, KESTREL.

I liked the fact that there was no insta-love. I liked the fact that Arin and Kestrel's relationship took time to develop, but it felt like Arin found his way into Kestrel's heart too fast, too soon.
Why didn’t he come to her?
She could make him. If she sent an order, he would obey.
But she didn’t want his obedience. She wanted him to want to see her.
I liked the fact that they are both willing to admit their faults, and I like the fact that they communicate. The romance in this book was adequate, and much more believable than in most YA fiction.

Overall: A good book, with a considerable amount of depth in world building, plot, and characters.

Quotes taken from an uncorrected proof subject to change in the final edition.
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Reading Progress

February 11, 2014 – Started Reading
February 11, 2014 – Shelved
February 11, 2014 –
0.0% "Please let this be wonderful. @_@ I need a good book"
February 11, 2014 – Shelved as: ya
February 11, 2014 – Shelved as: social-issues
February 11, 2014 – Shelved as: romance
February 11, 2014 – Shelved as: fantasy
February 11, 2014 – Shelved as: asshat
February 11, 2014 – Shelved as: alpha-male
February 11, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-50 of 63 (63 new)

Rebecca Very, very excited for this book. And also your thoughts. :D

message 2: by Mary (new) - added it

Mary Why love triangles?! WHY?!?!

Can't wait for your review. Sorry you didn't love it like everyone else seemed to.

Kathylill Rebecca wrote: "Very, very excited for this book. And also your thoughts. :D"

Second that!

Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies JennyJen wrote: "I'm astounded that you rated this the same as These Broken Stars.


Upon further thoughts, I think TBS is more of a 3. I really could not get into Kestrel and Arin.

message 6: by Nasty Lady MJ (last edited Feb 11, 2014 09:22PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nasty Lady MJ I liked the romance, but I really think the strong point was all the political mess that was going on in this book.

Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies danielle: yes, a love triangle

YAL: The politics were awesome, the second half of the book rocked.

Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies I think we're doomed to have mostly opposite tastes :(

Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies JennyJen wrote: "The more you say, the more astounded I am. I couldn't even compare these 2 with the 2 assholes from that other book."

You convinced me. I can't give this a lower rating than TBR. Bumping up to 4.

Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies JennyJen wrote: "AHA. The voice of reason, I am. Also, what love triangle? I really don't remember one, so I'm curious. I can't read your review when you write it, cuz I still need to write mine."

(view spoiler)

message 11: by Experiment BL626 (new)

Experiment BL626 Woah. 4-stars. Everyone seems to like this. The book description doesn't look all that interesting to me.

message 12: by Natalia (new) - added it

Natalia Yay, something good at last!

Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies Experiment BL626 (Against GR Censorship) wrote: "Woah. 4-stars. Everyone seems to like this. The book description doesn't look all that interesting to me."

3.5 >_> I was going to give it a 3, until a friend *cough*Jen*cough* pointed out that I gave These Broken Stars a 3.5, and I couldn't let that book be better rated than this.

Natalia: Yay!

message 14: by Natalia (new) - added it

Natalia I'm not going to read your full review just yet, but I will after I read this book. I'm definitely getting it when it comes out next month.

Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies Natalia, I know you don't read any of my reviews until you've read the book itself (unless I give a book 1 or 2, lol!)

message 16: by Danielle. (new) - added it

Danielle. Oh no, I had to stop reading your review after reading, "To add further to the insults, there is a clichéd as all hell love triangle".

Now I'm biting my nails. I don't want to go into the book with negative feelings.

Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies It's not THAT bad, Danielle, but it was one of those things that got on my nerves, because FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHY?! you know...

message 18: by Alkyoni (new) - added it

Alkyoni I haven't read the book yet but I will soon since Jen was all lovey dovey about it.

I read your review, but (maybe because I haven't read it yet) I don't get what you're saying.

To me it seems like the girl (whatshername) was treating the Smith dude not as a slave, but as a human being. Giving him choices, not punching him in the face when he talked back, trying to be his friend, etc. That was rather courageous of her, keeping in mind the world building you're describing.

Also, the smith might be a slave, but he doesn't have to act like one. I mean, he hasn't signed a contract or anything, they made him one (I presume).

Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies My complaint isn't so much that she treats him like a human being but that it feels like she allows him to walk all over her. She is nice. I like that. She is genuinely nice, she freed her old slave nursemaid, but she allows him far too much liberties when he has done nothing to earn it.

Jennifer (The Nightly Book Owl) I think I'll be reading this one since I could go for a book that actually has good world building :)

Jennifer (The Nightly Book Owl) Oh and great review as always :)

message 22: by Tandie (new) - added it

Tandie So I liked it, but I realized that I can't read the whole review until I read dis book! Oh how I want this. :-D

Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies Thanks, Jennifer.

Lol! Poor Tandie :P I hope you like it.

Wendy Darling Hah. I liked Kestrel from the very beginning, but then again I like introspective heroines and stories. I agree that the second half was where things really got interesting, though! And I'm curious if there really will be a triangle. There were the beginnings of it here, but it didn't bother me since (view spoiler). Should be interesting to see what happens!

Anyway, I'm glad this one didn't crash and burn for you. I can breathe a sigh of relief. :P

Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies (view spoiler)

Wendy Darling Too true. *sigh*

message 27: by Anthi (new) - added it

Anthi Kestrel is the sort of girl who just wants to float along in life doing whatever she fucking pleases, without consequence.

...well I wouldn't mind that either if I could, though my doing whatever she fucking pleases would constitute not having to go to work and wake up every morning and spent my free time reading lots of books, swimming, exercise, see my friends and travel.

Just because slavery is abominable that doesn't mean you should tolerate anyone's rudeness specially when is uncalled for and lastly for someone who is supposedly a good strategist therefore she is someone capable to see ahead and anticipate moves and actions she should have definitely anticipate gossip and take the right precautions.

All that being said, awsome review and interesting book!

Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies Thanks, Anthi! Ha, I'd do the same if I could :P

message 29: by Leslie (new)

Leslie When I see more than two stars, I perk up! Wha...? May have to check out this book. ;)

Aimee ♥ | Aimee, Always So jealous that you already got to read this, Khanh!

"I have no complaints as to the world building whatsoever." SOLD! And it's good to see that the heroine develops through the course of the book--grr I want to read this! >.<

Summer YAY
Although the love triangle didn't bother me that much, I don't understand why it had to be there in the first place. I'm glad you enjoyed this, though! :D

message 32: by Experiment BL626 (new)

Experiment BL626 I read your review, but I just want to make sure. Does the MC ever let her love make her into an idiot? As in, "OMG. He's my soul mate. I would jump off a bridge for him because I haz no self-respect."

Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies Expy: No, I don't think she ever does anything that I felt was mind-numbingly stupid =)

Soumi Nice review Khanh. Been dying to read the book for ages.

Cathy  Keaton So, does Kestrel love both boys, then? That's what I was trying to decipher from your review. Sounds like she only likes the slave boy, not the other guy. If so, then it doesn't bother me. The other guy is someone who decided to add himself in where he doesn't belong.

Those are the only kind I like. I hate when the romantic object can't decide who he/she is truly in love with. Totally ruins a character every time.

Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies Cathy: it won't bother you, then.

(view spoiler)

message 38: by Jana (new)

Jana Full disclosure: Initially, I was only interested in this book because my sister's name is also Kestrel--but your review convinced me that there are a few other reasons to check this book out. Thanks for another great review!

message 39: by Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies (last edited Feb 12, 2014 10:48PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies Kit: I was rather dismayed that the MC in this book is named Kestrel, because I LOVE that name and if I had a daughter, I'd name her that myself.

Tell your sister I love her name in a completely nonthreatening, uncreepy way.


Kit and Kestrel. Those are rocking sibling names.

message 40: by Jana (new)

Jana Her name's awesome, right? I'll be sure to pass the completely chill love along. :D Having slightly unconventional parents means that you end up with Kit, Kestrel, Robin, and Jay (for real and yes, that's why I'm weird about character names). We do our best to live up to them. :)

Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies That's quite a flock your parents have there.


Sorry, I couldn't help myself :(

message 42: by Jana (new)

Jana Khanh (Destroyer of Dreams) wrote: "That's quite a flock your parents have there.


Sorry, I couldn't help myself :("

No, no, it's well-deserved. And not a bad pun!

Hershey You liked it! Yay!!

message 44: by Experiment BL626 (new)

Experiment BL626 Khanh (Destroyer of Dreams) wrote: "Expy: No, I don't think she ever does anything that I felt was mind-numbingly stupid =)"

Thank you, friend.

Donna I can't wait to start this, I just got the audio! I am thrilled to see you rated this book so highly.

message 46: by Pam (new) - rated it 1 star

Pam ☼Because Someone Must Be a Thorn☼ Tee The first half of this book absolutely sucks. It's awful. And I certainly hope you aren't leading me on about it getting better.

Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies Eek, Pamela. I had a lot of problem with the first half, too. It got better for me, I hope it's the same for you.

message 48: by Pam (new) - rated it 1 star

Pam ☼Because Someone Must Be a Thorn☼ Tee (don't look at my review)

Kinga After reading most of your review it seemed obvious that Arin would be the main love interest so why the heck is there a triangle? Just so they can strangle and twist around another nice/good guy? Don't mind me. Although in the beginning I root for the good guy I always (mostly) end up swooning over the dark/jerk guy.

message 50: by Rima (new) - added it

Rima Jean Aaaaargh, I can't get into this book!! It's too much swanning about and not enough ACTION. *headdesk*

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