Re-reading “The Winner’s Curse”

Re-reading “The Winner’s Curse”

by Marie Rutkoski


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.


Într-un imperiu care se desfată cu războaie și cu înrobirea celor învinși, Kestrel, fiica unui general, are doar două posibilități: să se înroleze în armată sau să se căsătorească. Dar lumea îi este dată peste cap atunci când își întâlnește sufletul-pereche – un sclav ai cărui ochi par să sfideze întreaga lume. Urmându-și instinctul, sfârșește prin a-l cumpăra pentru o sumă imensă de bani. Însă băiatul deține un secret, iar Kestrel află în curând că prețul pe care l-a plătit pentru o altă ființă umană e mult mai mare decât și-ar fi putut imagina.


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Book #1 in Series

I first read this book before it came out in the US, courtesy of the publisher. Back then I was looking for a (mushy) love story to sweep me off my feet, funny thing. It didn’t feel precisely like attaining that goal at that point, as I was left needing more. Much more (like butterflies and rainbows and kisses and all – yep, the irony of that is not lost on me now).

Then again, I wasn’t looking in the right place.
Or from the right angle.
Or maybe I just expected some things a bit too soon.

It’s funny how our reading needs grow in time, how they change back and forth, like our moods. Also how we can look again at the same story, but maybe with different eyes, years later.

I’ve wanted to re-read this book ever since I fell in love – oh my, so hard! – with The Winner’s Crime. So, when I got the chance to re-read it, this time in Romanian, I was surprised by all the things I didn’t remember, that got lost between the layers of time, by all the things I probably missed on the first look AND by all the things that grabbed my attention this time around.

“Isn’t that what stories do, make real things fake, and fake things real?”

My mind focused now on so many other things. And not only because of the language. That gave the story a different vibe too, it’s true, but there were simply things that made me reconsider what I thought and felt before.

I was more intrigued by the terrible history between the Valorians and the Herrani, the main differences between them and the things that put them on – let’s say – the opposites sides of the same coin… Always one above and one below. Or were they? And the turn of tides were so intricate and beautifully woven.

This time around I witnessed more closely Kestrel’s need to win her father’s approval and affection, a need that felt palpable in this book.

I was also a bit more impressed by the sharpness of her mind – even though her cleverness was a bit unpolished at the edges, as Kestrel was (so far) unexperienced and easily distracted by her youth and by her own feelings.

Also the friendship between Kestrel and Jess was invigorating. It added a nice touch to the story as it showed a different side of Kestrel, one more vulnerable but also more open, and it also showed the strength of her loyalties, once more reminding us of the hard choices she had to make.

In terms of settling, I was delighted to discovered things I missed about both societies, about both characters, hints dropped here that will be of more importance in the following books. (Am I the only one in love with subtle hints?)

And I sense a pattern here…
When it comes to this sort of fantasy, some of my top picks are The Lumatere ChroniclesDaughter of Smoke and Bone, Strange the Dreamer – will have to read them both and judge the series only at the end, but I will still add it here – and The Winner’s trilogy.

Do you see what they have in common?
Hell breaking loose and tearing the world in two!

I find that there is something absolutely magnetic about tragedy in books, I am not a fan of the original Romeo and Juliet play, but I love how all these characters (from the books I mentioned) have a love-to-hate and hate-to-love sort of relationship that threatens to tear their worlds apart and, still, they are the only ones able to put them back together.

“My soul is yours,” he said. “You know that it is.”

The first time around I had 3 problems with the storyline: Arin’s abilities in contradiction with his young age, the (what appeared to be, for me, a sudden) love story between Kestrel and Arin, and the ending that I didn’t bite into (as the negotiation between the emperor and Kestrel felt a bit too convenient, as I put it back then).

And to be honest the first and the last ones still linger somewhere at the edge of my consciousness. They were still a bit of an issue this time around.

As for the love story… I can’t “un-see” all that is to see in the books to follow. I simply can’t “un-fall” in love with them, “un-break” their hearts and even my own. I can’t look at their story as if for the first time. I am besotted with it, with them, and the spot they have in my heart can only grow larger and larger each time.

I am still in love with the historical and fantasy settling, I always love world buildings based on our own history and customs. Lavish balls, duels, conquering strategies, slaves trade, petty gossip.. It is all there, taken from our world and put into another.

And because our heroine has a tactical mind, she needed someone to play along her, someone who might be able to beat her at her own game or to fall, trapped in a game with no winner after all.

And this takes me to the dual narrative that I enjoy so deeply, because Kestrel and Arin have such distinctive voices and they are loyal to their own sides, even when it breaks their hearts. And they take high risks, and they have to make terrible decisions, and they have to betray parts of their own selves along with some of their people… And it’s heartbreaking, in fact heartbreakingly beautiful to witness all this anguish and to hope for some light at the end of the night (figuratively speaking).

So yeah, I guess I did enjoy it better than before, because I understood it better. Because now I know that things I mistook for flaws back then were just snowflakes that were about to turn into snowballs in the following books, waiting to roll around and tear to pieces everything in their path. Including my heart.

Oh! Just wait and see how incredibly beautiful this story is about to get…


ro Note: The Romanian review can be found here.

Thank you very much Leda Edge / Corint (Romania) for providing me with this lovely edition.

My former review can be found here as well.

Get the book in romanian: Elefant  |  Libris


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2 responses to “Re-reading “The Winner’s Curse””

  1. Lis @ The Reader Lines says:

    *hides in shame because she hasn’t read TWK*

    • Ari says:

      Let’s make the decision easier for you.. nRemember all the lovely moments from the first 2 books? They’ll come back in this one with a twist! And remember how I didn’t like the romance in the first book? It works so wonderfully by the end of it all 😀 nnDo you need more reasons?

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