Book Review: The Winner’s Curse


It’s been exactly a year since my previous book review. A fine coincidence. So, I thought I would resume reviewing books with the book that prompted me to begin in the first place.


The Winner’s Curse is the first book of a fantasy, young-adult trilogy written by an American professor of literature Marie Rutkoski. It came out in 2014. I don’t think the trilogy is available in Indian bookstores. You would have to order online and the book would cost almost Rs. 700. I had read the free ebook initially; may be it is still available, I wish I had a link to share.

I can’t understand the steep pricing but when I bought the trilogy 2 years ago, the price was close to Rs. 1000. When I had read the books, I was disappointed that not many people knew about it and people have to read this gem of book. IT’S GORGEOUS, do read. Please. From all the young-adult novels I have ever read, this is my absolute favourite…nothing has topped it so far.


The premise is a Medieval world of lamps, carriages, cannons, slaves, ballrooms and empires. Valoria, an ambitious, warring, culture-less state had conquered, in a bloody war, its peace-loving, unprepared neighbours, Herran, and claimed the culture, commodities, art, science and fruits of the territory, 10 years ago. However, a quiet resignation has been shaping into a war cry and the Valorians are just as unprepared as the Herrani were.

Kestrel, the daughter of General Trajan, is not the kind of warrior she is made out to be. She is not the Valorian conqueror she is expected to be. She plays the frowned upon Herrani music. She loves her Herrani nurse. She can barely stand the imperial ways thrust upon her. And she would not have staked herself at a game she began unwittingly, if only she knew that Arin is not the kind of Herrani slave he is supposed to be.

Winner’s Curse is about two enemies in love who will never have a clear win. However, both need to win. Both can see the cards in the other’s hand. The only way to win is if the other one lets them win. They let each other win, they protect each other, strengthen each other while they plot against each other; their ultimate choice being their at-war empires.

The plot unfolds and the narrative progresses from Kestrel’s and Arin’s perspective. Kestrel and Arin are very strong characters. Have them unfolded in the book the way they do, is one of book’s greatest merits… so I am not going to reveal much of them here. Their chemistry is explosive, and how and what it tempts them to do often, is also the part of the novel I don’t want to corrupt for you.


Marie Rutkoski has blown me away by her figurative language. It’s soo beautiful that I have to at times set the book aside and let those images, the lyrical emotions behind them sink in and linger in my thoughts a little longer. I am not going to give an instance, I really want you to read the book.

Even after 5 years the imagery, the dialogues, the beautifully weaved phrases have not left me. Everything written can be so subtle, sensuous and sooooooo true to life. It makes it unforgettable.

It doesn’t have much of info-dumping as in the usual fantasy novel (infact, many of its features are very unlike Fantasy) may be because the premise is very familiar and devoid of anything magical or mystical, and regardless of that the writer creates very interesting societies, circumstances and consequences. The romance is not redundant or dragged, its exciting, manipulative, strategizing and basically so different… so new.

Marie Rutkoski’s style is that of a blooming flower – steady, serene and seductive. I love that initially it doesn’t rush into things. It takes time to build up and dvelves so deeply in characters, the way they form relationships, the way they operate and the way the world operates around them. Plot and characters would have seemed frivolous if not infused with subtlety and bold intelligence.  And everything becomes bigger later as promised in the initial chapter.

The other thing I like about the novel are the military strategies when a full blown conflict errupts.


I love everything about this trilogy. May be because of my preferences but you gotta be blind to not see its merits. If I gave out any spoilers, sorry but I know you’ll get over it. Please read now… I don’t what the hell you’re still doing here. But remember, I banged my head on walls  for a long time after finishing the book; the loose ends, the cliffhanger or just the craving for the author’s writing style could be maddening and the tipping point was the author took time to publish the following books. So buy all the books together.

Also, I HATE….ABSOLUTELY HATE the way this book has been marketed. The covers are bad, blurbs not good enough and they are misleading with an ill-suited genre. This is hardly a fantasy.






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