Review: The Winner’s Curse, Marie Rutkoski

I would just like all of you to know (particularly Clare, whose review of The Winner’s Curse inspired me to read it) that I am a big dumb moron.

What this author’s name is not: Marie Rutkowski.
What it is: Marie Rutkoski.

If you try to search at your library for the name “Rutkowski”, maybe nothing will come up. And maybe you will say to yourself, “Well, the book just came out. The library must not have ordered a copy yet.” And then maybe you will check back periodically to see if the library has ordered a copy, and maybe each time you search for it in the catalog, you will search for “Rutkowski” because that is a distinctive last name and will not be likely to produce extraneous results that are not the book you’re looking for. And maybe several months will go by before you happen to search by the title instead of by the author’s name, and you will realize you had the name wrong all along and you could have read the book back in March when it came out if you weren’t such a moron.

As the daughter of a great general of Rome with pianos Valoria, Kestrel must either join the military or marry, within the next few years. Raw from the feeling of having no choices, she bids one day on a Greek Herrani slave at an auction, in whose eyes she sees the same defiance that she feels about her own life. But Arin has secrets of his own, and Kestrel’s impulsive decision leads to unexpected consequences (& love maybe? Who knows?).

Oh y’all. I have so many hopes for the rest of this series. I hope that Kestrel has to look back on the version of herself that casually benefited from slavery, and to regret that she simply sat with her discomfort rather than doing anything about it. I hope she gets to do some boss strategizing, and I hope that all the other characters continue to be impressed with her brilliance for strategy, as they have consistently been so far. I hope a whole bunch of spoilery things also. I won’t tell you those things. I’ll just think them inside my head.

Kestrel doesn’t choose to go to the slave auction; she’s dragged there by her friend Jess, who’s unbothered by the existence of slavery. Once she’s purchased Arin, she’s also purchased something she did not intend: The breakdown of her ability to benefit quietly from slavery, without questioning it. Because here is Arin, a slave whose anger at his condition is palpable, a slave who speaks Latin Valorian and loves music and questions her, and she’s not able to deny his right to be a person.

I liked this because I cannot imagine that everyone who lived in a slave society — or even everyone who owned slaves — thought it was fine. Surely there were hordes of people like Kestrel, who feel uncomfortable when they are forced to look slavery in the face, but who don’t do anything about it because it’s easy and peaceful to go along, and it’s painful and hard (as Kestrel quickly discovers) to run against the ideas of everyone you socialize with. Plus, it’s a good direction for a “forbidden love” sort of story to go in. Forget how forbidden it would be societally for Kestrel and Arin to have a thing. It’s also functionally impossible because she owns him, and if either of them forgets that for a second, their world will swiftly be there to remind them.

Some good plot twists ensue. The ending isn’t a cliffhanger, either, in case you are worried about that. You could read this book as a standalone and feel satisfied with your life. (That doesn’t mean everything ends happily. It just means that it properly ends.) Instead it does that thing I love, where it shuffles the pieces around the board and says, “This is where we start from next time,” and it’s a whole other place from where you started this time. The Good Wife always does this with its finales. It is the best.

Again: Rutkoski. Not Rutkowski. Important distinction.

Other reviews: Clare’s!, Good Books and Good Wine, YA Book Nerd, Books with Bite, Fantasy Book Cafe, Anna Reads, Working for the Mandroid, In Bed with Books, Waking Brain Cells, Muggle-Born, Bloody Bookaholic, Confessions of a Bibliovore, Proud Book Nerd, Ivy Book Bindings, YA Reads (did I miss yours? Let me know in the comments!)

  • My review isn’t posting for a while, but I really liked this book. I loved the two main characters, and I agree, it could be read as a standalone, but I look forward to the next installments.

    • Gin Jenny

      Yay! I liked it too, and it’ll be interesting to see where it goes to in the next book. Hopefully, plenty of machinations.

  • P.S. OMG, I just went back and looked at my post, and thank heavens yours is first, because I had it spelled RutkoWski. OMG! I wonder why we want to put that W in there! LOL

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahahaha, this makes me feel so much better about myself.

  • Ash

    Ah, you’re not alone. I read it in my head as RuthFoWski so,,, Also, this was on my list because I heard that it was similar to the Queen’s Thief but it sounds nothing like that the way you’ve described it here but my desire to read it hasn’t diminished. It sounds super interesting

    • Gin Jenny

      It’s not that much like The Queen’s Thief series in practice, but I can see how the comparison would arrive. They’re both heavily interested in political machinations, and they’re both inspired by the ancient Greeks (& Romans). Not a terrible comparison by any means!

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  • haha, can relate so much to that spelling thing, when I get an idea on how something should be spelled, it’s hard to get that out of my head.

    This book sounds seriously good and I will give it a shot, I like that the ending isn’t all cliff-hangery so I can stop at the first book if I feel like it.

  • This sounds so gooooood – and then I went to add it to my library list (paying great attention to the surname, obviously) and OH MY GOD the cover’s so bad. SO BAD. Why, when this sounds like such an interesting and thoughtful book about a huge thing like slavery, does the cover have a girl in a dusky pink ballgown draped across it? WHY? I realised I’ve actually seen it around places, but never in a million years would I have put this review and that ruffled monstrosity together as the same novel.

  • It is okay! I tripped on her name A LOT, because I knew about this book way before it ever came out.

    Once sheโ€™s purchased Arin, sheโ€™s also purchased something she did not intend: The breakdown of her ability to benefit quietly from slavery, without questioning it. What a lovely way to phrase it.

    I think you liked it a hint more than I did, but that ending, right? Kestrel is such a fascinating character.

  • Searching your library’s catalog for the wrong author name…priceless and something that I have done as well. It took me quite awhile to figure that one out ๐Ÿ™‚ This sounds like a really interesting read. I will have to copy/paste when I search to see if my library has it. Ha ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I was kind of interested, and then Ash mentioned The Queen’s Thief and even though I can see that it’s probably just the barest outline of a comparison, I’m finding this one soon.

  • I have added this to my wishlist, Jenny! Also, going off of what Ellie said, I just realized I’ve totally been mixing up this book with another series and it’s because of the cover. Possibly two series! And they’re both series I have no interest in reading and I think that’s why I’ve been ignoring TWC.

    But it’s in my wishlist now and I’ll keep an eye out for it at the library! ๐Ÿ™‚