The Winner’s Curse

The Winner's Curse main

The Winner’s Curse
Marie Rutkoski2 stars

Spoiler Rating: High

Hey Ashers,

The final installment in Marie Rutkoski’s popular Winner’s Trilogy just came out, so it seemed high time I meander down to the library and pick up the first book, The Winner’s Curse.

I mean, come on; a conquered people overthrowing their conquerors? Forbidden love between a conqueror-girl and a slave-boy? A book cover featuring a pretty woman geared for daintily opening letters at prom while clearly in the throes of either physical pleasure or a massive headache? What’s not to love?

Having just finished reading The Winner’s Curse, let me tell you now: there’s quite a bit not to love.

But by god I’m holding out hope for the rest of the trilogy.


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 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.

The plot, in brief: (First 324 pages) Valorian gentlewoman Kestrel, who has grown up on the Valorian-colonized peninsula of Herran, impulse-buys a human being, Herrani gentleman-turned-slave Arin. They’re just getting to the smooching stage of their relationship when Arin and his fellow Herrani rebels poison most of the Valorian colonizers and take Kestrel hostage, thus ending their romance. She twiddles her thumbs in captivity for a hundred pages or so until Something Rage-Inducing salvages her relationship with Arin.

(Last 30 pages) But smooching him is too traitorous for Kestrel’s conscience. She escapes to tell the Valorian emperor that his Herrani slaves have revolted, but begs him not to exterminate them for their insolence. Emperor graciously agrees to establish a suzerain/tributary relationship with the Herrani people, on the condition that Kestrel marry his son and heir (whom she’s never met). She agrees; the Herrani are granted both citizenship into the empire and governorship of their homeland, and Arin (whose faith in Kestrel’s moral character is shaken by her apparent power-hungriness) cries a solitary tear at the news of Kestrel’s imperial engagement.


Kestrel — the well-bred daughter of the famous Valorian general who conquered and enslaved the Herran peninsula some ten years ago. She’s a poor fighter, but has the makings of a brilliant strategist. Alas, she’s super disinterested in both joining the military and getting married (the only two options available to Valorian citizens), and she shows a scandalous interest in both music and treating her Herrani slaves (almost) like human beings.

Arin — a Herrani slave whose (noble) family was slaughtered in the Valorian conquest ten years ago, when he was . . . nine? Ish? Trained as a blacksmith and farrier, but his true passion lies in music and overthrowing the Valorian government.

Jess and Ronan — siblings, respectable Valorians, and Kestrel’s closest friends. Jess fills the sweet-but-invisible-best-friend role for the book, while Ronan does the sweet-romantic-interest-who-gets-rejected thing.

Cheat — a Herrani man who plays slave auctioneer by day and leader of the Herrani resistance by night. A cruel, petty, jealous, short-sighted brute.


Well, I’m a sucker for stories about conquered peoples/nations overthrowing (or beginning to overthrow) their conquerors. I think I can trace my suckerhood back to elementary school and Winter of Fire, which is one of those life-changing books that destroyed me in all the best ways as a kid. So two thumbs up for the premise of The Winner’s Curse.

Also neat: Kestrel’s strength is her mind, despite her father’s attempt to make her an elite (or at least competent) fighter. Women who can fight well are awesome, but the fantasy genre’s saturated with them; Kestrel’s disinterest in fighting felt rather novel.

But, uh. That’s about it.


Bland Writing Style

The writing quality wavered, to say the least. There were some gorgeously written bits here and there, but most of the book was bland, with occasional dips into straight-up bad.

So “glass doors burned with light” is pretty vivid; I love that she “dappled a few high notes over the troubled sound”; and the last sentence was one of the most powerful sentence in the book. But the rest of it is all yawns.

Descriptions of characters’ emotions were generally all right (if bland), but frequently collapsed into the pit of Telling, Not Showing–as we see when Arin learns Kestrel’s attending a dinner party hosted by the villainous Lord Irex:

How does she intuit that the set of Arin’s mouth is determined rather than, say, displeased, angry, annoyed, grumpy, or any of the dozen other emotions that would be likely in this situation? What is it about him that reads as protective? What does protective even look like?

(“Look protective,” I commanded Husband. He gamely cycled through several expressions, without clear success.)

It’s tantalizingly easy to write “There was something about him that looked protective” and be done–but those halfhearted descriptions are agonizingly boring to read. They provide little to no direction for the movies (plays? BBC television series?) I mentally turn books into as I read them.

For my birthday, someone please get me more authors who bother to craft clever, nuanced, imaginative descriptions.

Lack of World-Building

There is an appalling lack of world-building going on here. We’re told:

  • the Valorian empire is vast and warlike,
  • Valorian society includes an emperor, a massive army, an unknown number of senators (some/many/all of whom twiddle their thumbs in villas far from the Valorian capital, and don’t appear to do anything remotely senate-like), and a noble class that consists of at least one Lord (who wants to become a senator because, uh, reasons),
  • the Herrani people live on a peninsula,
  • the Herrani once had a wealthy culture focused on arts and stuff, traded overseas with their fancy-pants ships, and were ruled by a monarchy,
  • the Valorians blasted through the mountains separating the Herran peninsula from the Valorian empire, overran the Herrani city, and conquered it,
  • there’s now a Valorian governor ruling the Herran peninsula, and the Herrani people are enslaved,
  • there’s explosive “black powder” which is used in cannons (both on land and at sea), but no hand-held guns,
  • there are pianos and violins, as well as printed-and-bound books available in many different languages that families collect in private libraries,
  • the Valorian capital is three days’ sailing from the Herrani city,
  • and there are “barbarians” causing trouble on the Valorian’s eastern border, somewhere.

Things we are not told include (but are definitely not limited to):

  • the name of the Herrani city where the story takes place,
  • the physical geography (including size, shape, environment, climate, etc) of the Herran peninsula (where, again, the story takes place),
  • the human geography (including any details about culture, population size, demographics, economy, urban/suburban/rural development and spread, etc) of the Herran peninsula,
  • anything at all about how the Herrani people now live,
  • the name of the Valorian capital city,
  • anything at all about Valorian culture, economics, and politics (beyond “they’re not into art” and “they’re big into war”).

We’re not even given enough information about the clothing styles, cuisine, or architecture to paint a half-decent picture of the setting. I mean, sure, the finest Herrani architecture involves marble floors and glass doors and painted ceilings, but that’s as informative as telling us the Valorian women wear silk dresses: not informative enough.

As frustrating as it is to have no clear image of the setting and culture, I was doubly upset about the lack of information regarding the Herrani war, and the Herrani way of life. The book’s plot revolves around a conquered people’s uprising against their conquerors–so shouldn’t we first be shown, in careful detail, how devastating the war was, and how mistreated the Herrani people are now?

But no. We’re told a few times, mostly in passing, that the war was bloody. We’re told in passing that a Valorian’s house slaves now live in communal building somewhere on the property rather than in the Valorian’s house. We’re told in passing that a Valorian can grant their slaves freedom, but it almost never happens. We’re told in passing there’s a market in the city where Herrani slaves (and the very rare free Herrani) sell goods. We’re told in passing that a Herrani who tries to cheat or steal from a Valorian will be whipped.

That’s it.

Arin’s the only Herrani whose life we see in any detail, and his life is exceptional: his mistress is an eccentric Valorian who allows him special freedoms, asks his opinion about things, plays games with him for fun, wants to know him as a person, cares about his well-being. Sure, it’s mentioned (in passing) that he has scars from his hard labor and past whippings, but that’s not enough to provide a vivid portrait of how difficult Herrani life is under the Valorians.

If you want me to be emotionally invested in an uprising, you have to do better than “They’re slaves, and everyone knows slavery is awful, and hey by the way this enslaved young man is super handsome.”

Yes, slavery is beyond awful. But the book didn’t bother trying to show more than a hint of that awfulness, and the story suffered for it.

Unconvincing Romance

Here’s my understanding of Kestrel’s attraction to Arin:

First, Kestrel bought Arin because she was drawn to his strength and quiet rebelliousness on the auction block.

Second, Kestrel’s mind is blown when Arin furiously denies Jess’s claim that the Herrani god of lies must love Kestrel, since Kestrel has such an uncanny ability to discern the hidden truth in things:

The revelation that people might be too afraid to correct her (a Valorian, and daughter of the famous general) if she accuses them of lying has a significant effect:

She’s so shaken that she later asks that Arin always tell her the truth:

But why does she want to know how he truly sees things? Why is his honesty valuable to her? He’s just a brooding hulk of a blacksmith who glowers at her whenever they’re within line of sight. I don’t understand her motivation for this agreement, and it’s the entire foundation of their relationship.

As for Arin’s attraction to Kestrel, I don’t even know. Sure, she plays the piano and he’s a huge fan of music. Sure, she grants him special freedoms and treats him almost like a human being. Sure, he can empathize with the fact that she feels trapped in her situation: forced to either marry or enter the military, and hating both options. But what else? Anything?

But they fall in love because the book wants them to, I guess, until the Herrani rebellion successfully kills most of the Valorians and imprison the rest. Kestrel’s taken hostage by Arin, and she regrets every kind thought she ever had about him.

Until, that is, a certain Something Rage-Inducing happens (don’t worry, I’ll get there), after which Kestrel and Arin’s seemingly doomed romance is saved–and then Arin undergoes a stunning personality shift, from hulking-brooding-angry dude to hopeful-gentle-sweet loverboy, who eagerly runs up the stairs two at time to see his beloved that much sooner, and jokes with her while they bake pastries, and poetically asks her (his hostage, mind you) to live with him forever:

I don’t know who this Arin is, but he definitely isn’t the same Arin who lurked resentfully throughout the first three hundred pages of the book.

Kestrel’s Passivity

There’s something to be said for a YA heroine who isn’t immediately badass in the face of horrifying adversity (such as seeing her people slaughtered and herself taken hostage by a slave uprising)–but Kestrel’s brand of badasslessness had me in despair.

We’re specifically told that Kestrel’s a poor physical fighter; her strength is in her keen observation and deduction skills, her ability to strategize. Her mind is her weapon.

Yet she makes some unbelievably dumb decisions, such as telling her strong-and-brooding Herrani slave that the entire Valorian regiment is leaving the Herran peninsula, thus leaving the place defended only by the city guard until the new occupying force arrives from the Valorian capital.

And when she’s not being an idiot, she spends most of her time intentionally putting her mind (her primary/only weapon!) on mute, and thus disarming herself:

(Hey Kestrel. You’re probably still a prisoner because you aren’t doing anything about it.)

Is it believable that a young woman in her position might be inclined to try to ignore her problems, let her eyes glaze over and let time pass? Of course. But it makes for an infuriating heroine and an unspeakably dull book. I’d have liked at least a little more emotion in her, more spirit, more action.

Here’s hoping this is part of her character arc across the trilogy–that she makes herself powerless in the first book, realizes the danger of doing so in the second book, and attains true power in the third book. That could make the slog through this first book worthwhile.

Arin’s Character Development

Kestrel spends the book being passive, but Arin’s struggling with the burdens of enslavement, falling in love with the young woman who purchased him, and planning a rebellion.

And it’d make for fascinating reading–if we saw more of the story from his point of view.

We know almost nothing about Arin as a person, except that (a) he’s impertinent and brooding, (b) his family was wealthy before the Valorians came along, at which point he was trained to be a blacksmith, and (c) he loves music.

Arin could’ve been a deep and fascinating character, but we’re shown so little of him and his inner struggles (other than “I want her but she’s Valorian, angst”) that he falls quite flat.

Something Rage-Inducing

Time to put my favorite rage socks on. Ashers, you should probably put yours on, too.

In the Characters section of this letter, I told you about Cheat, the leader of the Herrani rebellion. He serves no purpose in the story except to (a) be a brutal and incompetent leader for Arin to eventually replace, and (b) salvage Arin and Kestrel’s seemingly unsalvageable romance.

Kestrel and Arin’s romance is heading straight to smoochville when the rebellion kills almost every Valorian in the city and Arin claims Kestrel as his war prize (to prevent her from joining the piles of Valorian dead). Kestrel immediately realizes that Arin’s at the heart of this rebellion, and she’s sickened by him and by herself–her blindness to his suspicious behavior, her deep attachment to him. Nothing, it seems, can repair the damage done to their romance.

Until Cheat tries to rape Kestrel.

And Arin arrives just in time to save her.


Because rape is a great plot device to use when you need your estranged hero and heroine to reestablish their emotional bond. The best, even.

(That odor you’re smelling is my laptop melting in the face of my fury.)

Whyyyy does it have to be rape? Why does our powerless, passive, captive heroine have to almost be raped for the book’s romance to get back on track? Why couldn’t the author have chosen any other way?

I’m just going to link, once again, to Maggie Stiefvater’s brief rant about the use of rape in literature. And now I’m going to remove my rage socks, breathe, and continue to my final complaint. Which is:

Some Silly Plot Issues

I get the feeling that the author is interested in politics, but isn’t precisely an expert on the topic. Or perhaps she merely assumes her readership won’t notice when political and military things get a little silly in her book.

The most notable silliness comes at the very end of the book, when Kestrel tries to convince the Valorian emperor to grant the Herrani people citizenship into the empire, and allow them to govern themselves. The emperor informs her that doing so would piss off the Valorian senators who live in Herran; Kestrel says paying the senators handsomely might soothe their ruffled feathers:

Uh, what?

  1. Why does this emperor, whose military already seems feverishly devoted to him and the empire, have to rely on marrying his son to a general’s daughter to “make the military love [him]”? We’ve seen nothing to suggest that his grasp on the military’s loyalty is anything but absolute.
  2. Why does he need to “distract the senators and their families” with an invitation to a wedding? What threat would the senators pose to him or the empire if he gives governorship of the Herran peninsula to the Herrani, and lavishes the Valorian senators with gold to assuage their hurt pride? How would a wedding satisfy them, if gold can’t?

Also, Valorian society is bursting with gossip about how Kestrel–the eccentric, almost-outcast daughter of the Number One Awesome general who conquered the Herran peninsula–has taken a Herrani slave as her lover and risked her life (and her family’s honor) in a duel to protect him from being whipped for stealing from evil Lord Irex. Even the emperor has heard the rumors, and seems to believe them, as he implies when she initially resists the idea of marrying his son:

Why would he choose her as the future empress?

The emperor’s reasons for forcing Kestrel’s engagement to his son feel flimsy at best. I wish the author had taken the time to show discord and fractured loyalties among the military and senators (not to mention explain what the senators even do, why they exist), to make this decision more realistic (and therefore powerful to me as a reader). Maybe this will come in the sequel?

Kestrel agrees to the engagement, and for some reason (*headdesk*) is allowed to hand-deliver the emperor’s written offer to Arin. She decides to keep the emperor’s ultimatum (“Marry my son or the Herrani will be obliterated”) a secret, and instead tell Arin that she got engaged to the prince because, hell, who wouldn’t want to be empress? Arin feels betrayed by her eagerness to marry someone else, but ultimately agrees to swear fealty to the emperor and become the Herrani governor.

Two issues here.

First of all: why is the leader of the Herrani rebellion (which, remember, killed almost every Valorian on the peninsula) allowed to not only live, but become the Herrani governor? Why didn’t the emperor declare Arin’s execution (or at least imprisonment) part of the agreement, and choose someone less dangerous as the new governor? Placing him as the Herrani leader is the dumbest and most unrealistic decision the emperor could have possibly made.

Authors, stop making your characters unbelievably dumb for the sake of plot. How many times do I have to say this?

Second of all: Arin accepts the emperor’s offer, but with a condition:

Once again I say, uh, what?

The emperor is giving him two options: 1) accept the offer, or 2) see the Herrani civilization exterminated.

Who does Arin think he is, accepting the offer only on the condition that Kestrel is the sole emissary between the Herrani and the imperial court? What power does he have to negotiate? And why does Kestrel say she thinks the emperor would be cool with that condition?

Guys. The emperor believes Kestrel and Arin are lovers. The emperor suspects Kestrel’s loyalties lie with the Herrani people, not the Valorians. The emperor has arranged for Kestrel to marry his son and heir; she’s going to become empress.

Who on earth could possibly believe the emperor would allow Kestrel to have anything to do with Herran, much less act as its sole emissary? And with Arin as its governor?

I swear, if she actually is placed as the emissary in either the second or third book in this trilogy, I’ll cry. I will cry, and it will be ugly.


I have so much more to say, but I’m giving up. Go read Lizzie’s excellent review now; she covers (more succinctly and elegantly than I could) several other noteworthy points of criticism.

But hey, maybe the sequel will be better? Here’s hoping. It’s lurking on my nightstand now, watching me as I type.



42 thoughts on “The Winner’s Curse

  1. “(“Look protective,” I commanded Husband. He gamely cycled through several expressions, without clear success.)” Oh I laughed hahaha. But it is so accurate, sometimes authors describe facial expressions in some ridiculous ways that are impossible to replicate in real life, which bugs me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice review! This book is up for vote to read for my book club next month and so far, it’s beating out the others. I’m hoping we end up reading another book because no one seems to like this one. I like that you included passages from the book. The writing style is horrible, with those choppy sentences and incomplete thoughts. I’m not a fan of writers who use too many short sentences in a row because it disrupts the flow. I better keep my fingers crossed we don’t end up reading this in May.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My fingers are crossed your group ultimately chooses another book, too–but if you do end up reading this one, I’ll be looking forward to your review of it! Hopefully you’d end up liking it more than I did.

      And you’re exactly right about the importance of sentence structure and flow. That’s something that absolutely killed me in The Wrath and the Dawn: all those painful sentence fragments that were intended to add drama, but really just chopped everything up into jarring bits. Ugh.

      You’ll have to let me know what your group ends up reading. =)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks! I hope so. The Winner’s Curse sounds like the kind of story that will put me in another book slump or to sleep, whichever one comes first. I haven’t read The Wrath and the Dawn, but now that I know about the sentence structure, I think I’ll skip over that one. I didn’t mind how Suzanne Collins handled it in The Hunger Games, but not all authors can pull that off without me wanting to add it to the DNF pile. Our poll closes the last week of April and right now it’s tied with Young Elites. Everyone seems to rave about that book. I’ll keep you posted!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oof, best not to risk a book slump. Those are the worst.

        I know most readers thought the writing style of The Wrath and the Dawn was poetic, but I just found it melodramatic. Not to plug my own review, but: if you want to see what the writing style looks like, you can find excerpts from it in my review ( The writing style’s actually the very first thing I complain about!

        Oh man, Young Elites sounds amazing. I’ll keep my toes crossed, too, just to be safe. =D


      3. Oh, wow! The descriptions of the characters in your review is so over the top I can honestly say I will never read The Wrath and the Dawn. It sounds exactly like what I’ve read that literary agents do not want to see in a manuscript. I’m not a fan of stuff like- her hair fell down her shoulders in waves, and when she stepped into the sun it shined like gold and all that nonsense. All I want to know are facts. How tall, what color hair, and a few basic details. I can’t stand when an author tries to over describe what their nose looks or the shape of their face because no matter how much detail they give, I’m just guessing what the author thought they looked like. Your blog is the first one I’ve seen use actual pages of the book. That’s a nice touch. And I like the letter.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Yeah, I just went back and reread my excerpts from TWatD, and those first couple I posted (and praised) definitely made me roll my eyes now, a few months removed from the book. Too too flowery.

        Although I have to admit, I’m now pretty disappointed you won’t read TWatD; I would’ve loved to hear your thoughts on it!

        It’s such a relief to hear you like the excerpts I put in. I’ve been wondering if they’re just a waste of time and space, and if anyone actually bothers to read them. I feel a lot better about them now. Thanks for that! =)

        Liked by 1 person

      5. My Spidey sense tells me I will end up reading The Winner’s Curse because of the book club, but TWD I’m not so sure about. I have a ton of hyped books I have to read for the new meme I started up with a few bloggers, so I’m sure I’ll end up reading it eventually. The synopsis wasn’t exactly sucking me in and the writing samples were a bit of a turn off. I like good prose but a whole book like that I don’t know if I would make it through without falling asleep. The last time I read a book like that I woke up when my iPad fell on the floor. And I can’t risk damaging the electronics 🙂 A small part of me wants to check it out just to see what all the hype is about. No, I really like the excerpts. Definitely keep them. A lot of people copy the dialogue into a blockquote, which is fine because that’s what they’re for, but I usually skip over them unless the quote is eye-catching.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Ha! I can’t believe I wrote that. I’m such a nerd 🙂 I must’ve had the Captain America movie on the brain. I just read a little bit of The Wrath and the Dawn on Amazon, and now I’m thinking about giving it a shot. You’ve talked me into it. I just have to get through that massive TBR pile first. And I keep adding new books. It’s like a sick habit. It’s too easy to click “Buy Now” on Amazon’s website. Yes, the iPad is sacred, especially in my house. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Hurray! Don’t mind me, I’ll just be fidgeting over here to myself until you get around to reading/posting your review of it.

        Yeah, the insatiable TBR pile is real. Best of luck with that. =D

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Awww I’m sad you didn’t like this book but I know a lot of people who didn’t enjoy the first book that have really loved the 2nd and 3rd one and I think the writing improves vastly with each book!

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  4. Aww shame you didn’t enjoy it- but I totally get it though (you were pretty thorough about it so fair dos- I couldn’t even have come up with as many reasons why I liked it :p) Like you, I’m a sucker for conquered people overthrowing their conquerors, I wasn’t as bothered by the lack of world building, and I thought the romance was decent enough (if not brilliant). What I do agree with you over was the plot having issues- like you, I just didn’t get that ending- or why the emperor would agree to her terms and let the herrani be independent- it literally made no sense! :/ (And this is coming from someone who enjoyed the book enough to overlook the silliness) Great review- so in depth!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Honestly, no matter how many cons I can list about a book, they won’t outweigh a simple and unqualified “I liked it.” I adore analyzing and critiquing books, but personal taste isn’t always so critical. I know I’ve loved plenty of books that (from a critical standpoint) were very poorly written; didn’t stop me from loving them! So, in short: I’m glad you liked this book, even if you can’t explain why.

      Thank you! I’m glad the length/in-depth-ness didn’t bore you to death (my greatest concern when writing long reviews). =D

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah exactly- I’ve read some really trashy books that I’ve liked- and there are plenty of times when I’m just like “yeah I get it’s totally lousy and lazy as a story, but it’s so much fun to read”. Exactly!
        You’re welcome! Not at all- I really enjoyed reading it 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I need to start this trilogy as soon as possible 😥 !! Looks so interesting even tho you didn’t like the last intallment ! Super detailed and nice review LOL and yeah..the quotes..hmm..make me question the writing style 🙈

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  6. It’s funny, I think there are about 20 people who recommended me this series, telling me how great it is, ahah. It’s actually refreshing to see that not everyone is in love with it. I am definitely curious to read it though, and to see if I could like it or not. You’re writing such detailed reviews, that’s awesome! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahaha, I’m glad my (ridiculously detailed) negative review can offer some refreshment! =D

      It’s no surprise that this is a popular series; it’s a forbidden/troubled/dramatic romance with a smidge of war to spice things up. I just have a low tolerance for angst, and prefer my wars to be conducted as realistically as possible. If you’re even remotely more patient/less picky than I am, you might love it! If you do read it, you’ll have to let me know.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. So many people seem to love this trilogy, but the few negative reviews I’ve read (including yours now) really makes me wonder why. I wasn’t interested in this trilogy before, but now I’m definitely not anymore. I can deal with uninteresting characters and plot holes etc. but not rape scenes like this. If I read that scene I would probably throw the book out of the window, into hell. It makes me sick just reading your commentary, but reading that scene itself? Nope nope nope. I really enjoyed reading your review though, especially ‘A book cover featuring a pretty woman geared for daintily opening letters at prom while clearly in the throes of either physical pleasure or a massive headache?’ and ‘“Look protective,” I commanded Husband. He gamely cycled through several expressions, without clear success.’

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe all those fans are more skilled than I am in the fine art of Shut Up And Enjoy The Romance? I have a difficult time turning the critical part of my brain off when I read, even when I know I’d enjoy the book more if I did. Are you the same way?

      The only thing I’m grateful for is the fact that Kestrel was merely almost raped (though I’m about to have a stroke over here, having to write that I’m grateful a heroine was MERELY ALMOST RAPED; that’s a sentence I hoped I’d never have to write). If she’d actually been raped and we were forced to watch it happen, I’d have DNFed this book immediately, and my entire review would’ve been in capslocked foul language. Like you said: nope nope nope.

      But hey, I’m glad my review was entertaining! I’ll consider this a job well done. =D

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Ahh I’m sorry you didn’t like this book much, but I did love your review for it. I’m one of the people that really enjoyed it, though I thought it was slow to start off with and I completely agree with you about Cheat’s character and the whole thing between him and Kestrel. I was not a fan of that scene at all and it just seemed completely out of the blue in terms of the plot line and also Kestrel’s character development (if that makes sense :/)
    I did enjoy the second book a lot more than the first so I hope you do as well, but I’ll look forwards to seeing your review on it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw, I’m glad you liked my review even though it wasn’t a positive one!

      Yeah, “out of the blue” is a great way to describe the issue with Cheat. His role as a villain felt really tacked-on and underdeveloped.

      Have you been able to start reading The Winner’s Kiss yet? If not, do you know when you will? Hopefully you’ll love it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I did enjoy reading your review, and you made some good points that even though I loved this series I completely agreed with. Like Cheat there were so many other characters that could have made brilliant villains, and without the rape aspect as well which always seems a bit skeezy in my mind.
        Yep, pretty much read one book after the other. I do think the series gets better with the second book so I hope you do as well, but I’ll look forwards to seeing you next review for this series anyways! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Great critique, Liam! Well… you already know how I sort of loved this book… But I can certainly see your perspectives on the world building and romance! And I know, the idea of Kestrel becoming empress simply because the emperor and the general are best friends is very, very weak reasoning… but I’m going to go with it. 😉 And yes, the third book is finally out. Have you picked it up yet? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! =D

      Man, I really must learn to relax and enjoy a dramatic romance without my insatiable need to critique getting in the way. This is a series I’d love to love, you know? I see you and everyone else having so much fun loving them, and I want in on that!

      The Winner’s Kiss is on my desk, waiting for me. And by god I’m hoping I love it. How about you?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I really loved The Winner’s Kiss but I can already see potential problems that you may point out (so I’ll be seeing if I’m right when you release your review after you’ve read it, hehe). 😉 But it has a very different feel from the other two installments. I’m not going to spoiler anything… There’s more battle and action but some romance still. And Roshar makes more appearances so that’s a huge plus. Some LGBQ+ mentions, too. And more! I can’t wait to hear what you think! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ahaha, maybe you should make a checklist of things you think I’ll bring up, and we can compare notes. I’d love to know if I catch all the problematic elements that you noticed!

        Also: Roshar yes please, thank you. =D


  10. I can definitely see your points of criticism here. My YA fantasy reading has evolved a lot since I read this book years ago, but if I had read it now I’d probably feel the same way. That said, I love this trilogy. I haven’t read the last book yet, but I hope to get it soon. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s neat how our tastes and perceptions can change so much, even within the span of a few months or a year!

      I’d love to hear your updated thoughts on Winner’s Curse, if you end up rereading it. Are you the type to reread earlier books in a series before the final book comes out? Have you ever written a follow-up review after rereading something?

      I hope you get Winner’s Kiss ASAP, and that it fulfills all your hopes for the series. =D


      1. I am a mood reader when it comes to series. I’m not sure if I’ll have time to do a reread before I read TWK. There are so many I need to catch up on. I think if I were to reread the first book right now, I’d be ranting because for the past 3 years, I’ve been reading a lot of YA fantasy, and certain things stand out to me. Of all the books that I reread, I have never written a follow-up review. I’m thinking about doing just that with the Fifty Shades trilogy. I was obsessed with the fan fiction, and when they first published I loved them. Now that I’ve read some amazing erotic romances over the years, I think that series is “meh”. I’m thinking I need to express my new feelings. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. “There are so many I need to catch up on.”

        I feel this so hard. Best of luck to you!

        Well, I’d be eager to read more of your rants on overused tropes/formulas/characters in YA fantasy. Your Truthwitch post made my day.

        And yes please to the updated critique of Fifty Shades. I never read it, but I read and loved Jenny Trout’s snarky chapter-by-chapter recaps of the books. If you like snark and critical analysis, I’d highly recommend you check out her recaps (if you haven’t already?). The recap index is here:

        Anyway, I’m so glad I found your blog, and I’m looking forward to any more rants you end up ranting. =D


  11. Okay. So. This was one of my favorite books. Before i read this post, I was an innocent little coconut. NOW I AM QUESTIONING EVERYTHING. Because you make great points! What I remember appreciating was the dynamics between characters. Interactions are my favorite feature of any story, and i thought the book crafted them well.
    But now, I DON’T EVEN KNOW. I can’t trust my reading tastes. I can’t trust anything. But hey, thanks for opening up my eyes 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah noooo, sweet innocent little coconut! Don’t let me interrupt your snuggling of the books. Flawed books (or, at least, books that grumps like me think are flawed) are just as deserving of love and obsession as those (mythical) ~perfect~ ones.

      And you’re right, the dynamics between the characters were interesting; if they weren’t, I definitely would’ve DNFed the series before I got to book three! If these books get one thing right, it’s utilizing characters’ interactions and emotions to keep readers riveted. Grump that I am, I’m just hard to rivet. That’s a flaw in me as a reader, for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

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