The Winner's Curse: The Winner's Trilogy, Book 1 Book Poster Image

The Winner's Curse: The Winner's Trilogy, Book 1



Depth and action in fantasy tale of star-crossed lovers.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Battle strategy is discussed in detail, both from the perspective of a large, experienced army and an underground movement trying to oppose it. The author's note mentions a connection to the world created for Winner's Curse and "the Greco-Roman period after Rome had conquered Greece and enslaved its population in the expected way of the time." Readers can look up more about that period and make comparisons.

Positive messages

Star-crossed lovers are at the center of the story, leading to this question: What's stronger -- a sense of loyalty to country, family, and way of life or the love of one person? The brutality of war and the cost of freedom also are explored. One character is willing to be as brutal and merciless as his enemies, and another is not.

Positive role models

Kestrel and Arin are naturally at war with themselves as much as with their enemy. Kestrel is a strong female character with a sharp mind for strategy. When society catches her caring for her slave more than is proper, she fights rumors head-on. Arin is determined to defeat his enemy but through cunning and not merciless killing.


Mostly aftermaths of battles are described -- piled-up bodies of people poisoned, a floor slick with blood after the massacre of prisoners. A few scenes describe brutality as it happens: the slitting of a throat and the sexual assault of woman, stopped after a forced kiss and a black eye. A duel ends in minor injuries. Talk of slave whippings and maltreatment -- if a runaway slave is caught, ears and noses are cut off. Mention that Kestrel's mother died from plague when she was 8 and that she watched the doctor who treated her illness kill himself. Another sad death from illness and one near-death from poisoning. Exploding cannons cause much of the battle damage.


A couple of steamy kisses. Talk of slave owners having affairs with slaves and how to be discreet about it.


Really mild: "damn" twice, "hell," and "ass."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Kestrel is 17 and drinks wine at dinner with her father. Teens and adults drink at fashionable parties.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Marie Rutkoski's The Winner's Curse is the first in a planned fantasy trilogy. At the center are star-crossed lovers who only sneak in a couple of guilty kisses. The uprising of a slave population, naturally, includes some pretty bloody moments. Mostly the aftermath is described -- piled-up bodies and blood everywhere -- but a few scenes describe brutality as it happens: There's a throat slitting and a sexual assault on a woman, stopped after a forced kiss and a black eye. Language is mild ("damn" twice, "hell," and "ass") and drinking by the 17-year-old protagonist includes wine at dinner with her father and at upper-crust parties. Readers will learn a bit about battle strategy -- both main characters are quite good at it -- and have a chance to ponder the brutality of war and slavery and what freedom is worth.

Parents say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

What's the story?

Kestrel didn't know what possessed her to buy a slave when she and her best friend Jess ended up at the market by mistake. Something about the defiant look in his eyes drew her in. She takes him back to the estate she shares with her father, a general in the Valoran army. At first, the man is given work as a blacksmith, but it's not long before Kestrel selects him as an escort into town one day and into society on another. As she gets to know him, she finally discovers his real name -- Arin -- and that he's a master of a parlor strategy game she used to always win; she has finally met her match. Suddenly the two are grist for the rumor mill, only made worse when Kestrel defends Arin against a stealing charge at a society party. But Arin doesn't want her to defend him. He knows that once Kestrel discovers his secret plans against those who enslave him -- her people -- she'll regret anything she ever felt for him.

Is it any good?


Take the book cover's 90 percent pink frill and lipstick and 10 percent intrigue of "look, she's got a dagger in her hand" and flip the percentages: There's the real essence. Despite a couple of society balls and some star-crossed lovers, this book gets quite cerebral. Arin and Kestrel's relationship builds carefully and is pretty complex, especially as the power dynamic shifts. How Arin manages to break slave rules and enjoy parlor games with Kestrel seems a bit odd, but that's usually when Kestrel lets her guard down the most, pushing the story forward.

Most writers would have enough on their plates just keeping Kestrel and Arin's slow-simmering relationship this full of tension. Rutkoski, however, keeps the political intrigue high at the same time. The building tension between Arin and the leader of the rebellion adds quite a bit to the last third of The Winner's Curse. And the last few pages will make reading the sequel pretty irresistible.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the title Winner's Curse. What does it mean? What does it have to do with the main characters?

  • Kestrel and Arin are a perfect example of star-crossed lovers, like Romeo and Juliet. What other pairs in literature fit the definition?

  • There are two more books to read in this trilogy. Are you roped in? What is appealing to you about this series? What is different from other fantasy series you enjoy?

Book details

Author:Marie Rutkoski
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Adventures, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:March 4, 2014
Number of pages:368
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

This review of The Winner's Curse: The Winner's Trilogy, Book 1 was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

Top advice and articles

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Teen, 16 years old Written bybookgeek101 April 22, 2015

Great strategist protaganist

The main character is smart and relatable. She thinks about what would best serve the right people rather than always choosing her people. Arin is a good man who does what he thinks is right for his people. This book will make readers realize that the there is not clear lines between right and wrong, the lines are blurred.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 16 years old Written bySavanahbanana July 4, 2016


Well to start with, the main character is very smart and clever. The other main character is a slave. There is very littlekissing and some flirting. There is war. Many people were poisoned and it went into detail a out how they had pale skin and swollen eyes and they were blue(etc.) A mature kid could handle it. There is gambling and some threats.
Teen, 13 years old Written byjulie2003 October 10, 2016

Beautifully Written

A book for all! Each line captivates the reader more and more. Beware some may finish the book in two days, like I did, but dismay not, there are two more. Kestrel is a wonderful role model, especially since she would sacrifice herself for her country and her love. Classism and Racism are common factors in the book, and should be discussed. Women are portrayed as powerful and equal to men, being that they have the choice to go to war and fight along side the other gender. 13 and up is the age I put on it, because it can be gruesome, since murder happens often, an appeared suicide happens, but mature children can handle it. One short innocent kiss, and another that goes into some detail, but not much. Sexual assault almost happened to Kestrel, but Arin stopped the man before it became serious, discuss this with your children. Overall, wonderful read, that was beautifully written. Enjoy it.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence