Series Review: The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski

So, I basically binge read this trilogy in three days. It would’ve been shorter if I didn’t have to work two of those days. I’m kind of shocked at how quickly I devoured this when I had no intention of doing that. I went into this for the slow-burn romance, but I got so much more: An intelligent scheming heroine, a fierce and soft male protagonist, and a war against colonialism.

The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy #1)
published by Square Fish on March 4, 2014
contains 361 pages • classified as young adult fantasy
read as paperbackpurchased copy
My rating: ★★★★☆

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.


THIS BOOK FED MY SOUL. I love angst-y romance and this had all the makings of that. I wasn’t sure if I liked these two characters at first because it was kind of slow in the beginning, but once it got over the initial hump and I got to know these characters, I was all in. Here’s what I loved:

  • Angsty/slow-burn romance. The romance and tension is at it’s height in this first book. Kestrel and Arin are slowly getting to know one another and the stares and just everything about it is done well.
  • Doesn’t focus on the female character’s physical strength. Kestrel is intelligent as hell. She’s not great with a sword, but her intelligence is valued.
  • Low-key more brutal than I expected. This book took risks and I loved that.
  • Protective and soft Arin. I love soft male characters. A lot of YA male characters are broody and low-key jerks. Arin is not that.
  • The characters can’t be together for a reason and it’s not glossed over.

The Winner’s Crime (The Winner’s Trilogy #2)
published by Square Fish on March 3, 2015
contains 414 pages • classified as young adult fantasy
read as paperbackpurchased copy
My rating: ★★★★☆

A royal wedding is what most girls dream about. It means one celebration after another: balls, fireworks, and revelry until dawn. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement: that she agreed to marry the crown prince in exchange for Arin’s freedom. But can Kestrel trust Arin? Can she even trust herself? For Kestrel is becoming very good at deception. She’s working as a spy in the court. If caught, she’ll be exposed as a traitor to her country. Yet she can’t help searching for a way to change her ruthless world . . . and she is close to uncovering a shocking secret. This dazzling follow-up to The Winner’s Curse reveals the high price of dangerous lies and untrustworthy alliances. The truth will come out, and when it does, Kestrel and Arin will learn just how much their crimes will cost them.


This book physically hurt. The miscommunication. The missed opportunities. But I liked the way it developed the characters and gave us a chance to see them in new settings. The Winner’s Crime expanded the world and the plot for the trilogy is tightened and better developed. Here’s a bulleted review:

  • Romance is kind of in the background
  • Liked seeing another side of these characters
  • Lots of court politics and scheming
  • Kestrel trying to outmaneuver the emperor is the best thing in the world

The Winner’s Kiss (The Winner’s Trilogy #3)
published by Square Fish on March 29, 2016
contains 496 pages • classified as young adult fantasy
read as paperbackpurchased copy
My rating: ★★★★☆

War has begun. Arin is in the thick of it with untrustworthy new allies and the empire as his enemy. Though he has convinced himself that he no longer loves Kestrel, Arin hasn t forgotten her, or how she became exactly the kind of person he has always despised. She cared more for the empire than she did for the lives of innocent people and certainly more than she did for him.

At least, that s what he thinks.

In the frozen north, Kestrel is a prisoner in a brutal work camp. As she searches desperately for a way to escape, she wishes Arin could know what she sacrificed for him. She wishes she could make the empire pay for what they’ve done to her.

But no one gets what they want just by wishing.

As the war intensifies, both Kestrel and Arin discover that the world is changing. The East is pitted against the West, and they are caught in between. With so much to lose, can anybody really win?”


I wasn’t a fan of a specific plot device this book used, but otherwise this was so enjoyable. Here’s what I loved about it:

  • Loved Roshar and Sarsine. Roshar is easily one of the best characters in this final book. Love his personality.
  • Military strategy and battles were interesting to read. Kestrel’s best weapon is her mind so for a world at war, we get to see that in action and I really enjoyed that.
  • Loved Arin in this book. I loved that we learned more about him and his god. I wish the deities had been weaved throughout the story a little bit more because I enjoyed it.

(read what’s below at your own risk)

Shortcoming: My only other disappointment with this book aside from amnesia as a plot device is that they didn’t outright abolish slavery. I wanted an edict or something to go out. I think it’s implied, but it’s not explicitly stated. Also, I wish Jess and Kestrel could’ve found a way to repair their friendship. I understand why they couldn’t though.



KESTRIN DID THAT. They delivered enemies to lovers to enemies to frienemies to enemies to lovers to amnesia to friends to lovers. Aaaand they defeated colonialism. An underrated ship. I adore them. I adore this trilogy and wish I had read it sooner. This gem had been sitting on my shelf for MONTHS. I’ll probably re-read this series soon.


Check out the aesthetics boards I made for each of the books. They’re also posted in my Instagram highlights and on Twitter.

Have you read The Winner’s Trilogy? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading!

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20 thoughts on “Series Review: The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski

  1. I love the way you’ve done this review and that you’ve added aesthetic boards at the end! It’s not a series that I’ve read before, and it’s not one that I probably would have picked up before, but your review of it has made me want to pick it up. Slow burn romance, a little bit of politics, and soft male MCs… YES PLEASE! Great reviews!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I definitely missed the buzz around it when it came out. I’m happy that I discovered it after all the books were published. I couldn’t imagine waiting to find out how things end after the first two books.


  2. Great review Merline! I read The Winner’s Curse only and only glossed over the last 2 as I haven’t read any books in the series, but I do have it on my tbr and plan to read it this year! I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about this, love me some intelligent female character and soft male characters! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes!!! I read this series over the summer and absolutely loved it!! Agreed with all of your points too! I love how Kestrel isn’t physically strong and the worldbuilding was great! The amnesia trope doesn’t bother as much as I feel it bothers everyone else 😅 but I do agree that I don’t feel like slavery was resolved at all and that was one of the major underlining challenges of the story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I think the first one has a slow start because this was my second time picking it up. Once I made it past that initial slow pacing, I think it improved and I actually became interested in the characters and story. I hope you’re able to get into.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved the way you did simple bullet points for you review. Whenever I read series I love it is an incoherent mess. I’ll have to think back to this post the next time I write a review for a series or sequel. Honestly, the premise is not something I think I would like. I’m happy you were able to enjoy this series so thoroughly. The slow romance and brutal risks the author took sound like a good time.

    Liked by 1 person

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