the winner’s trilogy – marie rutkoski | trilogy review

Hello, reading the entire The Winner’s Trilogy took me years. When I picked up book one, it was end of 2017 and I’ve only just read The Winner’s Kiss in September 2021. Here are my thoughts about each individual book in the trilogy!

The Winner’s Curse | The Winner’s Crime | The Winner’s Kiss


The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Series: The Winner’s Trilogy #1
Published March 4th 2014 by Farrar Straus Giroux 
Age Range: Young Adult
Genre: Romance, Fantasy


Rating: 4 out of 5.


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 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.


The Winner’s Curse was captivating and entertaining right from the beginning. Marie Rutkoski’s writing highly established the world and created intriguing characters. Plots that include political aspects typically confused and bore me but I found myself wanting more from this book. It added much depth to the story.

As the general’s daughter, Kestrel naturally doesn’t lack in anything but she isn’t a snobby princess who doesn’t know how the hard truth about life. In fact, she’s expected to fight and serve the nation. Her small stature makes her more vulnerable on a battlefield but she’s one of the smartest female characters when it comes to tactical maneuvers.

Kestrel’s strength lies in strategizing and manipulation. She doesn’t have to fight her battles physically because her snippy replies are like punches to the gut. I can’t wait to find out what else she’ll be doing in the future books.

In the limited chapters with his POV, readers are alluded to him being up to something. Although he has a goal in mind, Arin gets side-tracked easily. It doesn’t help when he’s attracted to Kestrel who is supposed to be his master. I might like them together but the master/slave dynamic just makes me feel a little icky.

Looking forward to The Winner’s Crime because of that ending!

spoiler-y thoughts, very wordy:
  • i enjoyed arin as a spy. he clearly knows what he’s doing. he built weapons and gave information to the rebels while gaining kestrel’s trust. but i felt like he didn’t go all the way through with his plans because he came to know krestel.
  • kestrel’s one-on-one duel with irex was awesome. she knew she would never win against irex when it comes to physical combat but she used her information and her observations to scare irex and make a deal out of it. YES, SHE’S SO FREAKING BADASS. I LOVE HER.
  • she’s fiercely protective of the people she love but she doesn’t seem to care about other people. her love shone through when she was devastated when enai passed away and when jess was poisoned, kestrel pleaded arin to find the cure. however, she gave up the entire captain wensan’s ship. i understand, it was a killed or be killed situation but it showed how brutal she can be.


Before you scroll further down, make sure that you’ve already read The Winner’s Curse! Otherwise, you’ll be spoiled. I’ve warned you.


The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

Series: The Winner’s Trilogy #2
Published March 3rd 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
Age Range: Young Adult
Genre: Romance, Fantasy


Rating: 4 out of 5.


Following your heart can be a crime.

A royal wedding 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?

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.


Messy, convoluted yet entertaining is how I’ll describe the situation between Kestrel and Arin. Since it’s forbidden, their love and attraction for one another need to be buried deep down so that their enemy couldn’t use it against them. That being said, it’s not like they weren’t together.

Kestrel is consistently pushing Arin back and refusing to let him know the truth and he’s perplexed as to why Kestrel is doing so. Gradually, the push-and-pull did tire me a little. As always, communicating with one another goes a long way but the characters won’t and don’t.

Court politics in The Winner’s Crime formed the core. Everything surrounded the emperor who relentlessly conquer neighboring lands. Though Herrani is finally a dependent country, Arin still has to answer to the emperor. Every time Kestrel and Arin tried to best the game, something else will prevent their success. It seemed like every move they make, it’s futile. The emperor has eyes and ears everywhere.

What broke my heart was Kestrel’s need to prove her worth to her father. I hope whatever that had happened at the end of The Winner’s Crime had opened her eyes. While she’s extremely competent in battle strategies, Kestrel realized she needs to up her mind games. Though frustrating to read, Kestrel thankfully learned from her mistakes. It dawned on me that Kestrel was vulnerable and exposed throughout the entire book, she literally had no one but herself to depend on. Nevertheless, Kestrel did what she had to do.

Arin was lost in his head. Constantly angry at the world, at Krestel, at himself. Because of his brashness, he made mistakes that led to dire consequences. Despite that, I still liked him. Arin genuinely wants the best for his people and would do anything to find a way out of this desperate situation. I wish for him to be stronger.

Marie Rutkoski’s writing fits perfectly for a plot that’s filled with political intrigue. She often created an underlying tone in dialogues, especially when characters hid clues in their words. Her prose added sophistication in the ways things were conveyed.


Before you scroll further down, make sure that you’ve already read The Winner’s Crime! Otherwise, you’ll be spoiled. I’ve warned you.


The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

Series: The Winner’s Trilogy #3
Published March 29th 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux 
Age Range: Young Adult
Genre: Romance, Fantasy


Rating: 4 out of 5.


Some kisses come at a price.

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?


Kestrel went through so much in The Winner’s Kiss. From her father’s betrayal to being sent to a prison camp and then drugged to lose all inhibitions and sense of self, Kestrel’s tenacity and willpower after all those were admirable.

Arin carries guilt when it comes to Kestrel but refuses to think about her because of some misunderstanding and misinformation. Fortunately, Arin’s friendship with Roshar, whose light-heartedness balanced all the dreary and dreadful moments Arin was experiencing.

Watching Kestrel and Arin’s brains work with military tactics and war preparation was fascinating. They had great ideas on how to make sure that the enemies would fall. For Kestrel, winning the war is important not only because she wants to help Herrani but also because her opponent is her father, an expert in military and warfare. Though a brilliant tactician, Kestrel needs to outthink and outmaneuver her father by imagining his next actions.

Similarly, Arin works with what he has. The God of Death is always whispering in his ear. When Arin’s on the battlefield, his body goes on autopilot. To get revenge against the Valorians, Arin is willing to dance with the God of Death.

The focus in The Winner’s Kiss switches from the relationship of Arin and Kestrel to the actual war. Despite whatever hardships and differences in background, they worked it out. I cherished each quiet and tender moment they had with one another. Arin’s constant worry for Kestrel’s well-being while understanding that she needs space, especially when she was rescued out from the work camp and at the end when she had to proceed with her plans.

I couldn’t stop reading because I desperately needed to know how things would end. However, I did find that there was a lack of world-building despite a compelling system of the gods. The Winner’s Kiss was more on Kestrel and Arin’s story and the war against the Valorians.

So glad I actually picked The Winner’s Kiss up this year. It’s a long time coming since I bought the physical books years ago. I was worried that the trilogy would be too political and focused on the warfare in the past but turns out, those aspects are what I enjoy more nowadays.

That’s all for me today! I hope you enjoyed the reviews~ 💖

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