Series Review: The Winner’s Trilogy (and why I ultimately didn’t love it)

I actually first read The Winner’s Curse two years ago (you can read my full review if you want) and never continued the rest of the series. It’s not that I didn’t want to, I just didn’t have a huge urge to and it seemed there were always other books I wanted to read more.

But then, this month, I got my shit together. It seemed my Twitter feed was constantly full of admiration and love for this series, and I wanted to be part of it! So, I reread book one (still felt the same way as before) to refresh my memory and then proceeded onto book two.

I don’t include any spoilers for individual books (if I do, they’re hidden in spoiler tags). But as you’d expect, certain things that aren’t a spoiler for book two (because they happen at the very beginning) might spoil things from book one, and so on. So read at your own risk!

The Winner’s Curse (book 1)

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Good but not great was how I originally described The Winner’s Curse. I still had that same opinion when I read it the second time around.

What I liked

I liked it a lot, but it didn’t ruin me for all other books (which was what a lot of reviewers said about it).

  • I loved the two cultures (Herrani and Valorians).
  • I loved the forbidden romance. Definitely slow burning, and I adored it!
  • I loved the struggle with having an enemy, but maybe loving that person, and now knowing how to handle that feeling.

What I didn’t like

There were two things I didn’t like. Or, one main thing and the other is just a feeling.

  1. The book felt slow at times, particularly at the beginning. There were long periods where there wasn’t much action or plot development.
  2. This isn’t really a criticism, but I just want to say that the book could have been more. This is where the “good but not great” part comes in. I think it was just missing that X factor that would have really made me adore the book.

The Verdict:

The Winner’s Crime (book 2)

The Winner's Crime (The Winner's Trilogy #2) by Marie Rutkoski

Sadly, I liked this book less than the first one. I felt it was a very typical “second book in a trilogy”. It had all the problems you expect, but hope the book won’t have.

  • It was clearly a transition book. Not as exciting and new as the first, and not as thrilling as the last. (Or so I assumed.)
  • Second books often have that conflict thrown into the romance. It falls apart in the second book so it can be built back up in the third. This happened in The Winner’s Crime and resulted in me losing interest in the romance completely. Maybe there was a bit too much conflict there.
  • A lot of ground work was laid for the third book, but ultimately I just wasn’t that excited about this one. That ties back into the first point: a transition book.

Things I liked

  • The politics.
  • Betrayals and general court scheming.
  • Kestrel’s awesome intelligence and battle strategy. The girl is crazy impressive.
  • I liked the prince and his relationship with Kestrel. It’s not a love triangle (which I appreciated), but they still have a cool relationship.
  • Kestrel’s relationship with her father (ohhh damn).
  • I loved the ending!

Things I didn’t like

  • Some elements felt repetitive. Kestrel kept screwing up with the Emperor, he kept scolding her, she’d lay low a bit, then rinse and repeat. Also her relationship with Arin was so on again/off again. Or more like Arin would try, she’d push him away; Arin would try, she’d push him away. Over and over.
  • There were a lot of flashbacks to Arin’s point of view from events in book one. I just felt like I was rereading book one all over again. I wasn’t into it. It felt a bit like filler content.
  • The story dragged on a bit with nothing really progressing (see repetitive point). It felt a bit slow.
  • As Debby discusses in her review, Arin and Kestrel both made jumps to insane conclusions that had so little proof or logic. It allowed things to work out too perfectly. I just know I’d never have put those pieces together. And sure, maybe the characters are smarter than I am, but it still felt so far fetched.

Despite my lack of love for this second book, I still had semi-high hopes for the third book. I know that third books are often better than second books, so I hoped for an epic conclusion!

The Verdict:

The Winner’s Kiss (book 3)

The Winner's Kiss (The Winner's Trilogy #3) by Marie Rutkoski

The biggest problem for me here was the romance.

I liked the romance in the first book, as you remember. I liked it a lot!

But then the romance fell apart in the second books (as I said, maybe too much).

This third book was supposed to bring it all back together, and it did, I just wasn’t on board with it. I think there was too much that fell apart in the second book and it didn’t get put back together in a way that I could enjoy and be part of. It didn’t lure me back in. It just made me roll my eyes.

I actually quite liked Kestrel and Arin separately, but I no longer liked them together. I had zero passion for their romance/relationship, and ultimately that’s what the entire book was about. I felt like even the war took second place to their romance. And since I didn’t love the romance, I couldn’t love the book.

The book felt slow.

This isn’t really a spoiler, but it spans the entire first half of the book so don’t click the spoiler link if you’d rather be surprised: View Spoiler »

Then, the middle to the end was basically one big road trip. Walking. Travelling. Riding. Camping. The actual action was very little. It didn’t hold my interest.

Certain parts of the plot were anti-climactic.

I’m mostly talking about Kestrel’s relationship with her dad. View Spoiler » Even View Spoiler »

My favourite part was a minor character.

My favourite part of the book was probably Roshar, who ended up being quite a minor character who just appeared in certain places but didn’t do much. But I just loved his personality. He was funny and unpredictable.

I hoped for so much more, and I’m bummed that I was so disappointed. 🙁

The Verdict:

I’m devastated that I didn’t love this series.

So many people are head over heels for it. I wish I could be like that!

I probably could have loved it if I was more on board with the romance, but since I wasn’t, that basically just ruined any chances I had. For me, it just got old and tired, and was never able to win me back over.

Have you read The Winner’s Trilogy? If so, what did you think? Did you love it more than I did? (I hope so!)

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I'm a 30-something California girl living in England (I fell in love with a Brit!). My three great passions are: books, coding, and fitness. more »

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  1. I only read the first book. I didn’t hate it; I didn’t like it either. It’s not cup of tea. It’s too bad the book doesn’t show more of Roshar. He sounds like a great character with so much potential!

    1. I’m sorry you weren’t crazy head over heels for the first book! I feel like this whole series has gotten so much buzz and hype.. So I feel left out when I don’t feel as much love and adoration as other people are feeling! 🙁 Bummer!

      And yes, Roshar was great! Too bad he ended up fulfilling what felt like a minor role. His scenes were always some of my favourites!

    1. Aw, I’m sorry. 🙁 A lot of people do love the series though (head over heels!). I’m really upset that I didn’t end up being one of them.

  2. I read the first book and didn’t really enjoy it, so I guess I am not going to pick up the other two books..

  3. I’ve never read this series, doesn’t really sound like my style! But I love how honest you were in this review even though it is such a popular series!

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