The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux on March 29th 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
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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?
Are you really a boy, like Xash says? the god asked Arin. You’ve been mine for twenty years. I raised you.
The Valorian signed the scrap of paper.
Cared for you.
The message was rolled, sealed, and pushed into a tiny leather tube.
Watched over you when you thought you were alone.
The captain tied the tube to hawk’s leg. The bird was too large to be a kestrel. It didn’t have a kestrel’s markings. It cocked its head, turning its glass-bead eyes on Arin.
No, not a boy. A man made in my image…one who knows he can’t afford to be seen as weak.
The hawk launched into the sky.
You’re mine, Arin. You know what you must do.
Arin cut the Valorian’s throat.
This book was the perfect ending to one of my all-time favourite series. I can’t believe it’s over. But it was a beautiful ride, Marie Rutkoski, a truly beautiful ride.
Let’s do some reminiscing. When I first picked up The Winner’s Curse my expectations were pretty low. Books with girls in dresses on the cover? Focused primarily on romance? Not really my thing. However, as soon as I started the novel two things became very clear.
1) The writing was STUNNING.
2) I loved the female protagonist, Kestrel.
As the book went on, these feelings intensified and I found myself drawn to this story of star-crossed lovers despite my aversion towards romance and books that don’t contain enough world-building. So I ended up really liking the first book in this series, but I wasn’t in love with it yet.
Then The Winner’s Crime came along (click here here for my review) and I was blown out of the water. It was vastly different form The Winner’s Curse, so different in fact, that I even hesitate to compare the two because they attempted such different things, elicited such different emotions. But I adored it.
And then we have this book. Was it my favourite? Maybe. Probably. The Winner’s Kiss has a maturity and depth that goes beyond the other two. It is more bloody and bloodthristy, more raw and graphic. This final instalment in the series has everything you could hope for: beautiful writing, fleshed-out, flawed characters, better world-building, fast-paced action, tons of emotion, character development, the list goes on.
I fear I will never be able to make this book justice, so I’m going to try and just pick out a few things I absolutely loved.
First let’s start with what is probably my favourite thing about the series. Kestrel. As Risha put it so wisely
You don’t need to be gifted with a blade. You are your own best weapon.
Yes, that indeed she is. Kestrel is my favourite type of character: intelligent, brave, rational, strong, a tactician. Authors like writing these kinds of characters, I see them often. However, it’s quite rare that I see them done well. If they are well-done, the outcome is glorious. The results are the Light Yagami’s, Lelouche vi Britannia’s and Kelsier’s of the world. But more often than not, this isn’t the case because the writer forgets a fundamental rule: show, don’t tell. We might end up with books where the narration keeps going on about how great a character is without showing anything or we are told through the thoughts of other characters or dialogue. But Marie Rutkoski is better than that. We can tell Kestrel is intelligent and tactically gifted, not only through other people’s thoughts, but through her actions. In this book, she did things that surprised me, awed me, made me gasp for air. She was EVERYTHING. Absolutely fabulous.
Then we have Arin. I admit, I wasn’t the biggest Arin fan in the first two books. I liked him and Kestrel as a couple, but him as a character I found rather unimpressive. He dulled next to Kestrel. Not so in this book. He really grew on me and became strong and determined, gifted in his own right. His utter devotion to Kestrel was palpable and I loved to see how vulnerable it made him, how it cracked open his veneer of composure and strength.
Both Arin and Kestrel are deeply flawed characters that had difficult choices to make, choices that can’t always be considered honourable. There are times were the author makes you question the characters’ morality and with it your own beliefs of what is right and wrong. Nothing is simple in war.
I also loved the other relationships in the book, particularly the friendship between Arin and Roshar. It was both a heartwarmingly deep connection, but also provided much needed comic relief.
Roshar lay on his back, the dip of his neck bolstered by a tied bedroll. He smoked.
“I’ve been thinking.”
“It occurs to me that you have no official rank, and that I, as your prince, might give you one.” He said an eastern word Arin didn’t know. “Well? Will it suit?”
“Whether that word was some horrific insult you’re pretending is an actual military rank.”
“How mistrustful! Arin, I have taught you every foul curse I know.”
“I’m sure you’ve saved a few, for just such a time.”
I also loved the exploration of the relationship between Kestrel and her father and Kestrel and Sarsine.
The storytelling is exquisite. We have the wonderful metaphoric writing style combined with clever changes in point of view. Marie Rutkoski knows exactly when to switch POV for maximum dramatic effect and how much to tell the reader so he will still be surprised. The plot twists killed me. The battle scenes and war strategies were on point. Also, this was one of the rare books where I really wasn’t sure how it would turn out. The possibility of a main character dying is very real. It made for an anxiety-ridden reading experience.
This book dealt with many realistic problems that are part of any relationship. Miscommunication, trust issues, growth, guilt, forgiveness. I was rooting for these characters full-heartedly.
Overall, I cannot recommend this series enough. It may seem like your typical YA trilogy but it’s honestly one of the best ones I’ve come across and truly special to me. A definite favourite. Highly recommended!
*I kindly received an e-ARC of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*
Hi there! I'm Chantal, a 19-year-old book lover from Switzerland. Books are my primary escape from the real world and I don't know what I would do without them. When I'm not reading, I'm probably studying, dancing or listening to music. Visit me on Goodreads.
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