Book Reviews · Original Posts

Book Review: The Winner’s Kiss

the winner's kiss

Woah, this gorgeous series came to a stunning conclusion! Marie Rutkoski is a seriously talented writer. If you haven’t read this series yet, go no further! While I will not spoil The Winner’s Curse, this review will by necessity spoil The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime. The links are to my reviews, so check them out and go read the series!

Okay, for those of us who have read The Winner’s Trilogy up to this point, here’s the summary for The Winner’s Kiss from Goodreads:

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?

I read this book over a month ago, so I’m not sure where to begin. Actually, that’s a lie. Even if I had read this book yesterday, I wouldn’t know where to start. I might be even more tongue-tied.

Marie Rutkoski is brilliant. Everything that she set up in The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime is beautifully executed in this final installment. Really, looking at this series as a whole, the plotting is stunning. It reminds me a bit of the layers in Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle (reviews here, here, and here), though not as complex.

Plotwise, The Winner’s Kiss builds from the cliffhanger at the end of The Winner’s Crime. THAT CLIFFHANGER WAS DEADLY! I was so worried for Kestrel after her father ratted her out. This whole book made me so anxious! The war builds to a devastating crescendo with twists and turns that left me gasping. Without a court-like setting, less intricate new politics are introduced, but every existing thread is weaved in cleverly. Particularly well-handled are the tensions between the East and the Herrani.

One of the great strengths of this series is its world building, which is directly related to the absolutely beautiful style Rutkoski writes in. Neither disappoint in this last installment; Valoria and Herran are still beautifully Greco-Roman inspired, which my Latin-loving heart adores. But Rutkoski is the real star here- she creates a world that basically bleeds off the page with a heart-wrenching, anxiety-causing plot and sets these gorgeous, complex characters loose to make choices and live here, all with some of the most imaginative, beautiful writing in YA today. An example to start you with:

“He didn’t smile. He cupped her face with both hands. An emotion tugged at his expression, a dark awe, the kind saved for a wild storm that rends the sky but doesn’t ravage your existence, doesn’t destroy every thing you love. The one that lets you feel saved.”

The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

What everyone really wants to talk about with this series is the characters though. And with good reason. What fabulous characters they are! Roshar is a great best friend, and his cunning layers were truly wonderful to see unveiled. The Emperor and General Trajan are complicated and villainous, as usual (match the adjective to the person, haha).

Arin. Oh, Arin, Arin, Arin. Can I say that I love him? Well, I do. His character undergoes some tremendous changes in this one, as he grows into real understanding. He’s brave and smart and strong, and he loves in a very real way. Rutkoski’s use of “his god” as a device was fascinating. It explored the different sides of ourselves beautifully, as well as how faith changes how we perceive our motivations and path.

Kestrel is the strongest character by far. She proves that physical prowess is not the only way forward (especially for girls, but really for anyone). Her arc in The Winner’s Kiss is very much about reconstructing oneself, both physically, mentally, and emotionally, and learning to trust again. Despite Kestrel’s immense personal strength, Rutkoski doesn’t let Kestrel get through without having to recover from trauma, and this, to me, is very important. She handles that recovery better than Sarah J. Maas does with Celaena Sardothien in Heir of Fire in my opinion, actually (though SJ Maas is a queen, too). Kestrel also does things. She contributes and makes plans and takes action. She’s not passive, even in the depths of her despair, and that to me was very powerful. She and Arin have AMAZING chemistry. Their romance is swoon-worthy, and very real. Rutkoski doesn’t skirt away from issues in their relationship either, and Kestrel and Arin confront them like real people do, which is very satisfying. It gives me hope for the future too.

Kestrel and Arin’s relationship really encapsulates what I love most about this series though- its realism. Not only is their relationship realistically depicted, but every aspect of the story is painted in true shades. The horror of warfare, the moral gray areas that come along with conflict, the complexities of familial relationships. Everything is rich, complicated and real. In this series, Rutkoski has created a lush, beautiful world that deals with real problems in a thrilling read!

The Winner’s Kiss, overall, gets 5/5 stars. The Winner’s Trilogy gets an Infinity Star rating! definitely one of my all-time favorites. Everybody, go read it!

Here are some great quotes:

“You don’t need to be gifted with a blade. You are your own best weapon.”

“He told himself a story. Not at first. At first, there wasn’t time for thoughts that came in the shape of words. His head was blessedly empty of stories then. War was coming. It was upon him. Arin had been born in the year of the god of death, and he was finally glad of it. He surrendered himself to his god, who smiled and came close. Stories will get you killed, he murmured in Arin’s ear. Now, you just listen. Listen to me.”

“She tried to imagine her former self. Enemy. Prisoner. Friend? Daughter. Spy. Prisoner again. “What am I now?”
Sarsine held both of Kestrel’s hands. “What ever you want to be.”

“Kestrel felt a slow, slight throb, a shimmer in the blood. She knew it well.
Her worst trait. Her best trait.
The desire to come out on top, to set her opponent under her thumb.
A streak of pride. Her mind ringed with hungry rows of foxlike teeth.”

“But honesty requires courage. As she cornered the thief in his lair, she found that she wasn’t so sure of herself. She was sure of only one thing. It made her fall back a little. She lifted her chin.
Her heart had an unsteady rhythm they both could hear when she told the thief that he might keep what he had stolen.”

The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

Has anyone else read this series? What did you think? Tell me below!


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