I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner's Trilogy
Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux for Young Readers on March 29th 2016
Genres: High Fantasy, Young Adult
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War has begun. Arin is in the thick of it, with the East as his ally and the empire as his enemy. He’s finally managed to dismiss the memory of Kestrel, even if he can’t quite forget her. Kestrel turned into someone he could no longer recognize: someone who cared more for the empire than for the lives of innocent people—and certainly more than she cared for him. At least, that’s what he thinks.
But far north lies a work camp where Kestrel is a prisoner. Can she manage to escape before she loses herself? As the war intensifies, both Kestrel and Arin discover unexpected roles in battle, terrible secrets, and a fragile hope. The world is changing. The East is pitted against the West, and Kestrel and Arin are caught between. In a game like this, can anybody really win?
Final books are hard. Readers dive in with so many expectations, hopes and fears, and let’s not forget the ships. I suspect it must be at least a little daunting for an author to want to give their readers everything and stay true to their story. Friends, for me, Marie Rutkoski has done just that. This story has taken me on a remarkable journey, capturing my heart and melting my emotions in one fell swoop.
The Winner’s Kiss is a perfect conclusion to an expertly crafted series. And as always there are many familiar reasons to love the final installment as much as its predecessors while containing quite a few twists that kept me anticipating the turn of each page. Our protagonists, Kestrel and Arin, experience a lot of growth as previous choices finally reach shocking, climatic consequences, many of which I was unsure how they’d move past. I definitely didn’t expect the changes Kestrel underwent; she is both the same and vastly different, exploring physical and mental strength of female characters.
You don’t need to be gifted with a blade. You are your own best weapon.
The unpredictability of this novel is its greatest weapon as Rutkoski clearly shows she’s not afraid to make you beg for your favorites’ survival. She’s heartlessly brilliant like that.
What I didn’t expect was how much I enjoyed Roshar’s character. I give his sarcastic, witty remarks an A++ and loved how he reminded me of a rougher version of Sturmhond from The Grisha series. It was smart for him to have as much page time as he did since The Winner’s Kiss contains romantic tension to the max with a few scenes causing me utter desperation—moments where I was throwing buckets of water out of my ship, lest it sink, screaming “Noooooooooo!” fiercely at my ceiling.
I still admire the writing and how it manages to convey so much more than is actually written. It’s made me re-think my stance on 3rd person narration, usually my least favorite. But the fact that I, too, now feel as though I can translate Kestrel and Arin’s Epic Starring Contests, Roshar and Arin’s Bromatic Body Language among a host of other tells, just goes to show you the quality of writing. No words are wasted, and always feel so carefully deliberate while still maintaining its raw honesty.
Perhaps what The Winner’s Kiss succeeds at the most is its ability to straddle that fine line between a character driven and plot driven novel. Neither side took over the other, out-shining or lacking in development. The relationships were given the proper amount of time and dignity. Not only is there a focus on Kestrel and Arin’s, but also of another that’s made very clear it’s just as important, and maybe even more so. And, yes, in case you were wondering, this book does indeed pass the Bechdel test, something which I’m always pleased to see in a YA novel.
The plot was excellent. Surprisingly detailed battle scenes, strategies and political maneuvers are at the front without making my eyes glaze over with confusion. And I loved that Arin’s cultural religious beliefs along side Kestrel’s disbelief was handled with a great amount of respect and love. It really highlighted an ongoing theme of tolerance and respect of others’ differences, and that is so incredibly relevant. And, of course, I really enjoyed how the novel began and ended with A Winner’s Curse, bringing the entire series full circle. Nice touch.
I am fiercely in love with all things Kestrel and Arin. Their relationship struggle in the novel was so real. Finally a YA book where it’s not the fantasy world keeping them apart, but actual real relationship bumps that plagues us all: break down of communication, acknowledgements of individual changes and growth, trust issues, accepting faults along with strengths, understanding personal struggles, guilt of hurting the one you love the most, forgiveness, and above all, mutual respect.
“He changed us both.” She seemed to struggle for words. “I think of you, all that you lost, who you were, what you were forced to be, and might have been, and I—I have become this, this person, unable to—”
She shut her mouth.
“Kestrel,” he said softly, “I love this person.”
It’s sad for me to come to the conclusion of a favorite series, one that I never expected to adore so much. But I loved every minute of this ride and can’t wait to revisit.
Excellent series is excellent.