The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski
this review is for the third book in a series and may contain ~spoilers~ for the first two novels! you can read my review of THE WINNER’S CURSE (book #1) here and/or my review of THE WINNER’S CRIME (book #2) here.
Series: The Winner's Trilogy #3
on March 29th 2016
Genres: Action & Adventure, Ancient Civilizations, Epic, Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic, Fiction, High fantasy, Historical, Love & Romance, Romance, Young Adult
Amazon // The Book Depository
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?
the winner’s kiss made me an emotional train wreck.
this was one of my most-anticipated books of 2016 and it did not disappoint (for the most part). we’re immediately thrown back into the dire situation marie rutkoski left us in at the end of THE WINNER’S CRIME. emotions are haywire for the cliffhanger (KESTREL?!!!! AND ARIN??!!!!), but for me, everything else in the world was kind of a blur. i forgot this person and that person, and rutkoski didn’t do that great of a job refreshing my memory of what was going on. nonetheless, my mind managed to fill in some of the gaps and move forward. but because of that, i wish i’d reread the first two before starting TWK and i’m sure it made me appreciate the novel less than its full potential.
on a much more positive note, THE PLOT WAS FANTASTIC. i feel that trilogies tend to follow this disappointing downfall in the plot where the last book is more about character development and lacks action. it also usually ends with a twist that kind of makes up for the less energy. THE WINNER’S KISS wasn’t like this because there was still a lot going on. there was character development and an interesting plot. i knew what our game plan was, what we wanted the end game to be, and how to get there. but there were still twists and turns that kept me curious and surprised.
the pacing was a bit off. the first hundred or so pages were sofastwhatsgoingtohappenOMG. i liked the pace because it kept me on edge and made me wanting more more more. it only felt a teeny tiny bit rushed, but that’s alright. at a certain middle section of the book, everything started to feel so s l o w. it felt even more so because of the fast start. i was still interested, but it wasn’t very demanding; i could stop and wouldn’t feel the undying urge to read whenever i had the chance. because of this, i started to feel detached towards the end. BUT, the pacing sped up at the end once again and the book was over in a flash.
THE WINNER’S TRILOGY is one of my favorites. i love the way the whole series wraps together as a whole, but i wish i’d reread the first two before diving into this one. even so, this last installment is fantastic and i’m really satisfied with how everything came about.
spoiler-filled discussion beginning! PLEASE do not continue reading until you’ve finished reading the book unless you want to be spoiled. (you don’t want to be spoiled; go read it.)
plot twists & FEEEEEEEEELS
let’s talk about kestrel in the tundra. kestrel in the tundra. this was probably the most emotional and painful and frustrating part of the novel for me. frustrated at the whole situation of things and pained for kestrel’s struggle. we see her in the first two books UNBREAKABLE and now, here she is in the middle of nowhere, chained up, and emotionally ripped to shreds. i’m not crying, you are. (but seriously, i was crying at this part.) this was probably the… second(?) chapter of the book and i was already in pieces.
but let’s be honest, it was MORE AWFUL when arin realizes what kestrel had done, goes off to save her, and she doesn’t remember him at all. although i was honestly surprised by how quickly kestrel got out of the camp; i was expecting her to stay there for at least half the book, but i’m glad she got out. the whole process of arin finding out was a fantastic buildup; hats off to marie rutkoski! but anyway, any scene with kestrel and arin made my heart ache.
the mid-chunk of the novel was, like i mentioned earlier, so slooooow. when kestrel visited her old house and missed saying goodbye to arin, i KNEW she was going to somehow appear. arin left feeling frustrated and convinced kestrel didn’t mean what she said and i was thinking, “DUDE SHE’S GOING TO COME IN NO TIME,” and there she was. another supposed plot twist i saw coming was the one about arin killing the general. it didn’t seem like he would do it – albeit he kept thinking and saying it, i didn’t believe he would do it. so i was left a bit disappointed until…
THE BITE AND STING GAME. that was stressful and SO INTENSE. rutkoski also did a fabulous job building up the suspense with the constant jump cuts. there’d be a paragraph from kestrel and the king, then a paragraph with arin and the battle. i was constantly at edge towards to end. the PLOT TWIST WITH THE POISONED CARDS left me in so much shock. i was beginning to lose hope in the book, beginning to settle for a 3.5-star rating, but THIS. this was gold. (although i’m not entirely sure how to feel about the end-end. it was left a bit open?)
characters & relationships are still great
the voices inside kestrel and arin’s heads were an interesting metaphor. both arin’s god and kestrel’s dad represented someone they admired and respected, but also someone that is vengeful. although both of these voices made me cringe with every italicized whisper, they helped our characters grow. in the end, both were helpful and both arin and kestrel used the negativity to their own power. both of these voices were metaphors that represented different sides of themselves.
“You could offer her a seat,” Arin said.
“Ah, but I have only two chairs in my tent, little Herrani, and we are three. I suppose she could always sit on your lap.”
the side characters surprised me. i don’t remember anyone in either of the first two books being particularly remarkable. however, roshar grew on me in TWK. at first, i’d found him extremely obnoxious but now he’s one of my favorite characters – especially after that speech at the end. i love how he was not-so-subtly gay, and how utterly UNEXPECTED he was as a character. the bromance between him and arin was so strong, but i still wasn’t sure if i should trust him. i’m really happy with how things concluded for his side of the story.
“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’s character arc in this series is very clear. she starts off as the unstoppable, clever, privileged maiden with a rock-hard exterior. nothing can get to her, and i loved her for that. but we slowly saw her facade chip and crack until BAM, the beginning of TRK. she hit the lowest of lows when she lost her memories and seeing her rebuild herself was strange and emotional and kind of empowering. because even after EVERYTHING that has happened to her, she’s still kestrel. she’s still quick-witted and purely KESTREL – whoever that may be.