Book Review: The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Kiss by Marie RutkoskiTitle: The Winner’s Kiss (The Winner’s Trilogy  #3)
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Release Date: March 29th, 2016
Standalone/Series: Third book in The Winner’s Trilogy
Genre: Fantasy – Young Adult

Goodreads link

My rating in stars: 4 stars
My rating in words: Really liked this book

What it’s about:

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?

My thoughts:

“Kestrel thought that maybe she had been wrong, and Risha had been wrong, about forgiveness, that it was neither mud nor stone, but resembled more the drifting white spores. They came loose from the trees when they were ready. Soft to the touch, but made to be let go, so that they could find a place to plant and grow.”

The Winner’s Kiss was beautiful in a way that is both painful and satisfying. This series has come so far since The Winner’s Curse (which I did not care for that much) and this installment was not only a fitting finale, but it was also my favorite book of the trilogy. The writing was gorgeous and tied the whole story nicely together with its perfectly used war and games metaphors.

This book not only deals with the aftermath of the devastating ending to The Winner’s Crime on a personal level, but it also deals with a full-out war. The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been and our main characters are not the same. Both Kestrel and Arin have gone through hell and their experiences have left their marks on them, both mentally and physically. This makes this finale as much an emotional character-driven story as an action-packed epic one.

While I had my issues with them both in the past, I have really grown to love Kestrel and Arin. Kestrel is just such an amazing character. I love how she is so strong and capable but that her strength mostly comes from her strategic mind. She suffered a big blow at the end of the last book and she is suffering the consequences from that throughout this entire book, but she deals with it all in a strong and determined way that makes it impossible not to root for her.

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

Arin is the one who really grew on me this book though.  In the previous books I liked him okay, but I was put off a bit by his attitude and his tendency to not always think before he acts. But here you clearly see how much he has grown and actually learned from his mistakes. He’s a true leader to his people, even if he does’t want to be, which just makes him that much of a better leader. I also loved that we learned a bit more about the Herrani religion and Arin’s connection to the God of Death. Arin really shone in this book in his interactions, whether it was his internal talks with his God or his scenes with Kestrel or Roshar.

The romance between Arin and Kestrel in this book was finally at its best. In book 1 it felt a bit rushed and cliché. In book 2 the romance was better written, but put on the backburner so we didn’t get a lot of it (but what we did get was EPIC). But in book 3? The romance was just delicious. No more lies, no more secrets, just painful honesty. It was the perfect pace, it was realistic, it was painful but beautiful and it was just perfection.

“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.”

While The Winner’s Kiss did put a lot of focus on their (glorious) romance, it also did the secondary characters so much justice.

I loved the bromance between Arin and Roshar. I really enjoyed the addition of Roshar and found him a very enjoyable and well-developed character. He started as a mysterious, untrustworthy character but it was a joy to watch his friendship with Arin grow, even if the doubts about his motives never completely went away. He also added a lot of humor in this otherwise pretty dark and emotional book.

“Please understand. When I look at you as if you’re crazy, it’s not that I judge you for your insanity.”

I also loved the focus on the relationship between Kestrel and her father. Even if he was not present a lot, his presence was constantly felt by Kestrel as a voice that talked to her as much as Arin’s God talked to him. The resolution to their issues felt both realistic and satisfying.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and this series. If you are like me and were not entirely convinced by the first book, give the second and third book a try. With beautiful writing, a glorious romance and amazing character development, they are definitely worth it.

Favorite quotes:

“Later, Kestrel wished she had spoken then, that no time had been lost. She wished that she’d had the courage that very moment to tell Arin what she’d finally known to be true: that she loved him with the whole of her heart.”

“How do I look in the dark?”
Startled, Arin glanced at him. The question had had no edges. It wasn’t sleek, either. Its soft, uncertain shape suggested that Roshar truly wanted to know. In the fired red shadows, his limbs looked lax and his mutilated face met Arin’s squarely. The heavy feeling that Arin carried—that specific sadness, nestled just below his collar bone, like a pendant—lessened. He said, “Like my friend.”
Roshar didn’t smile. When he spoke, his voice matched his expression, which was rare for him. Rarer still: his tone. Quiet and true. “You do, too.”

“Arin imagined how, if he could, he would kneel before the boy he had been. He’d cradle himself to his chest, let the child bury his wet face against his shoulder. Shh, Arin would tell him. You will be lonely, but you’ ll become strong. One day, you will have your revenge.”

“She looked at the tree. It was a tree. A leaf, a leaf. Some things just are. They don’t signal other meanings. They aren’t like a god, casting its meaning over an entire year, or like a conversation, which is itself and also all the things that aren’t said.
A tree was not a tree. A leaf, not a leaf. She understood what he didn’t say.”

“Yet he understood that there are some things you feel and others that you choose to feel, and that the choice doesn’t make the feeling less valid.”

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