& Review: The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski. Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux March 2016

The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski. Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux March 2016

Re-release of the third installment's cover.

Re-release of the third installment’s cover.

The Book Itself: The final installment in the Winner’s Trilogy, and the last two covers. Again, I think that the cover art on the left best represents the series. The cover on the right tries too hard, I think, to make this book seem like it’s about a Strong Female Warrior Character. The one with the dress and sword shows a better juxtaposition of who Kestrel is written as. She wears the dresses but wields the dagger. It might be another cover with a pretty dress, but I think it’s better than the ubiquitous warrior princess cover.

**If you haven’t read the first two installments in this trilogy, even reading the book synopsis for this one will give you a couple spoilers. So go out and read these books, because they’re good! Then come back and read this. Thanks!

My Review: 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? 

Despite it’s rather blech-y title, The Winner’s Kiss is a fantastic conclusion to a wonderful series. I’m a little bit in book love here.

The majority of the reviews on this one are rather gush-y, so I will try not to use too many exclamation points, even though this one deserves all of them. This series ramps up with each installment in an amazing story arc. With The Winner’s Curse we had a tense world on the brink of change, with two rather naïve characters falling in lurve. It was light on the action, heavy on the meaningful glances and first kisses. In The Winner’s Crime, both parties were miserable, dealing with what they thought were the consequences of their actions, only to have the crap truly hit the fan by the end, tearing apart all sense of happiness for the reader. Finally, here in The Winner’s Kiss, we get to see everyone kicking ass and taking names.

This book has more action that the other two combined. Arin is battling, Kestrel is battling, our new friend Roshar is battling (all while letting out quippy remarks, of course). There is real carnage and real, raw emotion that actually had be blinking rapidly a couple of times (No, I don’t cry about books. SHUTUP). The events in this story change the world of Kestrel and Arin irrevocably. And it doesn’t take that lightly.

Things that I wished were just a tad bit more developed: Arin reveals a little more about his people’s belief system in this story. The last book. Of the entire series. In fact, we learn that Arin was born under the protection/sign of the God of Death. And in fact, Death likes to talk in Arin’s head sometimes.

Wait, what? Here, in the last installment, we’re getting what seems like really important information about Arin and his beliefs? Where was Death’s voice this whole time?! Biding its time, perhaps? Not only was I a little confused that it took so long to get to this aspect of his character, but then I wanted to know more about it than was provided! We get snippets of information – there are 100 gods, and each year rotates which god influences things. Only a few gods get mentioned, but it opens up more doors and questions: Do the gods have names, or just representations? What’s the world’s origin story under these gods? Why 100, and not more or less? Etc. etc. etc. It feels like a halfhearted attempt at more worldbuilding. I’m a sucker for fictional stories about polytheistic societies and worlds, so I felt a little left in the lurch.

And our good friend Roshar…Roshar is introduced in The Winner’s Curse, but doesn’t really get to do anything until this last book. Which is a shame, because he’s good dark comic relief, and a much-needed friend for Arin. While the sarcastic, witty sidekick is another trope that pops up in a lot of modern fantasy literature, I ain’t mad about it. Give me good one-liners and crappy jokes all day long. Roshar is introduced too late, and he’s still the most convincing and developed side character. Or perhaps I’m still bitter about Jess and Ronan’s fadeout in the second book. I wish there were more of him, both in terms of backstory and witty retorts – I wish he had been in the story all along.

While the epilogue is a little too and-they-lived-happily-ever-after, there is a good dose of bittersweet by novel’s end. Kestrel’s relationship with her father (who, surprise! Turns out to be terrible!) is complex and heartbreaking, and it isn’t summed up with a neat little bow at the end. But I left this story, and this series, with wonderful, complex emotions. I laughed, I cried, and I wished it didn’t end. Just read it.

My Grade: A

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