Series: The Winner's Trilogy, #3
Published by Macmillan on March 29th 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Love & Romance, Fantasy & Magic
Buy on: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks
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?
“But it wasn’t simply withdrawal, either, that racked her limbs. It was grief. It was the horror of someone who’d been dealt a winning hand had bet her life on the game, and then proceeded (deliberately?) to lose.”
I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I’ve found the romance between Arin and Kestrel problematic considering the circumstances of their meeting, but The Winner’s Kiss allows both to be on equal footing. Gone was the ickiness of a slave master falling for her slave, and instead readers get a story of two people separated by history who try to find their way back to each other. Their relationship is much more grown-up, and reads as being more believable than I found it previously. Not only that, but Marie Rutkoski does a wonderful job of exploring the relationships of all the characters, so that the stakes seem higher for all involved.
The story continues the dual perspectives between Kestrel and Arin, and picks up where readers left off in The Winner’s Crime. Kestrel is being taken to the sulphur mines where she will spend the rest of her days enslaved. Meanwhile, Arin still believes the lies Kestrel told him, but devotes himself to freeing his people. Readers find their roles reversed, and this made Kestrel much more relatable to me. Instead of the naive, rich girl who thought she could play at war, readers get a woman transformed by the world who shaped her, and betrayed by those she loved.
Despite not being a fan of the romance, the main reason I kept reading this series was because I loved the political intrigue aspect of the plot. The Winner’s Kiss continues to deliver on this front as Arin’s war against Valoria comes to a head. Rutkoski creates so much tension in the story, that I was on the edge of my seat practically the entire time I read the novel. With the high stakes, and the fact that this was the conclusion to the story, I really felt as if anything could happen to any of the characters, and that no one was truly safe. While this was extremely frustrating for me, it was also wonderful. I never wanted to put the book down!
Now that I’ve finished, I can definitely say that I appreciate the series as a whole a lot more, and will probably read it again at some point in the future. Kestrel and Arin have grown so much over the course of the trilogy, that it would be interesting to read it with an entirely new perspective on them as characters. Maybe I’d enjoy The Winner’s Curse a lot more. If you’ve loved this series from the very beginning, then you won’t be disappointed. The Winner’s Kiss was everything I could have hoped for, and more.