Title: The Winner’s Kiss (The Winner’s Trilogy #3)
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Provided Synopsis: 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?
Review: If you have followed my reviews of The Winner’s Trilogy, or have read the books for yourself, then you will know that the story of Kestrel and Arin is one to bring exquisite joy and agony. Once in a slave and owner relationship, the two of them fall in love, despite being on opposite sides of an impending war between their countries. Their loyalties towards their people and what they thought they stood for are continuously tested, with betrayals occurring in the mind of the greater good, leaving both characters where they are at the opening of The Winner’s Kiss. War is now the only option for the Valorians and the Herrani.
Continuing her magnificent style of writing, Rutkoski weaves a story of politics, war, and romance. Push and pull. Give and take. Choices, that will hopefully improve if the hero and heroine are able to make a better world. Forgiveness also plays a large part in this conclusion, asking questions about its shape and its possibility. Kestrel and Arin must learn more about themselves, for with all that has occurred since they first fell in love they are no longer the same people.
For me, Kestrel and Arin are my favorite romance in YA Fiction. I have always been able to feel connected to them; largely in part to the way they are written. Their feelings towards the situations they must face, and especially towards each other, have always reached off the page to grab a hold of my heart. When characters are so easily able to reach their audience there is no place for the emotion to hide; you will feel it, you will buckle under it, grow frustrated with it, praise it, love it: all because it is so true and raw.
In my opinion, this is one of the best series conclusions I have ever come across. I feel so complete inside, while also being so bereft to leave behind two characters that I love so much. Their story, and the story of the Herrani gods, will live on within me hopefully, because I really do not see how it could ever get better than this.