Book Review: The Winner’s Kiss

Title: The Winner’s Kiss (The Winner’s Trilogy #3)20443235

Author: Marie Rutkoski

Rating: ★★★★★

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.

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Review: The Winner’s Crime

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Title:
The Winner’s Crime (The Winner’s Trilogy #2)

Author: Marie Rutkoski

Rating: ★★★★

Provided Synopsis: The engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria’s crown prince means one celebration after another. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement…if she could only trust him. Yet can she even trust herself? For—unknown to Arin—Kestrel is becoming a skilled practitioner of deceit: an anonymous spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret.

As Arin enlists dangerous allies in the struggle to keep his country’s freedom, he can’t fight the suspicion that Kestrel knows more than she shows. In the end, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth. And when that happens, Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them.

Review: I feel as if all reviews of The Winner’s Crime should be delivered with a public service announcement that states: yes, the ending of this book is as brutal as you have been told. The wait for the final installment of the trilogy is going to be difficult.

But if you are like me, and could not wait to read this book despite the anxiety over being presented with another final line to haunt your soul for the next year, then rejoice over the knowledge that this book is good. The Winner’s Curse left Arin and Kestrel at odds with one another; he lost in the glare of her apparent change of heart, and she unable to explain to him why she made her choice. Matters do not get any easier for them as the setting of the story shifts primarily to the capital of Valoria. If anything, the stakes only get higher as she must face impossible choice after impossible choice.

Kestrel continues to be one of my favorite characters in Young Adult literature. Intelligence is her weapon of choice; although she has to become aware that it can be used for her own good and against her. With her logical mind comes the lessons she was taught by her father, the General, in which she must calculate what and whom she will sacrifice for the greater good. And as her position in the Valorian Empire rises to dangerous heights, she feels she can trust no one.

Arin, meanwhile, is left to the waters of Kestrel and the good of his people. It is impossible not to feel a great deal of sympathy towards him, as he is pulled apart by what his image of Kestrel is with what she presents to him amongst the Valorian court. He is another character marked with a strong intelligence, yet as before there is the desire for vengeance to color his decisions — sometimes because he cannot see clearly. Unlike in its predecessor, this book does not allow Kestrel and Arin to have as much time in one another’s company. However, I thought this decision added to the impossible beauty of their relationship. Every meeting between them becomes fraught with more tension due to words not able to be spoken. I love tension in my romance, and these two bring it.

When it comes to fantasy, a good sequel should be able to expand upon the world the reader had initially been introduced to; this book accomplishes that. Politics, loyalty, betrayals and alliances have come into the picture and will undoubtedly shape how the trilogy ends. The characters travel to new lands and are exposed to different cultures. All of these elements combine with the author’s talent for getting the reader to feel the longing and anxiety of her characters. Do not go into this story with the notion that you are aware of how it will end. I promise you will be wrong.

Review: The Winner’s Curse

Title: The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy #1) 16069030

Author: Marie Rutkoski

Rating: ★★★★

Provided Synopsis: Winning what you want may cost you everything you love…

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

Review: I would like to start this review with the warning that the second-half of The Winner’s Curse is exceedingly better than the first. So if you are in a bit of a struggle then please do not give up!

In the beginning it looked as if this book and I were going to have a difficult time. The protagonist, Kestrel, is intelligent, as is known by her father, her friends, and everyone around her. Yet she remained determined to linger in the life of her past, filled with society gossip and gowns and music and other frivolities, despite the change she could feel begin to take root deep within her. Because once Kestrel made the spur of the moment decision to purchase a male slave up for auction, her world is completely altered. She has begun to suffer from “the winner’s curse,” which is a phrase used to express when one can no longer keep what they have won.

To read about the development of Kestrel and her slave, Arin’s, relationship was to go on a very slow-burning journey. Neither of them knew what to make of the other or the inexplicable thoughts and feelings that could be wrought out of them. At first, I considered the much talked about romance of this book to be incredibly weak, but then I began to realize what the author had done: she had allowed the readers into the minds of her characters on a completely vulnerable journey to love. If the thoughts and actions were frustrating to read, it was because Arin and Kestrel were also experiencing the same things in a struggle to rationalize their positions and loyalties. Towards the middle of the book things had progressed in such a way that I often had to re-read passages the author had written to describe their emotions because the words were so beautifully done.

And as the romance improves so does the plot. Because I do not want to give anything away in terms of spoilers I will only say that Kestrel is finally put in a position where she must use her intelligence and it was a wonder to behold. Arin, too, is an extremely competent and adaptable individual; the journey and development of both these characters was very well done. With so many things set-up towards the end of this first book in the series, I eagerly look forward to what the author will give her readers next.