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?
Description taken from Goodreads.
I thought The Winner’s Kiss was the weakest of the three books in the trilogy. For me, it lacked much of the urgency and tightness of the previous books. Why, I’m not quite sure, but I can say without a doubt now that the first book is my favorite.
If you’re considering reading this trilogy, having held out this long for whatever reason, don’t let my opinion dissuade you! Regardless of how I felt about the books, Marie Rutkoski is undoubtedly a talented writer. Her stories are smart and her worlds well thought-out. This series, The Winner’s Curse in particular, is the prime example of so many things I love in YA, from slow burn romances to pretty but not flowery writing.
I turn to these books all the time in my ongoing rant about how female characters “have” to be physically strong in YA. Kestrel is the first character I would point to (yes, even before Legend‘s June) if I wanted to talk about how strengths and talents can take on so many forms. Kestrel is brilliant, especially when it comes to military strategy, and YA is better off for having her.
And then there’s Arin and Kestrel, who for a time were one of my biggest ships. These two together were amazing in all three books, and I loved the way their relationship progressed over the course of the series. I feared that, because this is a slow-burn, Rutkoski would lose track of pacing and rush things in the final book, but NOT SO. She’s done an incredible job piecing together both the mystery and romance, flawlessly weaving them together so that neither can quite claim the spot of main plot. There were a few things that I disliked about the romance in the previous novel (the fact that basically nothing happened), but The Winner’s Kiss reminded me why I loved Arin and Kestrel so much in the first book.
But, even though not a lot changed drastically over the course of the book in terms of writing style, overall quality control, pacing, themes, character motivations, etc., my love for this series slowly drained away to the point where there’s little to no passion behind my appreciation of the third book. And if I had to guess, I’d say that the reason why is that this series never hit me on an emotional level.
On a critical level, and at a literary level, the book is brilliant. It’s intriguing politically, it’s fun to read, and it all makes sense in the end, but the story doesn’t mean anything to me. I felt distant from the characters and at times, I didn’t care what was going on. BEAR WITH ME HERE. It’s one of the first times this has happened, so I’m struggling to figure it out because I wanted to love this book.
Overall, I would recommend the book. It’s fantastically written, and it comes to a satisfying ending. Fans of fantasy YA will fall in love with it, and it strikes a great balance between action/adventure/politics and romance. It’s an amazing series, but the first book remains the most memorable in my mind. 2.5 stars.