Title: The Winner’s Kiss
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Published: March 29, 2016
Series: The Winner’s Trilogy
Genre: High Fantasy
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?
I’m just going to throw this out there now: I ADORED this book. It was pretty much perfect.
The biggest challenge for me with trilogies is that the bar is typically set really high with the first book, and it can be discouraging when the follow-ups don’t live up to those expectations.
While I didn’t like The Winner’s Crime *quite* as much as The Winner’s Curse (don’t get me wrong — book 2 was fantastic, the first one was just THAT good — review here), The Winner’s Kiss might well have been the best of the three.
Ironically, when I first heard the title, I mentally gagged a little. A kiss? That just seemed to soft a word to include in this trilogy about an absolutely brilliant heroine.
Kestrel has been one of my favorite characters in a long time. She’s sharp as a tack and incredibly manipulative, but she cares deeply for her inner circle. And when someone in her inner circle is threatened or her values are challenged, she’s as fierce as they come. Example: At the beginning of the series, Kestrel faced a choice. She could either join the military or marry. She ultimately chose marry, but only to protect someone she loved.
Where the first two books were relatively tame, this book got into some of the less pretty sides of war.
Kestrel is on her way to a prison camp, exiled after her father, General Trajan, discovered and subsequently told the Valorian emperor that she had been passing information to the Herrani rebellion at the end of The Winner’s Crime.
At the camp, Kestrel is drugged and forced to work, reduced to a mere ghost of herself. Meanwhile, Arin finally realizes that Kestrel was the one passing information to him through his spymaster.
Cue: Daring rescue.
The rest of the book focuses on Arin helping Kestrel put the pieces of her shattered memory (and feelings) back together while they try to fight a war against the Valorian empire (and Kestrel’s father).
While I don’t want to give away too much of the story line, I can tell you that the dialogue between Kestrel and Arin gave me all the feels. I also really liked the addition of Roshar as a primary character. He came in toward the end of The Winner’s Crime and turned into a dynamic character and a source of comic relief.
And then the ending was practically perfect in every way.
If you haven’t started this series, do it. Now. I honestly can’t say enough good things about it. The Winner’s Trilogy has been firmly cemented as one of my favorites. I read the first two and mostly listened to the last one on Audible, and I really loved the narrator.
After I’ve sang its praises, it should come as no surprise that I’m giving The Winner’s Kiss 5/5 stars. Recommended to NA/YA readers. This should appeal to high fantasy or just general fiction lovers. It’s not “fantastic” so much as political in nature.