Title: The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski
Publication Date: March 29, 2016
Genre: YA Fantasy
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?
This series has been one of those that will stick with me forever. The intelligence behind it, the beautiful prose, the haunting plot; all of these things have combined together to create something special. This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year, and I am glad to report that it did not disappoint.
What I Liked: Throughout the second book I wished that Arin and Kestrel had spent more time together. I mean, I understood why that was not possible, but still, I missed the dynamic. Well, Rutkoski rectifies this in the third book. Now, Arin and Kestrel are together, united against the Emperor’s forces and ready to do battle. What makes these scenes particularly interesting, and in my case enjoyable, is the fact that Kestrel’s memory is proven to be fallible from her time in the work camp. This leads to an interesting situation where she essentially has to learn to trust Arin all over again. For me, that particular dynamic worked because it created a new level of complexity to Arin and Kestrel’s relationship, and let’s face it, Rutkoski has become known for creating this kind of tension. Even though her memories have been tampered with, Kestrel’s personality remains the same, if a little hardened. Her particular brand of wit and cunning make her endearing and she has become one of my favorite female heroines. In “The Winner’s Kiss,” brains continue to outwit brawn.
What I Didn’t Like: The end of the war seemed a bit hurried for me. Kestrel’s actions effectively bring it to a halt, but I find it difficult to grasp that, that was all it took. For a nation that truly believed in what they were doing, I found it unbelievable that they would not have fought until the bitter end. I also expected a higher body count–just throwing that out there.
Overall, I truly enjoyed this series and am sad to see it end. Rutkoski was a breath of fresh air and I am excited to see what she has coming down the pipeline. 5/5