Title: The Winner’s Kiss
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Publication Date: 24th March 2016
Format: Paperback | Purchased
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Summary: 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?
My thoughts: When I first started this series, I thought what I’d get was a light romance. Three books later, I can honestly saw that this one of my favourite YA trilogies. It was an absolute rollercoaster, filled with action and political intrigue.
Rutkoski is such an engaging storyteller. She has such an easy, flowing style – the story moves seamlessly, each page balancing dialogue and tension. The romance is present, but it isn’t the focus of the story. Much like Maggie Stiefvater, it doesn’t feel like Rutkoski is telling you a story, it feels like she is painting you a picture. She somehow manages to convey so much more than what is written. Usually I glaze over when authors start info-dumping or start discussing war tactics, but Rutkoski manages to explain complex battle scenes, political manoeuvers and war tactics/strategies without confusing the reader or putting in too much information.
The Winner’s Trilogy is one of the few series that manages to strike the perfect balance between plot and character – you could say that is both plot-driven and character-driven. We are able to watch Kestrel and Arin grow as characters, we are able to watch their relationship develop as they come to understand each other more and overcome obstacles to trust one another. Their struggles felt real – it wasn’t the fantasy world that was causing problems for their relationship, it was real-life issues: a lack of communication, trust issues, struggling to accept faults in character. It made for a so much more satisfying communication, and as far as emotional reactions go, it made me feel so much more.
For those of you who like the series’ secondary characters, you’ll be pleased to know that Rutkoski doesn’t push them aside. Special mention to the resolution of the relationship between Kestrel and her father (such a complex relationship, it fascinates me endlessly), and the friendship between Arin and Roshar. Their friendship is such fun, lots of banter and bickering. Roshar is sarcastic and witty, and will often come out with the book’s best one liners. His presence is often needed when the romance takes centre stage, providing comedic relief when the tension becomes too much.
It is always sad to say goodbye to a series, to beloved characters, but I loved everything about this series and cannot wait to revisit Kestrel and Arin in the future. I never expected to love The Winner’s Trilogy as much as I have and cannot stress enough how brilliant its conclusion is.