The Winner’s Kiss (The Winner’s Trilogy #3) by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Kiss

“No battle is won without a good gamble.”

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?

Personal Thoughts:

To say that I am glad to be back in Kestrel and Arin’s world would be an understatement. I’ve been waiting for this final installment ever since I first finished reading The Winner’s Crime last year. I’ve been rereading the first two books countless times that sometimes I feel like I already build hundred versions of the Arin and Kestrel’s ending in my mind. But of course, I still want to know the real ending from the talented creator herself, Marie Rutkoski.

In this final installment, Marie Rutkoski not just pushed Arin and Kestrel’s story but also send to test both characters.

After being captive and sent to slavery, Kestrel lost part of her mind. She cannot remember a great deal about her past, about Arin, nor her father. While Arin is trying to understand what Kestrel did and struggling to win a war with alliance he isn’t completely sure but have no other choice.

As always, I am at awe with Marie Rutkoski’s writing. I spent much of The Winner’s Kiss astonished by her beautiful prose, and intricate passages. Words that are arranged meticulously to carry depth, emotions, and different meanings that can make readers pause, feel, think or have some reactions of one or two. Marie Rutkoski is truly a talented writer.

Beside with the superb writing, the intricate relationships of intriguingly complex characters is another best part of this book. Arin, Kestrel, and Roshar are all flawed but the connections between them are very palpable.

As I said from my previous review, Kestrel is one of the smartest character I have read in YA fictions. And to see her lost her wit and memory in this installment is just heartbreaking. She is still strong and smart but without her memory readers will see her struggle. Being a slave changed her both in the best and terrifying way. Her experienced at the mine makes her understand more the hardship of those who are not in power, while losing her memory makes her susceptible.

“Her memory was a gaming set where she could see the board and knew the rules of the game yet didn’t recognize all the pieces.”

Arin started with so much doubt and hatred for Kestrel. He thought he was betrayed and played. But eventually he realized what really happened, his own misgivings and all the misunderstandings. His love for Kestrel is immeasurable.

“I won’t play you because even when I win, I lose. It’s never been just a game between us.”

Arin and Kestrel are both broken not just by the war between their people but also with all things they’ve seen and done. But in-spite of all that happened these two fight to survive. They may not always agree with each other or share the same beliefs but when it matters they fought on the same side.

“He didn’t smile. He cupped her face with both hands. An emotion tugged at his expression, a dark awe, the kind saved for a wild storm that rends the sky but doesn’t ravage your existence, doesn’t destroy every thing you love. The one that lets you feel saved.”

Roshar is the most surprising character in this book. Though he was actually introduced from The Winner’s Crime, readers doesn’t know much about him until this final installment. His relationship with Arin is admiring and endearing. With his snarky comments and banter with the other characters, he balance the heaviness of war, and the drama and angst of others.

All in all, The Winner’s Kiss is a perfect end to this brilliant fantasy series of Marie Rutkoski. It’s smart, action packed, emotionally powerful, compelling, entertaining and satisfying. I am sad to see this whole series to end, but I’m beyond thrilled with how everything turned out. I’ll be rereading this whole series again and again as I love revisiting Kestrel and Arin’s world.

Kudos to Marie Rutkoski for delivering a fantastic series.

The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Crime

“…people aren’t gaming pieces. You can’t arrange them to suit yourself.”

Lady Kestrel’s engagement to Valoria’s crown prince calls for great celebration: balls and performances, fireworks and revelry. But to Kestrel it means a cage of her own making. Embedded in the imperial court as a spy, she lives and breathes deceit and cannot confide in the one person she really longs to trust …

While Arin fights to keep his country’s freedom from the hands of his enemy, he suspects that Kestrel knows more than she shows. As Kestrel comes closer to uncovering a shocking secret, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth.

Lies will come undone, and Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them in this second book in the breathtaking Winner’s trilogy.

Personal Thoughts:

The Winner’s Crime upped the game! As Arin and Kestrel world expands readers are now treat with a more thrilling and deadlier plot game. The rules are more complicated, the villain is more menacing, and the stakes are higher.

After making a deal with the emperor in the previous book The Winner’s Curse to save Arin and his people, Kestrel find herself trapped in a more dangerous game. Her engagement to the Valorian’s crown Prince is nothing but a task she needs to fulfill in order to continue save Arin. She needs to continue convincing the emperor, Arin, and everyone around her with all her lies. But how long can she pretend? What if her deceiving skill is not enough to protect the one she love or even herself?

Herrannis on the other hand are now free from being slaves and prisoners of their own land but for Arin that is not enough. The Valorians are still getting much of their resources. He needs to find a way to fully get out of Valorians grasp while trying to get Kestrel back. But what if Kestrel doesn’t want to go back? And can he find an allies against the Valorians to fully free Herran and at what cost?

Marie Rutkoski continue Arin and Kestrel’s story with full intensity. All the lies, betrayals, scheming and plotting both personal and political carry intricacy and weight of feels in them. Every moves and decisions are affecting not only the playing characters but also the readers.

In this complicated game of politics, love, lies and alliances Kestrel is trap with a frigthening opponent – the emperor. Equally cunning and smart, and probably more devious than Kestrel, the emperor like many good villain is utterly compelling. His addition to the story makes this second installment more thrilling and ultimately engaging. With him as an antagonist Kestrel need to be more careful in her moves. She can’t trust anyone, not when she knows that the emperor is capable of controlling the game and every players inside it.

Other than the game with the emperor, Kestrel also playing a dangerous game of lies with Arin. As she tried to help the Herranis by being their spy she is also building huge wall between her and Arin through her lies. And Arin as expected knows she is lying and will do anything to uncover all the lies which may negate Kestrel’s effort to protect him and his people. These two though clearly care for each other do things that may frustrate readers, but nevertheless a welcome frustration. All the misunderstanding and unsaid thoughts between Arin and Kestrel are carefully put to evoke feelings from the readers. The intricate dance that Arin and Kestrel is doing is not only emotionally taxing but also exhilarating. A roller coaster ride of emotions that I personally enjoy riding.

“Sometimes you think you want something,” Arin told him, “when in reality you need to let it go.”

With its rich characterization, stunning world building, clever plotting Marie Rutkoski’s successfully pushed The Winner’s series to higher level. She deliver another thrilling, emotionally taxing, and compelling story through Arin and Kestrel’s complicated and highly imaginative world.

The fact that I’ve done a reread few breath space after I’ve first finished this novel and another one before writing this review tells how good The Winner’s Crime is. I can’t get enough and obviously didn’t want to leave the world yet. If only I have the third/final book, I’m sure my life will be less miserable. Looking forward for more of Kestrel and Arin’s story and the dangerous game they are playing.

* This review is based on an eBook I received courtesy of the publisher, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ) via NetGalley.

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Curse

“The truth can deceive as well as a lie.”

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.

Personal Thoughts:

I should be curse for not reading The Winner’s Curse last year when it was first released. I stop counting how many friends keep on pushing me to read this book because they know I love fantasy stories. But with so much other fantasy books waiting in my long list of TBR pile I feel like pushing another new series to read is cheating, especially to those complete fantasy series waiting in my shelves for years. Yeah, I know I should be curse too for buying them and never reading them yet! Don’t ask me what those books are because for sure once you found out the titles I’ll be hearing/getting curses literally.

If not for the opportunity to read the second book of this series, The Winner’s Crime before its release date, I won’t be reading The Winner’s Curse sooner than I plan. And I’m really glad that I did because as it turned out my friends are right, this series is a must read for fantasy lovers like me.

“Isn’t that what stories do, make real things fake, and fake things real?”

The story is set years after the Herranis are conquered by Vallorians. Herranis lost their land, homes, and everything they have to the Vallorians.They become slaves and prisoners for years, serving the enemy who will never treat them as equal.

Kestrel, a Valorian aristocrat and daughter of the highest ranking General of Valorian army accidentally find herself in a slave market one day with her friend Jess. There one Herrani slave caught her attention – a boy named Arin who was trained as a blacksmith, can sing and somehow managed to refused to follow orders. In his resentment Kestrel saw strength in Arin, a kindred spirit that makes her curious and bid impulsively. Eventually she won the auction but she paid a steep price for her winning — a winner’s curse they called it.

Marie Rutkoski writing is easily addicting. Her prose are flowing in every page without being too fancy or overwhelming. Her descriptions of things and surroundings are not overly detailed but still enough for readers to easily imagine the world she is creating. Her writing is also smart, sometimes I feel like she has saying more in her words than what they really mean. Like this prose below:

“He knew the law of such things: people in brightly lit places cannot see into the dark.”

It’s Arin’s thought when he is in the dark watching Kestrel play music. In a literal sense, it tells that Arin knows that Kestrel cannot see him watching her since his location is too dark for everyone to notice that he is there. But in a more deeper sense the phrase also describe social status, that those who are rich and more privilege cannot see into the darkness of those people under them. In this case, Arin a slave living a dark life and Kestrel his owner who has the privilege of being in a brightly lit places.

Marie Rutkoski crafted a world that is both real and imaginative. She seamlessly weaved the fantasy and historical in this book. Right at the first page, I was transported to Kestrel’s world – a world of privileged and richness then to Arin’s world – sufferings and slavery. From there I’ve seen the different angles of these worlds. Add war, political and social issues in the center, this novel is definitely entertaining.

Kestrel is one of the smartest heroines I have encountered in fiction and that makes her story worth following. She is cunning, strategist, dedicated, open-minded and honest. Reading how her mind works is very much fascinating, especially if she is strategizing a war moves. Her military kind of thinking is refreshing and very much welcome. Studying her and how her mind works is a so much fun for me. Every war talks and tactics planning with her is informative, she’s like a real general in the battle field. She knows every angels of the battle, every plans to propose, every sacrifices to make. She may not be physically strong but she can defeat everyone with her brilliant mind.

I loved all the war tactics scattered in this novel. It’s like I’m reading part of my favorite book, Art of War but not really. Every strategies, planning and secrets are well plotted. I wish there’s more as I love reading all of them.

I devoured this book in one sitting during one cold night outside the coffee shop near my place. If that doesn’t tell how good and addicting this book is, I don’t know what is. So for fantasy readers who haven’t read this book yet, go read it! Trust me, you won’t get disappointed with the smart and intriguing characters, intricate plot, well-crafted world and beautiful writing. It’s a smart book – a perfect escape for fantasy lovers!