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Book Reviews

Review: “The Winner’s Kiss,” Marie Rutkoski

April 20, 2016

I received this book for free from Bloomsbury Australia in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: “The Winner’s Kiss,” Marie RutkoskiThe Winner's Kiss (The Winner's Trilogy #3)
Written by Marie Rutkoski
Published March, 2016 by Bloomsbury
484 pages
Provided by: Bloomsbury Australia
Genres: Fantasy, Medieval, War
Purchase: The Book DepositoryBookworldBooktopia
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three-stars

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.

It was with firm expectations of disappointment that I opened up the first page of The Winner’s Kiss. It’s no secret that my relationship with this series by Marie Rutkoski hasn’t been a good one. However, since I had of course read the first two and committed myself to finishing it as a whole, I knew I had to read the ending. Imagine my surprise when I actually found myself enjoying the final instalment!

 “You don’t need to be gifted with a blade. You are your own best weapon.”

The Winner’s Kiss delivered almost everything I wanted in the first two books. Though it got off to a slow start, everything soon picked up and I found myself reading into the wee hours of the night. The action was fast-paced, the characters developed nicely and the relationship between everyone and everything seemed to be expanding. Yes, I thought. This is what I wanted. Unfortunately, it was a case of ‘too little, too late’ where Kestrel and Arin were concerned for me.

I absolutely did not hold any warmth for their relationship, or Arin’s character for the most part, for the majority of my reading of this series. I don’t know what stopped me, but I never really forged a connection with Arin (or liked him) or got behind their relationship. Although I did find them a little more likeable in The Winner’s Kiss, I’m sad to say my mind was already made up from the previous reading experiences. I am glad, though, that I was able to leave the whole Arin/Kestrel relationship on a good note rather than a sour one.

“Kestrel felt a slow, slight throb, a shimmer in the blood. She knew it well. Her worst trait. Her best trait. The desire to come out on top, to set her opponent under her thumb. A streak of pride. Her mind ringed with hungry rows of foxlike teeth.”

Kestrel herself has always been a ‘meh’ character for me. The Winner’s Kiss touts the promise of Kestrel’s torment in the salt mines this time around, but to be completely honest, I didn’t find her time there all that lengthy in terms of page count. Was it a horrible experience for her? Most definitely – but it wasn’t the main arc of her story. I found more that her ‘recovery’ from these opening chapters was more the focus, and although I enjoyed her character development in The Winner’s Kiss, I was a little let down with the whole ‘amnesia’ storyline. I didn’t feel that it was necessary, and sort of rendered everything she’d done in The Winner’s Curse & The Winner’s Crime a little useless where development was concerned. Sure, she wouldn’t have gotten to this point without her former self, but was it really all for nothing? In ways we were throwing out the old Kestrel and getting a new one in her place.

I never really cared that much about the world-building within this series, either. It was fantastic to finally get a solid look at the three prominent empires this time around and really solidify everything that had been imagined previously. I L-O-V-E-D being away from the ‘court’ and the backstabbing politics and this time getting around to the battlefronts and in-your-face action. Things really stepped up for the better and I wish this had been the focus a little sooner. The war scenes were perfectly suspenseful and well-written, and I was unable to look away.

“Her love for him closed within her like a fist. Nervous, bruised. She despised it. Wasn’t it the love of a beaten animal, slinking back to its master? Yet here was the truth: she missed her father.”

As far as endings go, it’s satisfactory, but I would have liked to see a few more things unfold in terms of Kestrel and her previous relationships such as the one with her father and Jess, and what the future held for them. The Winner’s Kiss really made Roshar and all the other Dachran characters quite likeable and I was happy to see those bonds form for a better future.

I am quite disappointed in a way that I did not love the two previous books, as I have a feeling this book would have been absolutely and utterly epic if I had. If someone who disliked them can actually enjoy this one, I can only begin to understand how much die-hard fans of the series relished The Winner’s Kiss!

I look forward to future books by Marie Rutkoski – even if I think her descriptions get a little too ‘purple’ sometimes!

About Marie Rutkoski

Marie grew up in Bolingbrook, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago), as the oldest of four children. She holds a BA from the University of Iowa and a PhD from Harvard University. Marie is currently a professor at Brooklyn College, where she teaches Renaissance Drama, children's literature and fiction writing. She lives in New York City with her husband and two sons.

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