“‘Did you win?’“
I won an amazing story, beautiful characters, and a great plot in The Winners Kiss. (with, you know, a side of heartbreak)This book has been getting an insane amount of hype, and, as I discovered, rightfully so. It deals with hugely important themes, has amazing character development, beautiful writing and a heart thrilling plot. (seriously, what more could you want). It blends in seamlessly with the rest of the trilogy, but also feels like the epic conclusion it truly is. This review contains no spoilers, but you should probably read the rest of the trilogy first.
Following the intrigue and danger of The Winner’s Curse and the revolution and romance of The Winner’s Crime, Kestrel finds herself in the tundra’s mines and Arin has sailed home. The empire seems unstoppable.
Lies will come undone, and Kestrel and Arin will learn just how much their crimes will cost them in this third and final installment in the heart-stopping Winner’s trilogy.
Okay, so one of the many, many things I loved about The Winners Kiss was the skillful way Rutkoski handled themes. Some of the central ones are love, war & violence, courage, honesty and revenge. Love is obviously a big deal, with Arin and Kestrel having to overcome the great obstacles of conflicting cultures, different agendas, and betrayal before them. Kestrel is also challenging her love of her father— “She was not her father.” She has such a complicated legacy from him, yet after everything she still loves him, and she has to know that. (I loved how the ending dealt with that!). There is also the idea of War. Because Valoria and Herran are at war, along with complicated Eastern land involvement, there is a lot of fighting and blood. I loved that political aspect, which has always been done so well in this trilogy, and The Winners Kiss lived up to that. The musings of Arin, as he contemplated the difference between killing a man and woman was profound, but didn’t feel forced. . But the fact that he and Kestrel were taking human lives was emphasised—“I’m saying he was a person, and he’s dead, and I did it”. I loved how the courage that fighting, in whatever way, requires was explored as well. The idea of honesty was also really important, especially in context of Arin and Kestrel lying to each other and keeping promises. – “He was finding the way the language fails, sometimes to get honesty right.”
Another complete win in this novel was the characters. They aren’t who they were at the beginning of The Winner’s Curse. They are angrier, more broken—and more powerful. Kestrel underwent some horrible things, and that was a) written really well and b) made her character development and relationship to others WAY more interesting. She’s back in Herran, and sort of rediscovering who she is and who matters to her. Arin has a lot of power that he doesn’t really want—but he does want revenge. And his relationship with Kestrel is so beautifully written and broken and sad and true and ugh, I’m just fangirling. Kestrel and Arin’s responses to each other, the way they just can’t help
falling in love paying attention to each other makes this novel as filled with character tension as it with plot tension. The supporting characters are fabulous too, like the emperor’s malicious deviousness, the generals broken resilience, Roshar’s angry irony, and Sarsine’s gentle acceptance. (I loved them ALL)
I can totally see how Marie Rutkoski is an English professor. This novel deserves to be studied in a lit class. She uses short sentences with great effect, and abstract concepts to express emotions without getting too flowery. I also loved how she used recurring phrases to bring emphasis—like the stones= emotions as a burden, secrets as a weight to be carried etc. The way the title relates and is woven into the writing is masterful, with the idea of gambling, winning, taking chances, betting big. (and yes. There is kissing). Here are some quotes, of great significance to the story, but also freaking amazing.
“‘It was like he was trying to navigate a new country where there was no such thing as the ground'”
“The light was beautiful: broken and blurred by the waters rippled silk, as if the sky wasn’t just the sky but a whole new world. “
“As the parched dawn touched her wet eyes, Kestrel realised she had come to this room for only one reason: to find her father”
“Vengeance. Wine dark, thick. It flooded Arin’s lungs.”
“She continued to glow at the edges of his vision.”
Seriously, if you love amazing writing, just read the Winner’s Kiss. You will not be disappointed.
Despite all the character development and underlying themes and beautiful writing, Rutkoski never distracts from her true purpose: the plot. At it’s heart, The Winner’s Kiss is just a really good story. (I’m a sucker for stories; did you know?). There’s a major event at the end of The Winner’s Crime that leads to one of the central plot points and character issues of the novel. That was a really hard part to read, but it gave the story so much power The narrative impetus is as high-stakes as the games the characters themselves play— which makes for really exciting reading. There is Love and War in this novel, so intertwined you can barely tell where one begins and the other ends. There are endings to some relationships and the beginning of new ones. There are deaths: some accidents, some murders. There is deep vengeance and deep forgiveness. The reading is completely thrilling; I was riveted. (and heartbroken). The conclusion is epic—and those vignettes between Kestrel and Arin work so well. My one teeny tiny complaint is that I sort of guessed the ending? Like when emphasis was given to a particular thing, my little readerly brain went ‘*ding ding ding* that’ll be important later.’ I was right, but maybe I read too much.
““If you play war safely, you’ll lose.“
In The Winners Kiss, Marie Rutkoski plays storytelling at it’s most dramatic, highest stakes. She positions her characters meticulously on the chessboard of the non-magical fantasy world she’s created, fuelled by detail and passion. The pawns play a game that is as thrilling to watch as it is to absorb through the gorgeous writing. I could not recommend this more.
So I may have been saturating you guys with excessively positive reviews? Is that a problem? Have you read this one? (if you’ve read this post, you’ll know that you should.) And what is your favourite war book?