Author: Marie Rutkoski
Publication Date: March 29, 2016
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Reviews for book 1 & book 2
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?
The Winner's Kiss was one of my MANY anticipated reads for 2016! While I loved The Winner's Curse, The Winner's Crime focused too much on politics for my taste and I was hoping this final book would redeem the series. I actually found a copy at Barnes and Noble four days before it was supposed to be released and immediately dropped everything and devoured it!
This book picks up where The Winner's Curse leaves off, with Kestrel being completely devastated that her father would send her to a work camp, essentially leaving her for dead. In true Kestrel fashion, she immediately starts looking for ways to escape. I love Kestrel so much. Throughout this book Kestrel overcomes so, so much. She pulls herself up from the absolute lowest place she could have gone and rises above everything! She is strong and she's smart and, as someone who would very likely be incapable of defending myself hand to hand, I love seeing a heroine who holds her own with brain instead of brawn!
I actually had a little bit of a problem with Arin in the last book, but in The Winner's Kiss he is back to being the amazing, incredible love interest that I loved! It takes him a little while to figure things out for himself, but once he did, he was basically perfect! (Maybe a little too perfect, but whatever - I love him.) The romance between Arin and Kestrel was amazing! For reasons I cannot disclose, their relationship had to start again pretty slowly and Arin was always perfectly patient with Kestrel and did nothing but love her. This romance is the very definition of "in good times and in bad!"
Apart from Kestrel and Arin, I absolutely adored Roshar!! He was hilarious and crude and the perfect yin to Arin's yang. Roshar is unabashedly himself regardless of whether things are blowing up or he's playing cards. I loved his relationships with both Arin and Kestrel and that he always backed up Kestrel in wanting to do her part in the army he was responsible for. I also really enjoyed watching him grow as a character, especially towards the end when his sister showed up. To be honest, I would definitely read a spinoff series that was entirely about Roshar!
One thing I loved about this book is that it wasted absolutely no time on fluffy filler - it is non-stop action from beginning to end. It hits every important note, never dragging but never seeming rushed either. The Winner's Kiss revolves largely around the war (less politics, more blowing things up!) between the Heranni people (with the help of their Eastern allies) and the emperor. Arin and Kestrel both played very major roles, Arin with his mad war skills, and Kestrel with her brilliant strategy. In any other book I might not be interested in reading about a war, but I was so invested in the characters by the time it actually started that I felt like my life was dependent on the outcome!
I also really appreciated that Marie Rutkoski focused mostly on the Herani lands. Although there was plenty of time to get to know Heran in The Winner's Kiss, having the opportunity to explore it further as opposed to branching out into parts unknown. This made the world building feel so much more thorough and I liked that I didn't feel like I had to absorb a ton of new information. Instead I just got to enjoy the story!
The Winner's Kiss is easily the best book in The Winner's Trilogy! It was honestly the perfect ending to a series that I had become a little wary of and I don't think there's anything Rutkoski could have done better! (Except maybe give us that Roshar book??) If, like me, you didn't have a fantastic experience with The Winner's Crime, please give this one a chance anyway!