Review The Winner's Kiss (The Winner's Trilogy) by Marie Rutkoski

Synopsis: 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?

Rating: 5/5 Stars
Genres: Young Adult, High Fantasy
My thoughts:
“Stories will get you killed.”
Brilliant. Gods-given, brilliant literature. I am forever in love with these books, because like any other final installment, The Winner's Kiss had the power to shatter the story or to lift it to heavenly skies. And thank the gods, it was beyond beautiful. This is how you end a series. This is how you give readers a satisfying conclusion. And, most importantly, this is how you uphold the promise to your own characters -- you let them come alive. 

The previous book ended on a killer note, one that promised the plot to become even more intricate. Coupled with the fact that lovely Kestrel and dear Arin were broken in their entirety, this serves us sweet agony, tear-jerkers, despair and disbelief in the first quarter of the finale. I might have been emotionally deceased at a couple of scenes. 

Then the war interweaved with the plot and the bloody dynamics between Valorian and Herrani we've all been expecting finally came into play in a marvelously clever manner worthy of Kestrel's and General Trajan's strategies. Its development had glorious political undertones due to the Dacrans' involvement and it was all so deliciously good. 

Regarding the writing style, I could see it changed a bit -- such as fractured sentences, rapid successions of short-replies. It blindsided me at the beginning, but as I got used to it, I could realize it actually worked for the book -- the mental state of both narrators was transmitted, the pace felt progressive and my heart was pumping thanks to the tension created. 


Kestrel truly awed me. She has her own parallel journey that brings the whole notion of self-discovery to another level and we see her in a different light, frayed at the edges, but still wonderfully strong, fair, ingenious and compassionate. When you see how far she's come, how she pulled herself up from ruins, you instantly feel a sense of pride because Kestrel Trajan is the ultimate badass heroine -- one that fights with her brains, not with her swords. Her emotional specter puts her as a central piece in the chessboard of war and her legacy and mind forever changes the fate of the ill-fated Herrani. 

“You talk about her as if she’s made of spun glass. Know what I see? Steel.”


Arin, on the other hand, I was mad at in the beginning. He was quick to bury Kestrel at the bottom of his thoughts and that just gutted me considering how Kestrel was fairing in that particular moment. The double narrative built a thrilling crescendo for their dramatic -- and imperative -- reunion, but that did not lessen the fact I was internally happy about the remorse, guilt, self-hate Arin felt. His character-development is rather interesting, with a drop of Herrani myths woven into his persona, one that nuanced him as an ambitious, loved and courageous leader. However, the dynamics between him and Kestrel also painted him as a sick love-puppy and let's be honest, we all appreciate his romantic and swoon-worthy side. In one word, he is dreamy. 

Other remarkable characters developed wonderfully. Roshar, for instance, was amazing. Humorous, strategic, loyal, the know it all type we all love in secondary cast. The bromance between him and Arin was gloriously happiness-inducing. And most of his lines offered the comical relief for the dramatic tension; I honestly laughed out loud countless times. He truly was the icing on the cake. 


Moreover, Risha brought an interesting spin on the story. Sarsine was great as always, Verex cute and lovable and the Emperor still a megalomaniac. Shocker, right? I especially liked the closure of Trajan's storyline, it seemed fitting to end it sort of halfway, to get revenge but still forgive. It illustrates how no matter what we try to tell ourselves, we'll always protect the people we love no matter how much they've hurt us.
“Sometimes a truth squeezes you so tightly you can’t breathe.”
Without a doubt, TWK is now one of my all time favorites and certainly one of my favorite finales, right there along with Clockwork Princess by Cassie Clare, Champion by Marie Lu and The Forever Song by Julie Kagawa. I am sad we won't have more of Kestrel & Arin or more Roshar, but the joy I'm feeling now far outweighs any bitter remnants of literary desire. 

The Winner's Kiss is enchanting, romantic and masterfully told, a book that grips your heart and soul. Kestrel and Arin truly became the power couple I deemed them to be and they shine brightly. So much love for this series, this author and these characters. Go read it. Doesn't matter you just did -- you'll thank yourself for a re-read.
 
“I want better choices.”
“Then we must make a world that has them.”

ENJOY! <3

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