Sunday, April 17, 2016

Review: The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

Title: The Winner's Kiss (The Winner's Curse, #3)

Author: Marie Rutkoski

Rating: 5 Stars

I’ve struggled to write this review. Is this only the second time I’m re-writing it? It’s hard to tell. The Winner’s Kiss has occupied nearly all of my brain capacity since I picked it up and it hasn’t left me, even now that I’ve set it down. Rutkoski’s world has been bold and brilliant ever since The Winner’s Curse; this I knew. The Winner’s Crime only confirmed that her characters were passionate, vulnerable, and clever—a deadly combination if ever there was one. But The Winner’s Kiss is a seamless blend of romance and politics, infusing the best of this world and its people with a heart-stopping plot that ensures that though this series is truly at an end, its words will live on.

I’ve wanted Rutkoski to challenge her characters and push them beyond their comfort zone ever since first encountering them on the auction block of The Winner’s Curse. While they were intelligent and witty, motivated and brave even back then, I knew that they had the potential to be so much more. Finally, we see the darker underbelly of this world—its ruthlessness both on and off the battlefield. The Kestrel and Arin of The Winner’s Kiss are far different characters from those we have encountered before. In some ways, it’s safe to say that they hardly know themselves, let alone each other. The highlight of this novel, by far, was watching them navigate their memories—the past they thought they knew—and reconciling it with the present before them.

Their relationship has been a slow-start from the beginning and that isn’t an exception in this final installment but, seeing Kestrel and Arin interact in a setting wholly free of society’s shackles was refreshing. We get to finally see these two simply be and that, in and of itself, is a treat. Kestrel’s struggles throughout this novel are intense and painful, but also necessary. I understood her better outside the walls of the palace and I appreciated that Rutkoski didn’t make things easy for the daughter of the general. We see Kestrel become forced to assimilate within an army where she is the only Valorian among Herrani and Dacran alike. We see her face off her complicated emotions towards her father and the life he would have chosen for her—no easy task, especially when this is a relationship that has been complicated and nuanced from the start. With Arin, we experience a different set of challenges—his innate goodness contrasted with his skills on the battlefield; his vulnerability being pushed aside time and time in favor of the cold hard exterior of a leader; his willingness to trust contrasted against his history of mistakes. Neither Kestrel nor Arin are at a perfect place in their lives but watching them come to terms with one another, and themselves, is easily the best part about The Winner’s Kiss.

Roshar, the eastern prince who has allied himself with Arin, is the hidden gem of this series. Unfortunately, we don’t see much of Roshar in the first two installments of this trilogy but, finally, in The Winner’s Kiss we are able to experience him in all of his glory. Roshar is witty, always ready to crack a joke rather than discuss anything serious, but behind his veneer of laziness and nonchalance is a cunning mind whose allegiances are mysterious. What does Roshar hope to gain from helping the Herrani escape their masters? It’s unclear, which makes Roshar a dangerous character. Yet, I challenge you to cast doubt upon him and truly suspect him for more than a page before admiring and adoring him, again. His friendship with Arin is a bromance of the ages and his relationship with Kestrel, though unexpected, is another special aspect of this novel. Moreover, I enjoyed that through Roshar we are able to appreciate the full strength of Rutkoski’s world-building. The East is vastly different from the West but their animals, plants, poisons, customs, and rituals are not only fascinating, but relevant.

I have so much admiration for how Rutkoski uses every detail of her novels in an important way. Whether it be her battle scenes, tactical machinations revealing more about the characters than gritty details of bloodshed, or the political maneuvers made by these characters, every scene is intricately plotted. Truly, I couldn’t have envisioned a more apt way to end this story and the ending is perfection. I haven’t always loved this series and I’ve definitely felt as if the hype was unwarranted, at least once or twice, but The Winner’s Kiss makes it all worth it. Not only is this series achingly romantic, but it’s smart—it features strong characters, a brilliant heroine who embodies her agency in the strength of her mind, and a world whose politics can draw parallels to our own world (if we only looked hard enough). Thank you for this world and its characters, Ms. Rutkoski; they won’t be leaving me anytime soon.


  1. I swear this book series it the new "Throne of Glass". It's gaining so much popularity and I can def see why. Rutkoski spent so much time with her characters and planning out exactly what happened. I can't wait for her other novels, if she decides to write more.

    Alex @ The Book's Buzz

  2. Ah yes I also really enjoyed this one! It was a wonderful conclusion!

  3. I'm so tempted to skip the second book and pick this up. Their relationship is what I loved first and foremost when I read the first book, so I'm looking forward to see how they are.

    5 stars! That's quite the recommendation. :)

  4. Happy to hear the series ended so well for you, Keertana! I love it when a story sticks with me long after I've finished the last page. Wonderful review!

  5. I need to check out this series. I've been so curious about it. That's fantastic the author finally pushed the characters how you wanted and make it a better reading experience. Great review, Keertana!


  6. Yeah! I'm so glad you liked it as much as I did Keertana! It was such a great ending to the series and I love how everything wrapped up. Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! ♥

  7. I'm so pleased to see that you enjoyed this! I have only read the first book but I really enjoyed it.

    A lovely review. Sharon - Obsession with Books

  8. I've only read the first book and I've been chomping at the bit to read the rest. I have them all marked at my library and I just need to find the time. #FirstWorldProblems ;) So glad you loved this one and now I know I really need it. Brilly review.

  9. Okay, I skimmed your review Keertana because I still have yet to read the second book in this series. I was so nervous to pick it up because I knew things would only get worse for Kestrel and Arin before they hopefully get better in this book (you did mention a perfect ending, so I'm hoping that means to you what it means to me!), and I'm emotionally fragile when it comes to stories like this. So glad to see a 5 star rating from you though!

  10. I do want to try this series, but I am all, I will not like it, I am sure of it. If the library had it I'd jump at it

  11. It’s great when the book stays with you long after you finished it. It’s even greater when this happens with series. So many times the grand finale was the greatest disappointment. So glad to hear you loved this installment. I plan to finally start this series soon. I just want to wait a little, so the hype would lessen a little. And I’m really intrigued by Roshar. Very convincing review, Keertana! If it wasn’t on my tbr-list I would added it immediately.


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