The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner’s Trilogy #3 (3/3)
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux on March 29, 2016
Genres: [Young Adult] Fantasy
5 Stars, Completed April 3, 2016
– to avoid major SPOILERS read bold text only –
As he spoke, it occurred to her that maybe he, too, felt like two people, that maybe everybody does, and that it’s not a question of whether one’s damaged, but of how easily or not that damage is seen.
In the third and final installment to The Winner’s trilogy, war has begun and Arin is among his enemies hoping to forge an alliance against the empire to save his people, the Herrani. He still believes he’s fallen out of love with Kestrel and despises her for her evident cruelty and inhumanity. Meanwhile, Kestrel is in the freezing north as a prisoner paying for the grave mistake of betraying her people, the Valorians, by helping the Herrani before Arin left for the east. She only wishes that Arin knew what she had sacrificed for him. With the abundance of misunderstandings, increasingly intensifying war, and distance to separate them, there’s much more of a strain on Arin and Kestrel’s relationship than ever before.
Is it strange that I already feel like I’m ready to reread the entire trilogy? I really don’t want this world to end. Happy sigh.
Despite the noticeable flaws and convenient turns, I really loved this finale. Everything was very Rutkoski-esque and I wasn’t disappointed in the least.
The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime has showcased Rutkoski’s ability of creating a believable slow burn, forbidden romance. The Winner’s Kiss is not any different from its preceding installments; book three starts out slow and builds up to the moment the couple reunites. And even then readers aren’t given the satisfaction of having a true reunion so soon because of an amnesia plot. I know that a lot of readers will be frustrated with this trope. In truth, being someone who has seen this way too many times (especially in Asian dramas), I had qualms myself. I would normally find it too cheesy and a lazy “twist” on the writer’s part. Yet because this is concerning Arin and Kestrel I could forgo this exasperation. By now, loyal fans of the trilogy should know that there will always be some unfortunate event that prevents the couple from truly being together. So in other words, I was not at all surprised to learn Rutkoski would choose this route with that arc. (Honestly, I didn’t want to be fooled by the title so I was bracing myself for the worst scenario such as Arin dying in battle or something equally maddeningly brutal.)
“You don’t need to be gifted with a blade. You are your own best weapon.” …
Kestrel felt a slow, slight throb, a shimmer in the blood. She knew it well.
Her worst trait. Her best trait.
And with this segment, Kestrel is anything but her usual, confident self. She’s timid, insecure, and not the ideal heroine she has been in the previous installments. However, I actually really liked this change. I interpreted her transformation as character growth, and specifically an opportunity for her to understand Arin past an emotional and sympathetic level. This vulnerability allows her to grow empathy and compassion-not that she was ever heartless like Arin misread her to be though.
“He changed us both.” She seemed to struggle for words. “I think of you, all that you lost, who you were, what you were forced to be, and might have been, and I—I have become this, this person, unable to—”
She shut her mouth.
“Kestrel,” he said softly, “I love this person.”
And so, in a way, book one and book three displays a paradoxical reflection of the main couple. I think the pain Kestrel endures at the work camp and the after effects of the poison was necessary for her to understand the trauma Arin lived with his entire life after the Valorians took everything from the Herrani. In a sense, the changes Kestrel goes through makes her even stronger and closer to understanding Arin.
“The reason you enjoy my company is because I look like how you feel.”
For me, The Winner’s Kiss shines because of a supporting character: Roshar. Sometimes he spouts the weirdest nonsense but he’s also the witty, comedic relief readers rely on (especially during the dark times with The Winner’s Crime). There’s no doubt that he’s manipulative, but I adore that deep down he’s also caring and affectionate towards the people he values. Roshar never fails to be the attentive best friend.
Lastly, the ending… From the title alone, I’m sure readers could have predicted how the trilogy would pan out. Because of the endless misery the couple’s been through, I don’t think anyone has the heart to protest how The Winner’s Kiss resolves. And in terms of the supporting plots and endings of the remaining cast, I noticed there were some convenient ties (like Arin and Arin-those that have read the book know what I mean) but, overall, I couldn’t really complain. I guess, I was too busy gushing over my OTP finally becoming official, which was the only thing that really mattered to me after all the heartbreak to be honest.
I’m still in disbelief by how much I enjoyed this journey, and I couldn’t recommend it enough to folks that prefer simpler fantasies (with little to no info dumping) and slow burn romances. This wasn’t a flawless finale by any means, but in regards to entertainment and fulfillment of a fangirl’s heart it deserves a perfect 5 star rating from me. I couldn’t have asked for more.