ARC Review: The Winner’s Kiss

The Winner's Kiss

Title: The Winner’s Kiss

Author: Marie Rutkoski

Series: The Winner’s Trilogy, #3

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s

Release Date: March 24th 2016


Five Stars

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?

– Blurb courtesy of

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This review may contain spoilers for previous book(s) in the series.

My Thoughts On…

…The Plot

War was coming. It was upon him. Arin has been born in the year of the god of death, and he was finally glad of it. He surrendered himself to his god, who smiled and came close. ‘Stories will get you killed,’ he murmured in Arin’s ear. ‘Now, you just listen. Listen to me.’
Arin did.

It was only because I got an ARC for this book from NetGalley that I actually started this series, and by the time I finished The Winner’s Crime I knew I wouldn’t have been able to wait even a single day to find out what happened next. The Winner’s Kiss is easily the best book in the trilogy, my thoughts upon finishing it mainly consisted of incoherent screaming. It is a perfect end to one of my new favourite series and now I’ve read it all I can think is why didn’t I start these books sooner?!

After her traitorous actions were revealed to the emperor by her father Kestrel was sent north to the sulphur mines. There she is slowly broken; drugged in the morning to make her strong enough for the work, and drugged in the evening to make her sleep. Still she doesn’t give up hope of escaping but eventually the drugs and the despair get to her, and after one disastrous attempt for freedom, which ends with her captured and whipped, she gives into the numbness the drugs offer her.

Meanwhile back in Herran Arin, having discovered thanks to Tensen’s Moth what the emperor was planning, knows war is fast approaching. Together with a fleet of Dacrans he fights back against the emperor, slowly taking small victories away from him. But in spite of everything he cannot forget Kestrel, though he certainly tries, and when he discovers she has been taken to the mines he drops everything, leaves behind his people and the war, to get her out and bring her home.

“He hadn’t allowed himself, before, to consider the possibility that she’d be like the other prisoners, that her mind would be gone, that there’s be no life in her eyes and her face would be drained of every thing that made her who she was.
She wasn’t like that. She wasn’t, and as Arin watched her blink and take him in, and saw the mind behind her gaze, he was grateful.”

However the time Kestrel spent in the mines has changed her. She no longer remembers who Arin is and who he is to her. She fears and distrusts him but she knows running with him is better than staying in the mines.

While Kestrel heals in Herran Arin throws himself back into the war but he finds himself constantly seeking out Kestrel, trying to bring back her memories and her strength. When Arin leaves for the south of Herran, taking the war to the Valorians before they can occupy more of his country. Piecing together her past Kestrel follows him, determined to fight by his side for Herran.

…The Characters

“You don’t need to be gifted with a blade. You are your own best weapon.”

Kestrel faced a lot in The Winner’s Crime but her trials were only really beginning. Though she is a prisoner in the sulfur mines she is still determined, still has the strength of mind, to plot her escape. But after a while her father’s actions against her, and the way things ended between her and Arin, start to weigh heavily on Kestrel’s shoulders. The journey her character took just during her times in the mines was heartbreaking to read. She tries so hard to be strong but everything that happened to her just starts to break her until she has no will left.

Without her memories she is initially distrustful of Arin when he saves her from the mines, there may be a small part of her that recognizes him but without any clarity behind the flashes she gets she only sees enough to mistrust and fear him. But Kestrel is strong, as she slowly regains her memories piece by piece she starts helping Arin in his efforts to win the war against Valoria, fighting against her emperor and her father. While Kestrel cannot forgive what her father did to her there is still part of her that craves his love and respect, that searches for an answer behind his actions.

Arin’s god slapped him across the face.
‘Pay attention,’ death demanded.
Arin did, and after that, no one could touch him.

Arin has come so far since the first book. He is a capable leader; someone his people look to, respect, and admire. They see him as blessed by the gods and want to be close to him, to share in his victories. For Arin there is nothing more important than keeping the Valorians from taking back Herran and enslaving his people once more, but in spite of that he still runs when Kestrel needs him. He is a strong fighter and is becoming more strategically minded but he still hates sending the people he looks out for, the people he loves, into danger.

“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.”

After all the lies between Kestrel and Arin tore them apart in The Winner’s Crime, this book felt like a fresh start for them. When Arin realises Kestrel is in the mines, when he finally finds out the truth behind her actions while she was in the capital, it allows him to see clearly everything she sacrificed for his people. For Kestrel it’s almost like she falls in love with Arin all over again. While she doesn’t trust him at first as pieces of her memory come back to her she starts seeking him out. She starts to trust him again and eventually she is free to reveal her true feelings to him; feelings she had to bury in The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime.

Roshar played a much bigger part in this book and, if anything, I loved him even more. He becomes one of Arin’s closest friends and his partner on the war front, he is the voice of reason, always knowing what needs to be done to advance their position and manipulate the Herrani’s love for Arin. The friendship between Roshar and Arin was one of my favourite parts of this book but I also loved seeing Kestrel re-develop her relationships, not only with Arin but with his cousin Sarsine. When she doesn’t trust Arin she comes to rely on Sarsine and the two form a close bond which Kestrel hasn’t had with anyone since Jess.

…The Setting

“It was easier to think about mosquitoes. Easier to look at the low, sloping volcanoes on the horizon. Their tops had blown off long ago. The wagon angled towards them.
Easier, too, to see lakes of astonishingly bright green-blue water.
Harder to now that their colour was due to sulfide in the water, which meant they were nearing the sulfur mines.
Harder to know that her father had sent her here.”

The Winner’s Kiss takes us back to Herran, but rather than staying in the city where Kestrel grew up we see a lot more of the country as Arin travels south, through the small villages, to take the war to the Valorians. We get glimpses into Arin past; what happened to him the night the Valorians first took Herran, what happened to his parents and his sister, what shaped him into the man he is today. And we also learn more about Arin’s gods; the god of death, Arin’s god, speaks in his mind and I enjoyed learning more about the Herrani’s beliefs and their gods which, was touched on in the past books, but never really fully explored.

Through Kestrel’s eyes we see the bleakness and despair of the sulphur mines. Rutkoski perfectly captures the desolation of a place where the prisoners are dead inside and don’t even need chains to stop them from escaping.

The Winner’s Trilogy has fast become one of my all-time favourite series, and The Winner’s Kiss was definitely the best of the three. There was nothing I could fault, the plot hooked me from the start and didn’t let go until the last page. I didn’t want this book to end but at the same time I couldn’t read it fast enough, this was the perfect finale for Kestrel, Arin, and their story.

What did you think of The Winner’s Kiss? Was it a favourite of yours or could you just not get into the story? Let me know.

All quotes have been taken from an ARC and may differ in the final publication.

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