Title: The Winner’s Kiss
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Published by: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Publication date: March 29, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Summary from Goodreads:
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?
[Spoilers for The Winner’s Curse & Crime, only keep reading if you haven’t read the rest of the series]
My anticipation was high for the final book in the Winner’s series. It only took me three days to read, and I was not disappointed! I love when I get to say that about a book, especially a series finale. It was the sort of story that made me want to keep reading and reading. Then when it was finished, I didn’t want it to end. I love how Marie Rutkoski molded and transformed her characters and storytelling through each book. While Winners Curse is mostly about star-crossed lovers, Crime and Kiss have Arin and Kestrel rediscovering themselves—through a forced separation, to strategic, dangerous deception, and finally war.
“Arin imagined how, if he could, he would kneel before the boy he had been. He’d cradle himself to his chest, let the child bury his wet face against his shoulder. Shh, Arin would tell him. You will be lonely, but you’ ll become strong. One day, you will have your revenge.”
If revenge is a claim on your once enslaved country, then Arin’s revenge is sweet. I like how we get a lot of introspective thoughts from Arin. I liked him more in this book, but maybe that’s because he finally discovers the truth about Kestrel’s Moth identity. Arin believing the worst of her in Crime was so painful. They’re relationship is a slow burn in this final story, which was totally appropriate. They’ve spent a lot of time apart and some of that time was spent hating one another. I’m glad Rutkoski gives them that time to know their own hearts.
“You don't need to be gifted with a blade. You are your own best weapon.”
One of my favorite things about Kestrel is that she’s strategic and brave. She knows she’s no good at combat, but that doesn’t stop her from taking risks, or shying away from the battlefield. In Kiss Kestrel gets the opportunity to process all of her father’s battle advice. This was complicated for Kestrel, since his betrayal runs deep. I like how Rutkoski didn’t just make the general a hated enemy, but that Kestrel struggled to reconcile her deep love for her father, even though he sentenced her to prison (and worse).
Since there’s war, we see Arin and Kestrel’s strategic and brilliant minds at work, and it’s no surprise that they are vital to the war effort. I also like how Rutkoski brings Arin and Kestrel’s story full circle—wealthy, ruling girl purchases boy as slave, becomes a slave herself, but escapes and recognizes freedom through the slave boy—slave boy becomes hero, is elevated to god-like regard, lives for death, but shares freedom and lives for once ruling girl. It’s a beautifully written story and a great conclusion to the series.
Would I let my teen read this book?
I love this series and recommend it for teens and adults. It’s well-written with worthy characters and great suspense, but there are also great themes here: good reasons to go to war, forgiveness (does everyone deserve it?), trust, friendship, and how faith can transform a person.
Age recommendation: 15
Language – mild
Drugs & Alcohol – none
Sex – More than just kissing in this book. There’s a short sex scene with little detail, and it’s implied several other times.
Violence – War violence - people getting stabbed, strangled, and sliced; horses dying in combat
My Goodreads rating: 5 out of 5 stars
I read a lot. I'm a Mom. I'm officially in my 30s, but strangers often don't believe I'm old enough to drink. I love Young Adult fiction, and thought it was worthwhile to help teens and adults find age-appropriate options.