Review: The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Kiss (The Winner's Trilogy, #3)The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Fantasy books rarely close on such a sweet note. I’m unused to a happy, hopeful ending. (Oh, you authors have broken my heart time over time with all your shenanigans.)

The Winner’s Crime ended on such a grim note that I wondered how the situation could resolve itself. Realistically speaking, war can only hold off imperialism for so long and the odds are not in Arin’s quaint colony’s favor. So even if he wins this spat, Valoria will return one day to conquer this nation again. However, brute force and guerilla warfare may leave scars that will desist Valoria from stepping on their land for a while. That doesn’t leave many choices. However, Arin and Kestrel are a force to be reckoned with and they are the perfect couple and tag team to tackled this dilemma. Arin is smart. Kestrel is smarter. With these limited resources at hand, the author really made them work hard for a happy ending.

“What formation would the general use,” Roshar had asked her, “for a march along a road of that width?”
Kestrel had paused, fingers on the worn map.
“She can’t know for certain,” Arin said.
“Here’s what I would do if I were him,” she said…

At the start of the book, Arin is return to his home heartbroken but not without a measure of hope to move on and deal with the looming war at hand. He struck me as a resilient character and this is such an apt description because he talked a lot about learning from his mistakes. He began to harden his heart to war’s brutality and although he bounced back from all these mishaps, he changed cynically. He’s determined and resourceful, but the author shows that he is merciful towards Valorian female warriors. In one scene, he hesitates in a moment of weakness which causes him to sustain an injury from a random Valorian female soldier. I liked that he still retains that core of decency and I don’t question his actions because this is wartime.

“But this was your true self,” he said. “Intelligent, brave, manipulative. Kind. You made no effort to hide who you were. Then I found that I wanted you to hide it. This was the luxury of your position, wasn’t it, that you didn’t have to hide? It was the doomed nature of mine, that I did. And that’s true. Sometimes a truth squeezes you so tightly you can’t breathe. It was like that. But it also wasn’t, because there was another reason it hurt to look at you. You were too likable. To me.”

Kestrel is worse off than she was in the previous books. I really felt for her pain and misery, and I understood why it was better to forget rather than torment herself with memories of her past. In all honesty, she is the better for her experience because her fundamental self is unchanged. She has been strong, tactical, and persistently independent with what she has to work with. As a general’s daughter, she lives up to her name and continues to play wargames despite her mental hardships. Arin coddles her with his protectiveness so it’s interesting seeing the dynamics between the two. True, Kestrel deeply cares about Arin but she is not as easily swayed by emotions. She does not let emotion color her decisions. However, she is by no means an ice queen. She is deeply traumatized by her recent experiences and suffers through a huge identity crisis. Much of it is internal and she does not express much of it physically.

She remembered how she’d wanted to explain to him that it had rattled her to try to slip into her father’s mind, to know that the general’s mind and her own felt upsettingly similar. She’d wanted to put her fear inside a white box and give it to Arin.
You, too, she would tell him. I fear for you. I fear for me if I lost you.
War is no place for fear, said the memory of her father’s voice.
“Take care,” she’d told Arin.
He’d smiled.

Arin, on the other hand, is irrational when it comes to Kestrel. I kept waiting throughout the book for it to come back to bite him in the rear but it seems that there were no severe consequences. Sure, there are some grave risks taken and several heartrending moment in which they suffered grievous wounds. However, they survived relatively unscathed. I think I should feel happy, right? I guess I’m so used to being tricked and handed bittersweet endings that The Winner’s Kiss almost seems like a miracle. But a gift is a gift and I’LL TAKE IT.

Thanks, Marie Rutkoski for writing a wonderful book filled with sweet moments, tender declarations of love, and gory descriptions of appendages lopped off.

Review: The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

(This is a combined review of the Winner’s trilogy by Marie Rutkoski.)

The Winner's Crime (The Winner's Trilogy, #2)The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My heart and head is hurting so much right now and the computer screen is blurry from these tears in my eyes. How can you do this to us, Rutkoski?! HOW DARE YOU?!

There’s non-stop action from beginning to end because Kestrel does not stop plotting. Her emotions often overrule each of her actions and she makes so many tough decisions. She’s become a protagonist that every reader can cheer on. People want badasses but I wouldn’t categorize her simply as one. She’s highly intelligent and cunning which she has to be when her opponent is the emperor. I love the similarities between the Scarlet Pimpernel and Kestrel. Although she doesn’t act stupid or shallow, since her high position as princess won’t, she’s extremely formidable without acting so. I think my emotions are a hot mess right now and it’s like 3 in the morning which is not the best time to write a review.

Okay, hi guys, I came back. I swear I’m fine -deep breaths- Please do not let the cover mislead because although it’s a gorgeous color, the girl just looks plain weird and awkward holding the sword.

To tell the truth, I didn’t expect so much cunning and cleverness from the protagonist because it’s not often that we see characters figure out secrets. The eventual reveal of each conspiracy is tantalizing and the clues dropped are enough to hint at it but I tagged right along with Kestrel. I’m used to gauging situations and furrowing out secrets before the characters do (AP Lit dramatic irony) but I was surprised at every turn. It turns out I underestimated Kestrel who is by no means a figurehead because her ability to piece together negligent details is simply marvelous.

Arin is still referred to as a leader but I felt his stance throughout the book changed dramatically because he’s so blinded by his emotions for Kestrel. Their regards for each other change drastically throughout the book and it’s so frustrating because despite Kestrel’s denials of her feelings, he still trusts her. Trust is such a fragile thing and their relationship is in tatters from the start of the book. It’s so hard to mend and reconcile their differences because they have to think about keeping up appearances or else the emperor will discover how close they actually are.
I felt so heartbroken because it seemed that when they came to a level of mutual understanding on one term, something just HAS to pop up and mess it up all over again. Their scenes weren’t as frequent as it was in the first book but when they do appear, it’s crucial and deeply thought-provoking. It makes the reader crave for more.

Kestrel was honestly one of the most pitiful characters in the book not because she’s weak. It’s the fact that she has no real allies to speak of and her inability to confide in someone cuts her emotionally. Her feelings are turbulent and she’s so conflicted by her intentions because she knows what’s the right thing but is virtually forced into a corner where she can only choose to do bad. Her agony was so tangible because she had to choose which sides her allegiance truly lies on. Basically, her life is complicated. And UGH Arin, why are you so bull-headed sometimes?! Arin lashes out recklessly whenever he’s near Kestrel so a lot of the situations are derived from his irrational thinking. He’s not as smart as Kestrel and his emotions are transparent. He’s no Eugenides from The Queen’s Thief but he’s still a valiant do-gooder.

Readers have no need to worry about the plot because I flew through this book in one sitting like there was no tomorrow. By the time I read the last words, I had to heave a huge breath in order to keep my tears at bay. The ending!! It’s so cruel and it’s mimics the same nefarious direction of Rick Riordan’s The Mark of Athena ending. The way things fall apart is tragically arranged and I just can’t wait to see what happens next. Poor Kestrel. And oh Arin, he’s just hurting so much. I see no happiness in the near future. My heart is broken and I want the third book already.

Before Reading:

But Kestrel had seen how the emperor loved to shape silence into a tool that pried open the anxieties of others. She let the silence grow until it was of her making as well as his, and only when the third course arrived did she speak.

Arin was in his father’s study, which he probably would never be able to think of as his own, no matter how old the ghosts of his dead family grew.

My heart’s withering right now.

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The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy, #1)The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book Winner’s Curse is in the end, aptly titled. In all aspects of life, we win some but lose some; the winner’s curse is mentioned once when Kestrel buys Arin and once again put into context during a later crucial part of the book. The plot starts out peaceful and slow, fairly quaint in general’s estate. It slowly becomes relevant that Kestrel must maintain a fierce loyalty to the empire and its warring state. She may not approve of the methods with which her empire conquers territories and people but she is good particularly good at what the empire does. Her strategy skills are far superior than her fighting skills which is infinitely more useful. She is literally the epitome of a military genius…ironically her father wants her to enlist but she adamantly refuses due to her mediocre combat. Although Kestrel and her father are professionals at battle strategy, Kestrel harbors a soft spot for piano and music.
Despite the slow buildup and haphazard worldbuilding, a lot happened. Shit has gone down. The romance was the forefront of the first half of the book but we never can afford to forget the tense relations between the enslaved Herrani and their Valorian masters. No matter how well-treated and maintained they are, Herrani are still sold like animals and unpaid. They don’t have any freedom unless their masters dictate otherwise and their former identities are destroyed. Minor spoiler here: (view spoiler)
The characters are complexly drawn and struggle with each of their decisions. Each choice made ultimately affects their fate and they have to reconcile and accept the repercussions. And boy, ARE THERE MANY. Kestrel must swear fealty to either marriage or the military come spring. She ends up being forced into one which costs her dearly.

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