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: Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

Half the World (Shattered Sea, #2)Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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HA-HA!! Joe Abercrombie has done it again!! He’s made an unlikable weak character become a star and despite all the odds and terrible traits, they dominated! OH YEAAA

Half the World is the sequel to Half a King, a new YA (more like adult) fantasy series by a seasoned author. It’s good. Really good. I literally ate this puppy up like it was sour gummy worms yum.

The Gritty, Dank World

Half the World is set in a fantasy world where magic is extremely rare and seen as a relic of the past. Elves used to inhabit the world but they have disappeared and left behind their glory of treasures and ginormous ruined cities. But that’s beside the point. The country Gettland, where the heroine Thorn resides, is on the cusp of war with the High King and most of the countries. Gettland has gotten too rich on trade and Grandmother Wexen,

That Del Rey cover just screams supremely awesome and I prefer this artwork over some of the alternative editions published by Harper Voyager. In the previous book, the focus was on Yarvi and his vengeance against those who have wronged him. He is cunning and deeply manipulative so it was satisfying at every turn how he outsmarted the best players in the game. This time, we are not so lucky have Thorn and Brand, two warriors who may not be as brilliant as the minister but are still deadly with weapons of their choice.

BEST PART: One skill that I underestimated Abercrombie in is his dark sense of humor and repulsing hilarious descriptions. The dumb antics of these characters make for some great fodder of fun and the book passed remarkably entertainingly. I loved the how everyone interacted with jibes and poked fun at inappropriate things with good nature.

The old woman scraped a spatter of fresh bird-droppings from a post, tested its texture with her thumb, smelled it closely, seemed on the point of tasting it, then decided against and wiped the mess on her ragged cloak.

My first reaction at this sentence was appalled shock succeeded by bewildered laughter and then full-blown hysterical laughing. There are some sentences that shouldn’t be that funny but the perfect phrasing it off tickled my funny bone.

Brand licked his lips as he remembered the taste of Fridlif’s ale going down. Then he caught sight of Rulf’s disapproving face, and remembered the taste of Fridlif’s ale coming back up, and chose to stand in the light. “I’d best not.”

Just to clarify, Brand had a brief stint dabbling in excessive drinking of alcohol. He also retched up many times after drinking too much.

Now about Brand, this kid, he’s one helluva ironic warrior because he’s pretty laidback and he does not truly enjoy sparring. True, he wants to become a warrior but that’s to earn a living and protect the weak. In retrospect, he aspires to be a knight/defender but this world has no place for knights. He has a heart of gold and he’s in actuality very sweet. That’s a surprising aspect because I assumed from the get-go that all the characters are going to be different shades of masterminds. He doesn’t really have a plan and one of the greatest attributes that made him realistic to me is his insecurity. Brand is always doing the admiring and he’s consistently humble despite all his do-good actions and attitude. He’s no arrogant swine and he’s a great addition to the fantasy field where dominant alpha figures are ubiquitous.

Again, this is a story that deals with strong themes of heroism, court politics, and games of cat-and-mouse. There’s blood and you’re bound to encounter unhygienic passages that disgust you. But fear not, for there’s the levity and slapstick humor to spice the plot up!

“I did have a wife,” said Dosduvoi, lowering himself beside the fire and gingerly seeking out a comfortable position for his bruised buttocks, “but she died,”

“It’s not bad luck if she’s crushed by your bulk,” said Odda.

“That is not funny,” said the giant, though judging from the sniggering many of the crew disagreed.

I looked forward to every single conversation which always shed light on something new and brought character development to each and every one. There’s a lot of camaraderie and teamwork despite how eccentric and cutthroat the crew started out as. Those hand-picked by your truly, Rulf, did not look trustworthy and their reputations were reflected in the scars carved on their bodies. This, in fact, made me love them more because although they were menacing in appearance, their creative insults and moods added more flesh to their dispositions. Although the storyline was strongly driven by the travels and the main goal is to secure alliances for a trapped country shadowed by war, I see no room to complain about the people. (I mean, some were plain putrefying and unappealing in real life but they’re somehow endearing. I really warmed up to them, heh.) Like this one:

“Kalyiv is as a slow-filling bladder,” said Skifr, thoughtfully picking her nose, considering the results, then wiping them on the shoulder of the nearest oarsmen so gently he didn’t even notice.” In spring it swells with northerners, and folk from the empire, and Horse People from across the steppe all swarming here to trade. IN summer it splits its skin and spills filth over the plains. In winter they all move on and it shrivels back to nothing.

Aside from that funny action Skifr performed while musing her insights on the town, the writing is really eloquent. And the analogy, come on! You’ve got to give the author kudos for an apt comparison of a bladder to the movements of populations and trades through a town.

Oh, and would you look at that, woman power is proven repeatedly through every tribulation and terror! I’ve got a great sense of satisfaction every time Thorn wins or manages to impress everyone. She’s unconventional but that only emphasizes how women are forced to behave as society pleases. She knows she different because every other girl is the same. She does not simper nor does she curtsey. Thank goodness, and along the way, let’s get rid of grooming hairstyles.

What would have been a somewhat uneventful journey through the sea, more landmarks, and other countries comes alive in the hands of Abercrombie. The descriptions are rich and succinct, and something is always happening even if it doesn’t seem so. There’s a constant power play and there are sharp minds honing in on taking advantage of seemingly innocuous situations. So if you’re clever enough, you should go ahead and read this book. Here’s a tidbit to pique more of your interest.

“Looking at you, and thinking you want me, makes me feel like…like I won.”
“Won something no one else would want, she muttered.

Oops, and before I forget, you should read the first book Half a King unless you like it out of order, then suit yourself.

(Through Netgalley) Thank you, Del Rey Books, for providing me with an e-copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review!