Review: The Winner’s Kiss (The Winner’s Trilogy #3) by Marie Rutkoski

winner's kissSome kisses come at a price.

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? (From: Goodreads)

Actual Rating: 5/5 Melodic Stars

“I tried so hard to live in your world,” she told him. “Now it’s your turn to live in mine.”

The Winner’s Kiss is a beautifully written finale of The Winner’s Trilogy and it gives the entire series a perfect ending. I actually like the way it ends and everything the story makes me feel. The story isn’t rushed yet you’ll know it’s very action-packed once you read it, and honestly, I do like the fact that it doesn’t leave me wanting more. I mean, the author wraps up the whole story flawlessly so I’m very glad to finish it and of course, this trilogy will stay in my heart for a long, long time.

***Reminder: The following review may contain mild spoilers.***

She said, “I want to remember you.”

In the end of book 2, we know that Kestrel was betrayed by her own father, General Trajen, and she was sent to the death working camp in the Tundra. There, every prisoner was poisoned through the food and water, and she was no exception. She craved for the night drug helplessly and suffered from a serious memory loss afterwards. What’s worse, she was tortured and whipped because of her attempt to escape the prison once. All in all, she was treated like a locked-up animal, poisoned to be an obedient zombie, and left with many ugly scars on her body.

She was no longer her previous self and she couldn’t fully accept whom she used to be or what she was when rescued by Arin. It breaks my heart to see the hurt and the unbelievables Arin felt at the moment he realized that she didn’t remember him and what happened before the Tundra. To my relief, both of them started over and they decided to be honest with each other from then on. (Note: Honesty and mutual trust is a BIG deal in this trilogy because Kestrel’s a genius liar and strategist and Arin isn’t a fool.)

So he told her. The stars, too, seemed to listen.

Speaking of their reunion, what cannot be left without mentioning is our most anticipated romance between them! Obviously, they had feelings for each other since the first book, but Kestrel never told him the truth and even though he tried to win her heart but due to the bad timing of the situation, which is the exact moment when she was engaged to Prince Verex, his declaration of love seemed a bit…frustrating.

Fortunately, both of them were speaking the truest thoughts in this book so that made their sparks brighter and full of hope. They finally got to open that hidden porcelain box storing their hearts and it’s a huge pleasure for them along with the readers. For Arin, he had always known how he felt about her regardless of her harsh rejection and terrible words.

It had changed him. Exposed something running inside him like a vein of soft gold. A slow attraction. Growing, despite himself, into care…and more.

As for Kestrel, well, it took her three books’ length even longer for her to be honest with herself and embrace the feeling of love.
Let me do a comparison:

She knew enough–remembered enough–of her past to guess the strength of the emotions she had hidden. Yet the tether between her and the past felt like it could snap with a mere twist.

See how she tried to deny the pull towards Arin Every. Single. Time.
Mercifully, the story does indeed NOT disappoint us!

Later, Kestrel wished she had spoken then, that no time had been lost. She wished that she’d had the courage that very moment to tell Arin what she’d finally known to be true: that she loved him with the whole of her heart.

*Phew! Thank God!*
Ever since they knew for certain what “they” were supposed to be, the following story only got better and better! The romance sweetened,

“Would you do what your mother did? Would you delay the naming of your child for the favor of one god or another?”
“It wouldn’t be up to me,” he finally said. “It would be my wife’s choice.” She met his eyes. He touched her hot cheek.

the interaction among their allies/friends/armies became stronger and sometimes hilarious, and most important of all, some scenes turned out to be steamier–check CHAPTER 34— than I originally thought.

In this book, I’m gradually fond of Roshar, the Prince of Arin’s ally. He played a crucial role in the connection among people, army, and even “Kestrin”. He even named his little pet tiger after Arin in honor of him. (A very classic pun, I must say.) *LOL*

“I’ll say nothing of your little ghost. You’d chuck me off my horse and then I’ll have to kill you for insubordination, which would set the tone nicely for the army’s underlings but would be messy and inconvenient.”

Oh, man. He’s such a charming, thoughtful liar with a sense of humor.

“Arin, you are crushing me. Fine, yes, all right. I might have gently deceived you, in the name of your greater happiness. Is that really a lie? Or if it is, isn’t it a very, very small one?” He showed with his fingertip and thumb just how small.

About the ending, I’m also satisfied with the transformation of Kestrel and her father’s relationship. They sought the real essense of family and even though it’s not that perfect, I’m so, so, so glad to see them (kind of) forgive each other. Like she said,

…forgiveness was neither mud nor stone, but resembled more the drifting white spores.

Although the process of seeking the forgiveness is rather bloody and cruel, which I’ve never seen before, the outcome is totally worthwhile.

Lastly, for those who haven’t read The Winner’s Trilogy, here’s a dream from Kestrel that sums up the whole story pretty well. As we know, the Herrani have their unique religious belief in Gods and fairytales, I’m convinced that the moment Kestrel purchased Arin at the auction, their own story began.

Once there was a girl who was too sure of herself. … She keeps her heart in a porcelain box, people whispered, and they were right.

She didn’t like to open the box. The sight of her heart was unsettling. It always looked both smaller and bigger than she expected. It thumped against the white porcelain. A fleshy red knot.

Sometimes, though, she’d put her palm on the box’s lid, and then the steady pulse was a welcome music.

One night, someone else heard its melody. A boy, hungry and far from home. He was—if you must know—a thief. He crept up the walls of the girl’s palace. He wriggled strong fingers into a window’s slim opening. He pulled it open wide enough to fit himself and pushed inside.

While the lady slept—yes, he saw her in bed, and looked quickly away—he stole the box without realizing what the box held. He knew only that he wanted it. His nature was full of want, he was always longing after something, and the longings he understood were so painful that he did not care to examine the ones that he didn’t understand.


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