Format: Hardcover, 496 pages
Release Date: March 29, 2016
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux (BYR)
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
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?
“She tried to imagine her former self. Enemy. Prisoner. Friend? Daughter. Spy. Prisoner again. “What am I now?”Sarsine held both of Kestrel’s hands. “What ever you want to be.”
The Winner's Kiss is the final installment in author Marie Rutkoski's The Winner's Trilogy. Rutkoski alternatives her narratives between the two main characters; Herrani Arin and Valorian Kestrel. Arin has forged an uneasy alliance with the Queen of Dacra Inishanaway, which means that her brother Roshar, once again makes a brilliant appearance. In another part of the world, Kestrel has been abandoned by her father, disowned, and accused of treason. She ends up being sent the the salt minds in the north, where she will have to fight for her very survival, and her ability to keep her sanity.
One of the things I liked the most about this book, was the unpredictability. Yes, one could guess in what direction Rutkoski would take this final book, but once you get to what happens to Kestrel, and how she becomes almost a totally different person, a person I shall call Kestrel 2.0, then you will understand that this author takes storytelling seriously. She understands that the readers want to have these characters end up living happily ever after, but until then, she will put them through the ringer, and hang them out to dry without a close line.
My favorite secondary characters are definitely Roshar, Sarsine, and even Prince Verex without any hesitation. Roshar and Arin have become friends, with perhaps a tempting bromance as well, while Sarsine helps Kestrel adjust to her trials and tribulations she suffered thanks to her father, and the Emperor. Verex's appearance is delightful because he has stared evil in the face, his father, and realized that Kestrel was a pawn in a much bigger game. Yes, I am happy that Verex ended up with someone who makes him happy.
This is a story that went from being mostly a romance driven story, to a story that is filled with all sorts of twists, bloodshed, tears, and lots, of humorous moments. There are, of course, a heavy load of breath taking situations where you'er not really sure your favorite character will survive. The Winner's Kiss kept me engaged from the first page, to the final page. Even though the story picks up a week after The Winner's Crime, you feel as though both stories are continuous and there hasn't been a year between books.
There is nothing simplistic about this story or these characters. They have faced adversity on levels that would break a weaker soul. Arin understands that he may have made a terrible mistake, while Kestrel has to try to remember certain aspects of her life. Kestrel goes through so much after her stint in the salt minds, that I kept asking myself how she can return to what she once was. The good thing about this story is that she doesn't have to. She can reach deep and find yet another person that is much better, and willing to step up and do whatever it takes to save Arin and his countrymen and women.
In the end, I am happy with the way things were wrapped up. I am happy that I started this journey and didn't put it aside like I have other series that have come and gone. I am happy that I got to meet Arin, and who he really is. The boy who saw a terrible tragedy, and later rising up and become a brilliant young man and leader that his people desperately need. I am happy that Kestrel was given intelligence, determination, strength, character, and above all, the ability to make something better from her trials and tribulations.