Review: The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

the-winners-kiss

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s
Release date: March 24, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Pages: 484
Goodreads || Book Depository

The Winner’s Kiss is the third and final book in The Winner’s Trilogy, which means that this review contains spoilers for the first two books. I highly recommend this trilogy so check out my review of The Winner’s Curse instead if you haven’t started this series!

THE WINNER’S KISS SYNOPSIS

Wishes don’t win wars

The empire is at war and a heartbroken Arin leads his people to battle. But he can’t forget Kestrel – or how she’s betrayed him. Kestrel is a sly, ruthless killer, caring more for the glory of the empire than for the lives of innocent people – and certainly more than for him.

At least, that’s what he thinks.

In the frozen north, Kestrel is sentenced to life imprisonment in a brutal work camp. As she searches desperately for an 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.

MY THOUGHTS

45 stars

Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending a review copy of the book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

I was expecting big, big things from this third and final book because of how much I enjoyed The Winner’s Crime, and all of the tension and anticipation that that book contained. Sadly, The Winner’s Kiss didn’t reach the epic heights that I expected, but I have to acknowledge that my expectations were really really high. But even though it didn’t quite meet all of my ridiculously high expectations, I still highly enjoyed it and thought it was a great ending to the trilogy.

Just like the previous two books, The Winner’s Kiss is quite slow in pace but quick to read because the writing is so addictive. There wasn’t very much action in the first half of the book and it felt like 200 pages of fluff but ultimately, I thought it was still really satisfying to read. I wasn’t the biggest fan of something that happened in that first part of the novel because I thought that it added a lot of unnecessary drama to the book. Having said that, it was still fun to read and I completely respect the author’s decision to incorporate that aspect (I know, I’m being super vague).

I was a bit disappointed with the lack of action in The Winner’s Kiss. After finishing The Winner’s Crime, I was expecting lots and lots of epic action and strategy, and that’s really not what you get from the first 50-65% of the book. And this was, in part, due to all that unnecessary drama that I mentioned before. Having said that, the first two books in this trilogy didn’t have very much action either, so I can’t say that the lack of action in this finale was completely surprising. What this trilogy did have in the previous two books was political intrigue and strategy and I wanted to see more of it in this book because that’s what I associate with Kestrel and with this trilogy. Instead, it kind of fell by the wayside in favour of the aforementioned unnecessary drama. But, once the action finally commenced in the last third of the novel, I really enjoyed it. There was one thing that I predicted before the reveal, which made it less epic and exciting for me, but I highly enjoyed how the whole novel and trilogy ended.

As always, the characters were really, really great. I highly enjoyed Arin’s character in this book and didn’t feel frustrated with him at all (which I did in previous books). We got to see the good, bad, strong and vulnerable sides of him and I just loved the complexity that Marie Rutkoski brought to his character. I also liked Kestrel in this book, but I do have to say that I loved her character a lot more in the previous two books. Because of something that happened in this novel, I felt like her character was slightly different to who she had been in the past. However, the intelligent and strategic side of her was still present and I was really happy to see that. What I was slightly disappointed with were the side characters. We got to meet so many interesting characters in The Winner’s Crime and they were hardly present in this book. I was expecting them to play a greater role and was really looking forward to what they would bring to story, but sadly they barely featured in this final book. We did get a good dose of Roshar though, and he was funny and a fantastic character.

Overall, I highly enjoyed this final book, even though it wasn’t what I was expecting at all. It had less action than I thought it would have and the whole book just didn’t have the intensity that I wanted. Having said that, it was still a highly exciting and satisfying read and I definitely recommend this trilogy.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Hesitated to Pick Up But Ended Up Loving

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the team at The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is books that I enjoyed recently that weren’t my typical genre. Now, I don’t really have a typical genre. My favourite genre is contemporary but in the past year, I’ve really started reading more widely and there isn’t anything that I’d really consider out of my comfort zone. The only exception is crime fiction, horror, thrillers, mysteries… anything that’s super suspenseful, I will (and still) avoid like the plague.

Instead of featuring books that were out of my comfort zone, I’m going to feature books that I hesitated to pick up for ages and ages, but ultimately, ended up enjoying a lot in recent months.

1. The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

I had the first three books of the Raven Cycle on my shelf for about 9 months before I finally picked them up and marathoned them in December. I don’t read very much paranormal fiction and I had heard that the pace of this one is super slow, so it just kept sitting on my shelf. I’m glad that I ended up reading them because I absolutely love this series!

2. Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children trilogy by Ransom Riggs

I had wanted to buy and read this series ever since I first heard about it because the photographs in the books really intrigued me. However, I wasn’t sure that it would be my cup of tea because I don’t really like scary things. After some peer pressure (and the imminent release of the finale), I decided to pick them up and give them a go and I was pleasantly surprised by it. I love all three of the books and I can’t wait to see the movie!

3. Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness

Peer pressure also made me finally pick up this trilogy (thanks Joey and Aentee!). I don’t really like reading dystopian fiction so I hadn’t really intended to pick this up… but those around me wouldn’t stop raving about it and I couldn’t not check it out.

4. Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan

I honestly don’t know why I didn’t pick up PJO until December of last year… It was just never really that high up on my list of priorities and I preferred to read YA over middle grade. MY BAD.  I absolutely love Percy and Camp Halfblood! Cannot wait to dive into The Heroes of Olympus soon!

5. The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski

This was another trilogy that I kept hearing about in the community but was never really that interested in. I finally ended up buying the books in October or November, and read them at the very beginning of this year. This is one of my new favourite series. I love the characters, the plot and the political intrigue so much! The third and final book cannot be released soon enough!

6. Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

I received a really early proof copy of this at a HarperCollins event last year, and after seeing Jeann @ Happy Indulgence DNF it before the halfway point, I was super hesitant to check it out for myself. I finally read it a few weeks ago and actually really enjoyed it! Jeann has also since finished the book and ended up enjoying it too.

7. Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway

This was a contemporary that I bought pretty much as soon as it was released in Australia. But then it just ended up sitting in my TBR pile and I didn’t get around to reading it until December or January, despite constant nagging from many bloggers. I loved the romance in this book and thought it was absolutely adorable! I highly enjoyed this book.

8. What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

I got an ARC of this book in August of last year, but the book wasn’t released in Australia until December. I just kept procrastinating and not wanting to read it because it was still so far until publication. I ended up picking it up in November and I fell in love with the novel. It was brilliantly written and deals with a serious topic that needs to be discussed.

9. Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

This one had been on my shelf for two months before I finally read it earlier this month. It’s a book that’s actually right up my alley but I kept hearing nothing but good things about it and was worried that I wouldn’t like it. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case and I ended up loving it!

10. The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

This one probably isn’t a ‘recent’ read. I think I read it over 6 months ago but I remember having this on my TBR pile for months before I finally read it. It deals with mental illness and schizophrenia and it’s always hard to be in the right mood for a book like this…


Have you read any of these books and what did you think? I highly enjoyed all 10 of the books/series that was mentioned in this list!

Review: The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

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Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Release date: March 12, 2015
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Pages: 400
Goodreads || Book Depository

The Winner’s Crime is the second book in Marie Rutkoski’s Winner Trilogy, which means that this review will contain spoilers for Book 1, The Winner’s Curse. Please leave now because you will be spoiled and you really don’t want to be!! Just know that I give this sequel 5 stars and that you should read this trilogy!

THE WINNER’S CRIME SYNOPSIS

Lady Kestrel’s engagement to Valoria’s crown prince calls for great celebration: balls and performances, fireworks and revelry. But to Kestrel it means a cage of her own making. Embedded in the imperial court as a spy, she lives and breathes deceit and cannot confide in the one person she really longs to trust …

While Arin fights to keep his country’s freedom from the hands of his enemy, he suspects that Kestrel knows more than she shows. As Kestrel comes closer to uncovering a shocking secret, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth.

Lies will come undone, and Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them in this second book in the breathtaking Winner’s trilogy.

MY THOUGHTS

5 stars

How do I even begin to tell you how much I loved this book?! It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that’s made me have to keep putting it down because of all the feels and the unbearable tension. It’s been a whole day since I finished the book and I’m still trying to recover. The ending had me curled up on my bed, dying from the feels. I thought The Winner’s Curse was amazing but this book just blew my mind with its brilliance.

This sequel was set almost entirely in the capital of Valoria, where Kestrel is staying with the Emperor and Prince Verex, the man she is to marry. It’s obvious from the very beginning that she is a prisoner in the palace and is being manipulated and watched by the Emperor. When court members and other high ranking members of society are invited to a really, really, really long engagement and wedding celebration, Kestrel finds herself face-to-face with the new Herrani Governor, Arin… which inevitably leads to trouble.

“I don’t mind being a moth. I would probably start eating silk if it meant that I could fly.”

The tension and the yearning was present from the very beginning of the book. I could feel Kestrel yearning for Arin and for freedom away from the stifling environment of the Emperor’s home. The atmosphere and the suspense in this book was built so well. There are a lot of mentions in this book – this trilogy – of games, and this whole book felt like one big game. It was very interesting to see the role that each character played in the game, especially because it was never obvious who was in control. We see the Emperor manipulating the game and the characters, but Kestrel was also doing her fair share of manoeuvring and strategising. There is lying, spying, secrecy and LOTS of political intrigue. The whole book was just very anxiety-provoking and I was so stressed out about everything that was going on. Yet, the plot was so intriguing and exciting that I couldn’t help but keep reading.

What I thought was the highlight of this book was the characterisation. I loved the characters in The Winner’s Curse but everything is taken up a notch in this second book. The characters are even more complex and layered and I really connected with all of them. I empathised with them and felt everything they were feeling and gosh, my heart hurt so much. There were characters that I wasn’t expecting to like, such as Verex and the Eastern princess, Risha, but they turned out to be really wonderful additions to the series and I can’t wait to see the role that they play in the final book because they were pretty enigmatic in this book.

Kestrel remains my favourite character and it hurt me how much she was suffering alone. I felt her loneliness from being trapped in the Capital but also her loneliness from being misunderstood and not being able to reveal her true feelings. I wanted to shake all of the characters and make them understand. Her internal struggle was just unreal and my heart ached for her. We also get Arin’s perspective in this book and my love for him grew as well. But he does some rash and stupid things, and I just wanted to yell at him through the pages and make him see what was in front of him. I really enjoyed his story arc and it took us to very interesting places plot-wise and setting-wise.

While this book takes place mostly in the Capital, the world continues to build and expand. The book takes us east, to Dacra, through lots of political plotting and I loved having the East involved. I can’t wait to see the role they play in the next book. We also get small glimpses of how Herran has developed since the ending of The Winner’s Curse and I thought it was interesting how that played into the overall plot. I also appreciated the map that was included in the book!

I have so much more I could say about this book but I have no idea where to start because I’m still full of so many feels. It’s probably better if I don’t say anything more about the book because the experience of reading the book and figuring everything out for myself was a spectacular one for me.

Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

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Publisher: Bloomsbury Childrens Books
Release date: July 3, 2014
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Pages: 359
Goodreads || Book Depository

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. Kestrel has other ideas.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in Arin, a young slave up for auction. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him – and for a sensational price that sets the society gossips talking. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. But he, too, has a secret and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for him is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

The first novel in a stunning new trilogy, The Winner’s Curse is a story of romance, rumours and rebellion, where dirty secrets and careless alliances can be deadly – and everything is at stake.

MY THOUGHTS

45 stars

I think this is going to become one of my new favourite trilogies. The Winner’s Curse was such a great first book and had me really excited for the next one in the series. The Winner’s Curse had everything that I love in books: a fantastically rich world, strong and complex characters, a slow-burn forbidden romance, and political intrigue.

This is a series that could appeal to all readers. It’s set in a fantasy world but doesn’t really contain any fantasy elements or magic at all. It reads more like a historical fiction novel, set in a fictional world. It’s not book that’s full of fighting and epic action, but a complex and slow-burning kind of story with lots of strategy and politics. Fans of fantasy would definitely love this, but so would historical fiction lovers too.

This book focuses on Kestrel and Arin, a Herrani slave she purchases at a slave auction she accidentally stumbles upon. Kestrel is the daughter of the Valorian general who conquered Herran 10 years ago. She, and other Valorians, now reside in the properties that were seized from the Herrani. However, even though the Valorians are in a position of power, they are still a very military-focused population and require their people to either join the military or marry and have children as soon as they turn 20. Kestrel, however, has other plans for herself.

The Winner’s Curse is definitely more of a character-driven story. I wouldn’t say that there’s very much happening in the book, but the characters are so complex and interesting that you can’t help but want to follow their story. I loved everything about Kestrel from the very beginning. Even though she’s a Valorian and is the daughter of a general, she isn’t a very good fighter. Her weapon is her mind and she’s very witty and intelligent. She’s definitely not a damsel and is able to stand up for herself and be courageous in her own way. She’s perceptive and has a talent for strategy. Kestrel is definitely not a warrior but she’s much too independent for marriage and society life, leading her to inner struggle.

Happiness depends on being free, Kestrel’s father often said, and freedom depends on being courageous.

Arin was another character that I really enjoyed. He’s also very smart and witty, though not quite as clever as feisty Kestrel. I wasn’t too sure about how I felt about him at the beginning of the book. He does some things that made me very suspicious of him and I just wasn’t sure what to think of him. But he definitely grew on me and you can’t help but love his earnestness and his patriotism. I thought he was a great match for Kestrel. They’re similar in so many ways and they’re able to really stand up to each other and take each other on. I loved the romance in this book and it had me twitching in my seat from anticipation and frustration!

Another aspect of this book that I really loved was the world of this book. I wouldn’t say that there’s a lot of world building but there was definitely enough to satisfy me. The whole world is built through learning about the politics and the social relations. We’re also told about the culture and the traditions of the Herrani and the Valorian. We get a good sense of the history of Herran and what life was like before they were conquered by the Valorians, but we also get a very good sense of the present and the dynamics between the two populations. I thought it was particularly interesting that while the Valorians are in a position of power and privilege now, they’re very much the savages of the two groups. They’re focused on war and conquering the world and have no interest in the arts or education. It was just very intriguing that the slaves seemed to be more skilled in all areas besides war.

My only small complaint is that there was no map in this book. The author does a great job of describing the setting and geography of the world but I would have liked to have seen the world for myself on a map. I flicked through the sequel, The Winner’s Crime, and that book has a map so I am happy.

Overall, I thought this was a wonderful book and I can’t wait to see what happens next. The Winner’s Curse ends on a little bit of a cliffhanger so I’m keen to dive into the next one straight away!