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BOOK REVIEW: The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

| 29 March 2016 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski.

Bloomsbury Childrens
March 2016
Paperback, £7.99 GBP
Reviewed by Aly Locatelli




The man wrote his message.
Are you really a boy, like Xash says? the god asked Arin. You’ve been mine for twenty years. I raised you.
The Valorian signed the scrap of paper.
Cared for you.
The message was rolled, sealed, and pushed into a tiny leather tube.
Watched over you when you thought you were alone.
The captain tied the tube to a hawk’s leg. The bird was too large to be a kestrel. It didn’t have a kestrel’s markings. It cocked its head, turning its glass-bead eyes on Arin.
No, not a boy. A man made in my image . . . one who knows he can’t afford to be seen as weak.
The hawk launched into the sky.
You’re mine, Arin. You know what you must do.
Arin cut the Valorian’s throat.

This reader has been on the fence about Marie Rutkoski’s breathtaking trilogy since the first book came out. Although the plots and storylines are fast paced, I always found myself both loving and hating the characters. Arin, a slave bought into Kestrel’s household by Kestrel herself, is a rebel in every sense of the word who will not submit to his ‘owners’ and won’t do what he is told, thus putting himself and the people he loves in danger every day. Kestrel is very much the same — too stubborn, and a character that came across as spoilt in the first two books, who liked to throw tantrums and get her way. However, both characters are mightily intelligent, and this reader’s curiosity meant being drawn to the series over and over again.

And I’m glad I returned for the final instalment, because it blew. My. Mind. Unlike The Winner’s Curse or The Winner’s Crime, the bloodthirsty stories aren’t steeped in romance and cheesy emotions that dampened the otherwise blackened atmosphere. The Winner’s Kiss is, in fact, really dark, and exquisitely so. It picks up a few months after the second book. Kestrel is a prisoner in the mines, drugged three times a day and worked to exhaustion. No one cares if she’s the daughter of the general, the emperor’s closest friends. No one cares that she’s Kestrel, the Crown Prince’s betrothed. All they care about is that she betrayed her country, and is now paying the price for it.


She remembered her letter confessing every thing to Arin. I am the Moth. I am your country’s spy, she’d written. I have wanted to tell you this for so long. She’d scrawled the emperor’s secret plans. It didn’t matter that this was treason. It didn’t matter that she was supposed to marry the emperor’s son on First-summer’s day, or that her father was the emperor’s most trusted friend. Kestrel ignored that she’d been born Valorian. She’d written what she felt. I love you. I miss you. I would do anything for you.

Meanwhile, Arin is building an army of his own, intent on freeing his people from the clutches of the Valorians.


He told himself a story. Not at first. At first, there wasn’t time for thoughts that came in the shape of words. His head was blessedly empty of stories then. War was coming. It was upon him. Arin had been born in the year of the god of death, and he was finally glad of it. He surrendered himself to his god, who smiled and came close. Stories will get you killed, he murmured in Arin’s ear. Now, you just listen. Listen to me.

He doesn’t know about Kestrel’s fate, or that she is imprisoned. All he knows is that Kestrel had betrayed him, and he had to do this on his own. Well, with the help of Roshar, a prince and the other half to Arin’s paper-thin alliance. Together, they plan to bring Valoria to its knees, to murder the emperor, to bring justice for their people.


Arin imagined how, if he could, he would kneel before the boy he had been. He’d cradle himself to his chest, let the child bury his wet face against his shoulder. Shh, Arin would tell him. You will be lonely, but you’ ll become strong. One day, you will have your revenge.

I found myself warming up to Arin. As a slave, his constant disobedience and disrespect angered me because of the lives he put at risk on a nearly daily basis. As a leader, though, Arin is impeccable: stubborn and brave and incredibly clever. His character growth in this final instalment is beautiful.

The Winner’s Kiss is heartbreaking. Characters that are strong and untouchable are brought to their knees; they suffer, they lose, some die. It’s a true tale of war, revenge and love, of losing yourself and becoming a beast in the eyes of revenge, of losing hope and finding it again, of doing whatever you can to save the ones you love. Marie Rutkoski penned a beautiful finale, incredibly perfect in its telling, when finales are so difficult to get right because of the high expectations from not only readers but also the author themselves.


But nothing is ever simple between the gods, and the stories of the gods of war and games were many…

The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski is the third and final instalment in The Winner’s trilogy.

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

About the Author ()

21. A reader, a writer, a reviewer and a full-time sloth lover. I am addicted to coffee and my laptop, and love reading especially when it's rainy outside.

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