The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski


I received a copy from the publisher, Bloomsbury Publishing, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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?

I have always had nothing but the utmost affection for The Winner’s trilogy, even before the release of The Winner’s Kiss. I was apprehensive before reading it though; series finales and I just don’t go well together. But it’s with great pleasure that I can assure current and future readers of this series that The Winner’s Kiss is a fantastic end to a fantastic series.

To dive right into my praises for this book, The Winner’s Kiss takes a slightly different angle to its predecessors. The Winner’s Curse focused on the slow simmer of Arin and Kestrel’s complex relationship, and The Winner’s Crime was a labyrinth of political intrigue, backstabbing, manipulation, and covert battles. The Winner’s Kiss, however, adopts a different lens and explores the horrors, the price and games of war. This time, the characters we love get their hands dirty with blood and mud. Gone are the puppet strings; innocence has become a thing of the past.

You don’t need to be gifted with a blade. You are your own best weapon.

Arin and Kestrel were incredible characters that grew, matured, and came out stronger following the events of the previous two books. Kestrel, for her cunning and determination, and Arin, for his unshakable will and immense love for his people. The romance that simmered between them in the previous two books was subtle and beautifully written. I particularly loved the interplay of their roles of savior and sufferer, which eventually develops into a steadfast affinity and deep mutual understanding of one another. Even with their relationship being an important element of the book, the romance never overshadowed other elements of the story. In fact, their relationship becomes a source of strength for both characters, as they fight and survive for each other.

Ultimately, The Winner’s Kiss (and the series as a whole) is about taking chances despite the risks, and having hope. Explored through Arin and Kestrel, it begins with the uncertainty of Kestrel’s bid for Arin – and thus the question of the winner’s curse – and follows their path to convergence. Although that journey is fraught with yearning, anger, desperation, conflict, and misunderstandings, it is also filled with an unspoken love and an immutable connection with one another. Arin and Kestrel had hope and took a chance with each other despite their differences – and it is a truly beautiful thing.

An emotion tugged at his expression, a dark awe, the kind saved for a wild storm that rends the sky but doesn’t ravage your existence, doesn’t destroy every thing you love. The one that lets you feel saved.

Oftentimes an author’s efforts to go out with a bang causes them to miss their mark, especially when they forgo a meaningful ending that is congruent with the series’s identity in favour of something epic or shocking. Rutkoski and The Winner’s Kiss, however, make no such mistakes. It is an ending that is true to the story, true to its characters and their developments, and true to everything that the past two books were propelling towards. Everything comes together. Everything in The Winner’s Kiss, and thus the series, was meaningful in one way or another.

The Winner’s trilogy is easily one of my favourite trilogies to date. It is amazingly written, filled with small, meaningful subtleties, has an exciting and thrilling story, and features extraordinary characters that I grew to love. Rutkoski delivered an ending that the characters deserved; their battles, struggles, and bravery were never undermined or diminished. After finishing The Winner’s Kiss, it left a small weight on my chest; it was an ending hard-fought with hefty prices paid — and it was over. And I was pleased, because although my beloved characters now wore scars, there was also a bittersweet peace in how it ended.

Thank you Marie, for writing such an amazing series.

Rating: 4.5/5

Book Information
Book Name: The Winner’s Kiss
Book Series: The Winner’s Trilogy #3
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ)
Format: eBook

The Winner’s Kiss in:
Goodreads | Book Depository | FoylesMy review on Goodreads

I usually have poor luck when it comes to series finales, but I was so happy and relieved that I enjoyed The Winner’s Kiss and loved the ending. *happy sigh!*

  • Have you read The Winner’s trilogy? Have you finished it? What do you think?
  • Do you usually like the last book of a series?
  • What are some of your favourite finales of all time? Which were the most disappointing?

13 thoughts on “The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

  1. What a fantastic review, it’s always such a delight to read these, you have to be my favorite book reviewer. <3
    I only read the first book in this series for now, and I was a bit disappointed, mainly because it took me a lot of time to get into the story, and grow attached to the characters. But the ending was promising, and I'm still on the fence about reading the rest of the series. Well. Was. Because after this review, I definitely want to give the whole series a try! :)

  2. Great review, CW! And rocking graphic as always. <3

    I think I've mentioned before that the romance isn't my favourite part of this story, but I LOVE the war/politics themes and I definitely agree that this book was fantastic and really delved into the price and games of war. The characters did mature quite a lot, and the writing was still great as always.

    It's funny that you ask if we usually like the last book of a series… I feel like most series I've read is usually somewhat of downward trend, i.e. the first book is the best, and then the subsequent ones would be lacking, at least for me. This is actually one of those series where I felt like all the books are consistently good (I rated them all four stars) and the sequels didn't disappoint at all. :)

    • Thank you Reg!!
      Agreed with you so much. TWTrilogy may be fundamentally a romance… but it has all these amazing things too. :’) And I really enjoyed the subtle themes.
      RIGHT? I mean, I’ve had so many series felt a bit ‘eh’ to me because the ending was completely out of field. I feel that way about TWTrilogy too though – it’s consistent, true to the story and characters, and soooo satisfying at the end!

  3. This series never really appealed to me – I think it was something about the covers – but after reading this I think I might reconsider. These days sometimes I think I am too quick to write off books as something they aren’t necessarily just because I am fed up with certain themes and tropes.

    • Haha, I can definitely see why the covers would convey something else! The book is actually wonderful, and I enjoyed it very much. It deals with postcolonialism pretty subtlety, and explores culture very well too. There IS a lot of angsty romance though, but I liked it, hehe.

  4. this is such a wonderful review! this is one of my favorite books, and i do love to see a review that does it justice. my favorite part of this book was probably the ending, though the entire series is amazing. thanks for this <3

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