Series: The Winner's Trilogy #3
Published by Farrar on March 29th, 2016
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Some 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?
Ah, The Winner’s Kiss, such a pretty cover. After I started this book, I hardly wanted to put it down. I needed to know what was going to happen next but, mostly, I needed to know when Kestrel was going to recover.
Before I get into anything, know that I really enjoyed this book.
The first two novels in this trilogy kept me pretty much glued to the books, but The Winner’s Kiss didn’t have the same affect. I can actually liken it to my drive to read City of Bones the first time. When I started Clare’s novel, I didn’t keep reading because of the world or the story. I kept reading because I freaking needed to see Jace and Clary finally kiss. Then I would be satisfied. With The Winner’s Kiss, I needed to see Kestrel recover. I needed her to remember everything. I needed her to be who she was before.
Now, logically, there’s no way Kestrel would be the same person we knew in the first two novels. I applaud Rutkoski for showing us that trauma changes people. It leaves a mark on people and it isn’t easily healed. She elegantly shows us that even though someone we love betrays us, it still isn’t easy to let go of them.
Kestrel’s father betrayed her in a nearly unforgivable way. On the flip side, I’m sure he felt the same way when he found out that she had switched sides. This doesn’t excuse his actions though. He allowed her to go to a prison camp that he knew would destroy her. His power was more important than his love for her.
This prison camp did destroy her. The Kestrel we followed through the first two books only emerged in pieces. The Kestrel in book three is nothing more than a ghost of the character we were originally introduced to. That’s not to say she doesn’t have any depth, just that she was extremely different. I don’t have any issues with how this was executed. I thought the process of her losing her memories and attaining them (or parts of them) was handled quite well.
Unfortunately, I felt like having Kestrel lose her memories was dissatisfying as a reader. It would have been much more interesting and heart-wrenching to watch a Kestrel who remembered everything overcome her grief. It would have been much more satisfying watching Kestrel and Arin overcome a past they both remembered instead of having to watch Kestrel fall in love with him again.
I didn’t have any issues with the battles or the politics of the book. Arin’s personal journey was definitely changed because of Kestrel’s though, which made his story a bit unsatisfying as well. I wanted to see them both struggle with each other even as they worked on the same side in a way that they could only fight if Kestrel remembered everything. This here, is the crux of my feelings about this book. Kestrel’s journey changed everything about this book and story. In some ways, she grew a lot as a person, but I can’t help but feel that her journey was cheated by the fact that she couldn’t remember things anymore.
Besides this, the ending was neatly done but I do feel like the story was a bit incomplete. Arin’s relationship with his god was left far too open. I didn’t feel like there was a resolution there. To add to that, Arin and his people struggled with freedom all this time for what? It didn’t feel finished for them.
The Emperor and his top general may have been killed and incapacitated, but the empire was still an issue. They still wanted to enslave and defeat Arin and his people (and had the power to do so). I do feel like it was an honest ending to the book, but not to a trilogy. Everything feels unfinished and, despite my best efforts, I feel let down.
I once thought this series was about Kestrel and Arin fighting for the freedom of an enslaved people. I thought it was about Kestrel learning more about life, honor, and humanity. And it was sometimes. But the ending we were given, was the ending to a love story. It wasn’t a resolution to everything else at hand. When I think about what we’re left with, all I can think is that they’ll still lose. The Empire will rally and crush them.