Tuesday, 15 March 2016

The Winner's Kiss


Book Title: The Winner's Kiss
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner's Trilogy #3
Date Started: March 11th 2016
Date Completed: March 14th 2016
Genres: Romance, Fantasy
Quality Rating: Four Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Five Star
Final Rating: Five stars

◆ Thank you NetGalley for this eBook copy for review ◆

The Winner's Trilogy is one of my favourite Young Adult series, and while I wasn't too impressed by the second book, The Winner's Kiss made up for it a million times over. This is one of those series that takes what its built up over all the books and create a complex and amazing conclusion. By the time we get to this war that's been brewing since the beginning, we've built up an understanding of why each side is fighting, why neither side is good or bad, and why the protagonists are fighting for it regardless. Everything works so well because it's been thought through so well, and when you add a realistic and addictive romance as one of the main features on top I can confidently say that this is one of the best Young Adult romance series out there.

I really like Rutkoski's writing style; there's a nice balance between description and dialogue, but she also has a way to just soften the edges to what she's saying so that you can fall really effortlessly into the prose and just let it move you along. It's quite clever when you then realise that actually she's not going to tell you everything that the characters are planning, so if you want to know you have to do some work yourself, or get caught out. You can tell she puts quite a lot of herself in Kestrel.
I especially noticed the portrayal of war in this book. It's not particularly brutal, but at the same time she doesn't simplify it or make the teenage protagonist untouchable and (in some unexplained way) better than the trained soldiers. They aren't always the most skilled, but at the same time because of the foundations she's built over the previous books, we know that actually the protagonists are justifiably in charge of some parts of the military. And there is a feeling of danger when they're involved in these battles - Rutkoski will kill someone off if that's what she feels the situation would lead to.

I found the story of The Winner's Kiss very enjoyable actually. It's a bit different from what we've seen before, but the same went for the first book going into the second. Of course we still have all the great twists and those little moments where you notice that actually the characters have been one step ahead of you. It was also really nice not to be bombarded with all the cliche romance that I felt took over the second book a little. We're at a point where Kestrel and Arin are at a reasonably solid point in their relationship and they carry on from there; the story isn't just them fighting/getting together etc, we get to see a lot more aspects to a narrative. I also realised how much more invested I am in a romance when it's realistic and just as important as everything else they're having to deal with.
The Winner's Kiss had a really fitting ending (though I wasn't really a fan of how unnecessarily long it took after the climax to get to the point of the ending, especially when she didn't really pull out another trick on us). I think endings are one of the hardest parts of a story to write because it depends so much on the atmosphere of the whole series, and where we've ended up. But Rutkoski did it perfectly and I'm really satisfied to be honest. Though a part of me is sad it's over, I'm not really upset because it was done really well.

The Winner's Kiss has a nice diversity of characters over ages, race, gender etc. Perhaps not as diverse as the pervious books, but for most of the story we are within this one group of people, unlike the rest of the trilogy. But you do get the feeling that Rutkoski has thought about all her named characters, and has a solid image of them when she's writing so they come across well in the final thing.
I adore Kestrel just as much as I did at the beginning. There's been a lot of debate recently over the new cover changes, and how she's been made to look more like a warrior princess popular in YA fantasy at the moment, and I think The Winner's Kiss just goes to show that that is not who she is at all. I adore Kestrel so much because she's just as powerful and trusted and respected as the others around her - but not for her military skill (it fact her poor ability to fight is mocked a couple of times). Kestrel's strength and ability is in strategy and intelligence and intuition, which is proven to be just as valuable and important. I don't think she needs to be rebranded as this 'physical' warrior girl, because she's a warrior girl in a different way and that's part of what makes her so amazing.
I also really love Arin as a character. He somehow fills a strong male position without the irritating and sexist 'I have to be moody'/'I have to have a six pack'/'I have to be this conventional male interest'. Admittedly, he might fall into those things every now and then, but it's not what defines his character (which is, in my opinion, a step forward for the portrayal male characters considering they're often overly stereotypical in romances).
There also has to be a special mention to Roshar who is hilarious and a wonderful person. And while I want to say I wish he was my friend, I don't think I could handle the teasing.

This book was so addictive. I read it in a couple of sittings because I just didn't want to put it down, and then I had to force myself to so I didn't miss college. The writing flows really nicely, each chapter leads on from one another well, and the writing is easy to get lost in. Had I not had to go out and do things I would've read it in one go. Easily.

I feel genuinely happy about everything that happened here: I rooted for the characters the whole way and I was content with how it ended. I'm not devastated that it's over because it's drawn together so well. It's so nice not to be taken on this silly 'will they/won't they' trope, and having the author constantly trying to second guess us. Rutkoski knows what she wants and she's confident that it works, so she doesn't waste time trying to second guess what her reader is thinking. She has a story to tell so she tells it with beauty and grace.

Image Source - https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28587801-the-winner-s-kiss

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