Rating: 5 out of 5
Synopsis: 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 was so excited to read this long awaited finale in The Winner’s Trilogy. After all, the beginning of this dark and deadly series was amazing, And I was not disappointed as The Winner’s Kiss further delved into the betrayal, heartbreak, determination, lies, secrets, and forbidden love :)
The Winner’s Kiss dives back into this amazingly twisted world, with Kestrel on her way to the work camps she was sentenced to for her traitorous actions in The Winner’s Crime. Although when it comes to traitorous acts, it is Kestrel’s father who takes the cake, it was Kestrel who betrayed the most powerful man and is now paying the price.
At the end of The Winner’s Curse there was a lot of uncertainty, especially around Kestrel and Arin. Their relationship certainly has had its ups and down, along with intense desire, passion, yearning and the outright ship worthy journey, there has also been secrecy, deceit, sacrifice and distrust. And now that Arin has a responsibility to his people and has been “rejected” by the woman he loves, and Kestrel is on her way to a lifetime of slavery, the level of uncertainty remains.
However, the other uncertainty which is a large and very interesting part of this story, is if Kestrel can survive her punishment. Of course Kestrel goes into this situation the strong, determined and fierce person we all know and love, but this brightness can only survive so long in the darkness in which she cannot escape. Kestrel starts to spiral down a dark hole that there may not be an escape to. Kestrel is at real risk of breaking.
And this was my favourite part of the story. Kestrel breaking, Kestrel surviving and Kestrel learning who she really is and what is important to her. She goes on such a journey throughout this book, and I was totally engrossed in her story.
Much of this story is around the betrayal. Those who betrayed her, and more important, her betrayal on others. And the reason for her betrayal, was for the love of a man who doesn’t know what she has sacrificed, a man who is fighting to save his people, a man who will do whatever it takes once he knows what is really at stake. Due to multiple levels of these betrayals, Kestrel finds the world she thought she knew is total gone. And so is who she thought she was. Kestrel finds that she may not be able to put all her pieces back together, but that doesn’t mean she is broken.
I have made it no secret that I love Arin, and besides the fact that he is blind to the things that Kestrel is really doing, I feel his determination to save the Herrani people is admirable. But being admirable is not always and easy thing to be. His loyalty and determination sometimes come at a cost, and Arin does struggle with his choices, decisions and heartbreak, but in turn has never been more honest with himself and with others.
I have to admit, that I did miss Verex in this book, however, his role is certainly an important one. He was never meant to be a leading man here, he has his own strengths, and although his actions may surprise some, I admire the journey this character followed. However, when it comes to secondary characters, I really enjoyed seeing more of Roshar. He is a very interesting character who clearly has an important role to play – but you never know exactly what that role is. He was always keeping me on my toes and that little bit suspicious. He is funny, cunning, sarcastic, clever, wary and just a little bit intriguing. Both loyal or deceptive… he is an intelligent character and I loved having him embedded in this story.
Yes, this book is largely focused on character development, but at the end of the day, it all boils down to a battle between the Herrani and the Valorian. The lead up to, and the battle, between the two if filled with action, deadly tricks, political warfare and mind games – it is intense, suspenseful and extremely clever. Everything is on the line – even more than they realise. Sometimes there is more than meets the eye, and making the right move is the one that will ultimately make you lose the game.
The Winner’s Kiss is a fantastic ending to this enthralling trilogy! Filled with drama and intensity, amazing world-building and character development, this is one unforgettable YA fantasy series! The writing is luscious and beautiful, that is both lovely and cruel. Deadly intentions and cunning political games will lead to both glory and heartbreak.
Dark and brutal, with just the right amount of hope and justice, this series will not disappoint!