The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski
|Book Name:||The Winner’s Kiss|
|Publisher(s):||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook|
|Genre(s):||YA Fantasy / YA Romance|
|Release Date:||March 29, 2016|
A roller coaster of emotions in the conclusion to the Winner’s trilogy, The Winner’s Kiss is one of the few books I’ve read this year that made it difficult to part with in exchange for sleep. Reading late into the night, only to stay awake thinking about it, and then counting the hours the next day before I could dive right back in. Needless to say, I was riveted.
Where to start? How about the viability of a [former] slave and master relationship? Are the two backgrounds too polarizing to allow for peace, much less love? Not to mention the differences in upbringing–privilege vs. poverty–that these two people must overcome. But Kestrel and Arin are exceptional young people. These are not your typical characters found in many YA books today. I did not find adolescent angst, insta-love, or vacillating love triangles. Rather, these two rose to meet their challenges in the face of seemingly stacked odds. They showed strength, and at the same time, vulnerability. Not allowing their mistakes to define them, they displayed grit and perseverance, as well as intelligence and resourcefulness. How is this series YA again? Perhaps to offer up new role models in a sea of mediocrity? Yes, please.
My favorite character by far is Arin. I am all for a strong and capable female protagonist like Kestrel, but Arin is, for a lack of a better comparison, like the Energizer Bunny. He keeps going, and going, and going. Nothing keeps him down and out for long. His people, the Herrani, say he is god-touched. Arin certainly hears the God of Death whispering to him, promising reward in terms of vengeance if he would only serve this god. His tragic past keeps him focused on his goal, and yet at the end, he is able to hold onto his humanity and live with his choices.
Growing up as the great General Trajan’s daughter, Kestrel has a mind for strategy and cunning, even if she can barely hold her own in a battle. Her road to maturity encompasses betrayal and the loss of what should have been unconditional love. She struggles to find her identity when amnesia is the outcome of this betrayal. Learning to think for oneself without past influences can be a freeing yet terrifying process. Somehow, she must meld these two mindsets and forge a new life for herself. How much is too much to forgive? Can you love without all the pieces of the puzzle?
And then there is the writing—the beautiful, lyrical writing. From someone who loves music, the prose was music for my heart. The mellifluous metaphors and allusions were a balm to the soul.
This series is considered fantasy only in terms of the made-up world. There is no magic system or mythical creature. If you’re looking for an epic fantasy teeming with supernatural elements, this is probably not for you. However, if character-driven stories are your thing, this is it. If you love a good war/political mind game, this is it. I don’t normally care for such deeply entrenched strategizing, but the characters were simply captivating. And the journey of healing and forgiveness was unsurpassed in its execution. Go read it. You will even thank me despite the exquisite heart-wrenching feels you’ll have after you finish. You’re welcome.