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?. – Goodreads
To be completely honest, I struggled with this book. In part due to my mood — where every book I was reading was a struggle, but that being said, I’m so glad I read The Winner’s Kiss. When we finished the second book The Winner’s Crime Rutkoski left us on the cliffhanger of all cliffhangers. Arin was lead to believe that Kestrel lied to him and actually became engaged to the emperor’s son, not knowing it’s all part of a ruse. Because Arin was convinced that Kestrel has changed, and not for the good, he is now prepared for war.
Kestrel; however, is now a prisoner of war and what she quickly learns is the way everyone survives is to be drugged. I spent a good portion of this novel with my heart in my throat because I honestly wasn’t sure where Rutkoski was going to take the novel. You can tell that her craft is finely tuned and really at its best throughout The Winner’s Kiss.
“Nobody hurt her. This was very Valorian. Kestrel was here to work for the empire. Damage bodies don’t work well” –6%
Kestrel’s scenes throughout the prisoner period were extremely painful to read. What Rutkoski did was make me, as the reader, feel as if I was there in the jail with Kestrel. It was uncomfortable and pushed me outside of my comfort zone. The chapter breaks of Arin’s point of view was not helpful either, because he was not having an easy time himself. Although The Winner’s Trilogy has always been Kestrel’s trilogy, The Winner’s Kiss is really Arin’s time to shine. Although there was a very slow start to this book, by about 15% of the novel the speed begins to pick up and doesn’t stop until the final page.
A pivotal moment in the book is the moment Kestrel and Arin are reunited and one of them doesn’t recognize the other. It’s painful, harsh and cuts open a few wounds, but it was needed. It made The Winner’s Kiss an even stronger novel. Kestrel has obviously changed after her time in the worker’s camp and has extreme PTSD.
As well written this book was, I extremely struggled with The Winner’s Kiss, based on the fact that I’m a mood reader, I wanted to quit at about 40%. I understand that this sounds like sacrilege, but it’s true, I really struggled with this book. Ultimately for a final book, I expected more.