The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski
Publishing Date: March 24th, 2016
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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?
This was everything I hoped it would be and more!
The character development
Arin and Kestrel have both grown and matured so much since the first book. They have both been through so much, separately as well as together, and now face their toughest battle yet. Kestrel in particular has had to deal with very significant changes to her life. She is dealing with extreme physical and mental challenges and it is hard to see how she will overcome them but she finds an immense inner strength. Things aren't simple; Arin and Kestrel's relationship isn't easy, they have a lot of obstacles to get through, and ultimately it comes down to both of their abilities to understand, communicate and forgive. Their individual growths throughout the series are outstanding.
There's a heavy focus on war and battle and these scenes are so intricately and expertly written. There are surprising twists and developments and the perspective is constantly changing to keep you on your toes. There's nothing I love more than an unpredictable plot and The Winner's Kiss is constantly surprising and gripping. It's not enough to just read one chapter; it begs for your attention.
The supporting cast
The supporting cast is just excellent. It's common for the main characters to take most of the limelight and often the other characters might not be as developed but there are some true standouts in this book. Roshar in particular is wonderful. I adored his sense of humour, his friendship with Arin and the fact we slowly get to know more about the man behind the mask he wears. I would love a novella from his perspective to get to know even more about him (with cameos from Arin and Kestrel if possible!) Some old villains and friends from the previous books reappear and their story arcs are also satisfactorily concluded. It's a sign of truly great writing that I care what happens to the supporting characters as much as the main stars.
Overall, this is an excellent conclusion to an excellent series that I have loved from beginning to end. I high recommend it and I'm sure I'll be revisiting it in the future.