The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

β€œOnce there was a girl who was too sure of herself. Not everyone would call her beautiful, but they admitted that she had a certain grace that intimidated more often than it charmed. She was not, society agreed, someone you wanted to cross. She keeps her heart in a porcelain box, people whispered, and they were right.
She didn’t like to open the box. The sight of her heart was unsettling. It always looked both smaller and bigger than she expected. It thumped against the white porcelain. A fleshy red knot.
Sometimes, though, she’d put her palm on the box’s lid, and then the steady pulse was a welcome music.
One night, someone else heard its melody. A boy, hungry and far from home. He wasβ€”if you must knowβ€”a thief. He crept up the walls of the girl’s palace. He wriggled strong fingers into a window’s slim opening. He pulled it open wide enough to fit himself and pushed inside.”

This review will contain mild SPOILERS, please do not continue on if you’ve not read this book or, more importantly, the previous two installments in this series.

I feel so conflicted going into this review. I have so much love and empathy for Kestrel and Arin. Every scene with them together made me incredibly happy, and if the book was only that I’d still give it 5 out of 5 stars, because their happiness was that important to me, but this storyline had problems.

To put it bluntly, this book just had too many loose ends: Who is going to rule? Why did the Queen seem so evil the whole story to just not do anything in the end? We aren’t going to get closure with Kestrel’s father situation? Jess? Ronan? Hello? I also felt like the coded message that Kestrel sent was a little too convenient and a little too hard for me to believe. Like, she also left that guard’s body there. No one found it? No one realized something happened there, or that the guard was missing? I feel like Kestrel’s father, this amazing war general, is way smarter than that. Also, how in the hell did no one know she escaped the labor camp?

Even though I felt the overall theme of this book was so close to perfection, I can’t ignore all these things. I’m also all for open-ended stories that you can interpret on your own, but these are all pretty big grey areas, and plot holes, that I feel should have been addressed.

I’m also not saying I needed more bloodshed, or another twist, but it just seemed like something more was going to happen. This book is about war, and in war you suffer losses even if you win. After I finished this book I kept thinking maybe I missed something. I’m not saying Kestrel and Arin do not deserve a happy ending, because my heart couldn’t take anything else, but it still seemed too clean cut for me, and too clean cut for Marie Rutkoski, too.

As stated before, I did enjoy this story. This trilogy is definitely worth a read! It truly is the best YA has to offer, even with a lackluster conclusion. I know I sound really negative in my above paragraphs, but I just hate things that don’t feel complete. Yet, the positives in this story really do outweigh the incomplete feelings I have.

Kestrel’s relationship with her father really struck a chord with me and my personal life. I found myself so emotional, yet so thankful that a book didn’t just deal with romantic relationships, and friendships, but unconventional family dynamics as well. Seeing Kestrel, who is incredibly strong and brave, not being able to deal with abandonment and betrayal from someone she loves was absolutely devastating and pulled at every one of my heartstrings. Seriously, thank you Marie Rutkoski. Because of this, I will read everything she writes.

Oh, and this is probably the only story that I’ve ever read with amnesia that didn’t piss me off. I never thought I’d see the day.

It also needs to be said that I love Roshar and his tiger. I feel like he gets outshined because Kestrel and Arin are so perfect, but seriously, what a fantastic character that brought so much laughter to this story. And his ending scene was pretty phenomenally done as well.

I’ve stated this many times in past reviews, but Kestrel is a freakin’ amazing character that girls can look up to. YA needs more, many more, Kestrels. Arin can be stubborn, but he’s a man he has a pure heart and always does what he believes is right. Kestrel and Arin really are the definition of OTP.

This book is a wonderful physical representation that your heart chooses who it chooses. Love doesn’t see in color or gender or social status. For that alone, I will always praise this series and it will always be close to my heart.

β€œThere is a difference between you and me. If I die, you’ll survive. If you die, it will destroy me.”

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