The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Fantasy
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: March 29th 2016


“You don’t need to be gifted with a blade. You are your own best weapon.”

The Herrani have allies to the East and now the true war between kingdoms is beginning. Valoria will not so easily give up what once was theirs. Arin prepares his people for the invasion using the knowledge he gained from his precious spy, the Moth. Unknown to Arin the Moth is Kestrel, whom he sees as a liar and an enemy. She rots in a Northern work camp for her efforts. Can they ever join together and win the war, or is victory beyond their reach?

There is much more action in this book than the other two combined. Moving out of the court this novel focuses on military strategy and the battles that make the war. There is more direct involvement with fighting and winning – without warping Kestrel’s character to make her a warrior woman instead of a sly and clever court strategist.

There is an excellent deconstruction of both Arin and Kestrel’s characters as they discover new truths and realize new things about themselves. Kestrel in particular is forced to rethink her life and her choices. To examine her relationships and who she loves. It’s satisfying to see a character so entirely torn down and then be able to watch her build herself back up again. Kestrel doesn’t feel entirely like herself, but she definitely remains a strong (well-written) female character.

There were a few quirks in the books that were frustrating. Arin’s communication with his God was strange…and never really addressed. He hears a voice inside of him – is it a God? Near the end he acknowledges that he is the god of death but does that mean he’s simply been having very strange conversations with himself in his mind? Possibly an alternate personality? It was also frustrating at times to read about Kestrel post-memory loss. It’s weird to consider what she remembers and doesn’t and it’s solved all too quickly. As well the frequent POV switching was a little painful.

There was a lot of good in the book but Kestrel’s memory loss leaves half the book struggling to maintain the theme of political intrigue. It focuses too much on Arin battling and not enough on planning and playing the right hand. It also makes her romance with Arin unsettling. While still a good character – Kestrel no longer feels like Kestrel. The love feels awkward and uncomfortable for the most part.

It does not stand up to the standard set by the first books in the series and it leaves so many important questions unanswered. It feels simultaneously rushed and drawn out. There was too much romance and angst and not enough plot. The loose threads left could fill another novel – or could have filled this one had it not been stuffed with so much romance and relationship drama.

Overall an okay ending to a series that deserved better.


Read this if you’re a fan of: Eon


2 thoughts on “The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

  1. I gave this book four stars, but I agree with a lot of what you said – Arin’s God was a bit weird and maybe gave the sense that the book has some magical elements, but it felt a bit out of place to me because it was just purely historical before that. For me, as a whole the series was a bit too romance-oriented, but I loved Kestrel and how her whole character was based on being smart (rather than physically badass). Great review! 💖


    • Thank you for your comment. I did really enjoy the series as a whole despite how I rated it. Kestrel is one of my favourite female characters. I do wish it had focused more on Kestrel’s personal struggle as a strong (without the literal strength) woman instead of her relationship with Arin.


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