The Winner’s Kiss

The Winner's Kissby Marie Rutkoski
YA Fantasy
5 of 5 stars

This book is incredible, but I’ll attempt to tone down my fangirling! I had no idea what to expect with this book–I recommended The Winner’s Crime constantly last year (seriously, if you read my blog on the regular you were probably wanting me to get a grip, but I just loved it that much!)–and I knew this trilogy could end with a clever happily ever after or a satisfying tragedy. I was fine either way–I trust the author that much.

Don’t worry, I won’t tell you how it ends!

*Spoilers for The Winner’s Crime*

Kestrel and Arin’s story has taken a dark turn at this point. They’re on the same side (but Arin doesn’t know that) and they’ve agreed they can’t be together (for completely different reasons) and just when Kestrel decides she’s ready for Arin to know the truth, Arin doesn’t get the letter pouring out her heart and detailing her secret deceptions. Her father does. And he lets the emperor banish her to a work camp in the north. Now we see how Kestrel and Arin handle the worst challenges they’ve ever faced. Understandably, Arin is trying to forget Kestrel, and Kestrel has some deep-rooted daddy issues to sort out.

Personally, I have loved Kestrel since about halfway through the first book. My shelves are full of warrior girls, girls finding their Destinies as queens and goddesses and leaders in rebellions. They’re all small but fierce, talented with some weapon or magical skill. They are very fun, but Kestrel is nothing like any of them. And I kind of like her better. Kestrel’s untalented physically. She can’t fight, and she doesn’t want to. She relies on outwitting her opponents, and she continues to do so here. The game of wits between her and the general is agonizing and emotional from start to finish. Her arc deeply resonates with me and her struggle to put names to her emotions is so moving. This book is a fitting end to her story–I’ll say no more!

I’ve never been as enthralled with Arin, but he was much more interesting to me in this book. Both of them experience so much growth with the perfect balance of light and dark moments–Rutkoski devotes most of this book to their changing feelings (amidst the backdrop of war and plenty of battles) and it has a serious mood I don’t often find in YA, but I love it.

The tone is heavier than the first two and there are a lot of descriptions, so I can see how this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re in the mood for a different type of YA, it’s going to delight you!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Winner’s Kiss is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – A band of criminals is drawn together with the promise of a payout if they complete an impossible heist. They have nothing in common but this prize, and they all plan to betray each other once they succeed. This is YA at its finest–it’s flawless and you’ll fly through it! See my review here.
  • Kings Rising by C.S. Pacat – This trilogy is remarkably similar to The Winner’s Trilogy, with m/m romance and more explicit scenes. The devious characters plot and play at the adult level here, the writing is top-notch, and there are more schemes than you could wish for. See my review here.
  • Fire by Kristin Cashore – A companion novel to Graceling, this follows the last human-shaped monster, Fire, as she becomes a tool to Prince Brigan to uncover a plot against the king. Fire’s beauty and gift for mind-control means she can have whatever she wants, but all she wants is not to become the monster her father was.
  • Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas – Aelin returns to Adarlan for her most difficult mission yet-destroy the empires of the King of the Assassins and the King of Adarlan at the same time. See my review here.

What’s new this month

Once again, so many good books to read! Here are the books I’m adding to my list this month:

girl fell3/1 – The Girl Who Fell – by Shannon M. Parker

High school senior Zephyr is about to have all of her best-laid plans wrecked by a boy. Honestly I’ve loved the name Zephyr forever so that caught my eye, but then the synopsis grabbed me, because Alec isn’t what he seems. Her first love isn’t turning out the way any love should, and learning that kind of truth is dangerous to everyone involved. The reviews look good so far, so I’m hoping this delivers more than the average YA contemporary. In an author interview, Parker stated she has worked with and heard many stories from girls in abusive relationships, and used these experiences as inspiration for the book, though the story itself is fiction.

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble

burning glass3/1 – Burning Glass – by Kathryn Purdie

This sounds like an interesting fantasy take on different forms of synesthesia! Sonya can feel what everyone around her feels physically and emotionally. On top of all that confusion, she becomes drawn into the royal court intrigue by those who want to use her uncontrolled powers. Sonya must balance political ties and her own abilities if she wants to make it out alive. Political intrigue is becoming more popular in YA, and this story is no exception. Sonya’s power sounds like it will be intertwined with her role in the court.

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble

rebel sands3/8 – Rebel of the Sands – by Alwyn Hamilton

I’m hearing such good things about this one! Amani is determined to get our of her dead-end town with her sharpshooting skills, but there’s much more in store for her. Jin helps her escape, but Amani is in for much more than she bargained for, because Jin knows who she really is and what that means for her world. The synopsis is a bit vague but I’m intrigued by the world-building. The YA love affair with djinn and the desert from last year continues this year!

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble

lady midnight3/8 – Lady Midnight – by Cassandra Clare

I’m guessing at this point the Shadowhunter universe is like a bunch of connected soap operas. Although personally I enjoyed The Infernal Devices trilogy I haven’t invested in the rest of the books, though this one’s setting intrigues me a bit. For all the fans out there, I’m sure this will deliver more of what you love: intense angsty drama, magic, and battles with snarky dialogue. Set five years after City of Heavenly Fire, a new group of demon-killing teens is in LA dealing with faeries and forbidden love within the confines of the Clave’s rules. Emma Carstairs is falling for her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, which is against Clave law. Oops.

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble

marked3/8 – Marked in Flesh – by Anne Bishop

The fourth installment in The Others series has the coming war between humans and the Others brewing. The slow-burn romance between Meg and Simon continues, but the alliance between the Others and the cassandra sangue (fragile blood prophets who see the future when their skin is cut) has a lot of people upset. The Others are split on what to do about working with the women, but they are united in keeping humans off their land and protecting what is theirs. Again, I have a feeling this will promise even more of what you love if you’re following this series.

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble

The Winner's Kiss3/29 – The Winner’s Kiss – by Marie Rutkoski

The much-anticipated finale to The Winner’s Trilogy is finally here! Kestrel is one of my favorite leading ladies and I cannot wait to see what happens between her and Arin (and you know, the war and all that) in this book. I’m hoping there’s even more plotting and spying and tension! I could hardly put down the last book so if this one is similar at all I will be satisfied. Arin is convinced Kestrel is a pampered soon-to-be-empress that gave up her honor for the empire. But Kestrel is actually in a labor camp for betraying the empire to save Arin, and she has revenge on her mind.

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble

247246273/15 – The First Time She Drowned – by Kerry Kletter

This sounds like an emotionally intense contemporary novel about a girl’s troubled relationship with her mother. Cassie turns 18, emancipates herself, and leaves the mental institution that her mother forced her into years ago. Things are finally turning around for Cassie, until she attempts to renew a relationship with her mother. Mother-daughter relationships don’t usually get a lot of screen time, so I’m interested to read this and see how it ends. Plus, that cover–so gorgeous!

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble

What to read again:

Ever since Harry Potter I’ve enjoyed re-reading the previous books in a series before the next one comes out. You get to soak up all the nuances and speculate about what’s going to happen next—it just makes the whole experience richer and more fun! What am I going to start re-reading?

The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski

I have to admit, the cover of the first book made me put off reading this series for years because fainting girls aren’t really my thing. But Kestrel is most definitely NOT a fainting flower! She might not be the strongest fighter physically, but she will destroy you in any game of strategy you can devise. From the moment she accidentally wins the bidding war for the slave Arin, she becomes caught up in the struggle for power between their two nations. Her father leads their army, and Arin struggles to lead his country in the rebellion. I couldn’t put these down and I can’t wait for the final book in March!

The Winner's Kiss

Still not sure if it’s for you? You can read my reviews here!

The Winner’s Curse & The Winner’s Crime

What if you don’t have time? There’s an amazing site out there called Recaptains: readers who recap and sum up everything in previous books so you are fully prepped for the next one. A life-saver time-saver for sure!

Here is the recap of The Winner’s Curse, and The Winner’s Crime from their site. Beware, there are spoilers on purpose!

The Winner’s Crime

20443207by Marie Rutkoski
YA Fantasy / YAFiction
4 of 5 stars

I was pleasantly surprised by the first book in this trilogy, and I grabbed this one as soon as I could. I enjoyed it even more than the first! The few clunky missteps establishing the first book weren’t present in this one. It was smooth, cat-and-mouse royal court intrigue from beginning to end, and I loved watching it play out. As with the first book, I was never quite sure what would happen next, and that is the best praise I can give.

Kestrel and Arin are rarely together, which could have been disappointing, but I felt their plot lines were stronger when they were kept apart. The growing internal tension they both experienced made their decisions feel so real. Jess isn’t the dumb best friend that Kestrel assumed she was, and she pressed the flip side of Kestrel’s assertive nature with the declaration that Kestrel never does anything against her will. Despite feeling cornered and caught between horrible options, part of Kestrel’s trap is being known for going her own way, and this betrayal from her own nature was brilliant. Her internal unraveling under the unending pressure of her new life as the future empress made her character arc so believable, and I really fell in love with her in this book. Arin’s struggle to discover Kestrel’s true feelings amidst his own political responsibilities was equally moving. These characters came to life and I can’t wait for the final book!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Winner’s Crime is available on Goodreads and on Powell’s store website, here. Powell’s has several locations in Oregon, and is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas – A YA fantasy series following assassin Celaena Sardothien as she uncovers a plot in the kingdom and her own destiny. This has similar court intrigue with a bit more magic and adventure. See my review here.
  • Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo – The second in a trilogy about Alina, the Sun Summoner who realizes the kingdom’s most powerful sorcerer, the Darkling, isn’t all that he seems.
  • Rook by Sharon Cameron – A retelling of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Sophie Bellamy is pushed into an arranged marriage, then discovers her fiance is more than meets the eye. This is almost a relief, because she has a secret too. See my review here.
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore – Katsa decides to rebel against her uncle the king when a foreign prince asks for her help with finding his grandfather. This is beautifully told and rich in detail. See my review here.
  • Scarlet by Marissa Meyer – This quartet about four different women from fairy tales is an excellent genre-mashing epic. Scarlet becomes concerned about her missing grandmother, and reluctantly trusts a street-fighter named Wolf to see if they can find her. But when Cinder crashes into their lives, things get more complicated. See my review here.
  • The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh – Shazi swore to avenge her best friend’s murder and kill the king responsible for so many girls’ deaths. But when she volunteers to be his next bride, she becomes entangled in the mystery surrounding his court of death. See my review here.
  • Prince’s Gambit by C.S. Pacat – (An m/m romance for mature readers). Damen and Laurent have begun to build trust between them to combat the regent’s schemes, but all of it could come crashing down at any moment if they don’t continue to stay one step ahead. The plot and characters are incredible! See my review here.

The Winner’s Curse

16069030by Marie Rutkoski
YA Fantasy / YA Fiction
4 of 5 stars

I was skeptical at first but this book won me over. At first glance it had too many tropes–the girl caught between two loves, one perfect but boring, the other fiery but impossible–the best friend who is just around to gossip, the militant father (in more than one sense), blond white people enslaving darker people, the fate of two kingdoms hinging on the relationship between Kestrel the general’s daughter and Arin the slave.

However, this book was nothing like I expected. First of all, the pacing was so fast! Instead of spending long chapters agonizing over issues, the short chapters with cliff hangers flew by–I couldn’t put this book down for long. The continually rising stakes in the cat-and-mouse games between Kestrel and Arin, Kestrel and… okay everyone she encounters, was incredibly satisfying. To have characters outsmarting and out-gambling their opponents was awesome. And it helped balance the few amateur mistakes made early on, because yes, Kestrel and Arin both had a few lapses in judgment that were exasperating. I’m still not entirely sure if I understand why they are in love–if it’s even strong enough to call it that–but I suppose everyone wants something forbidden.

Fast-paced, strategic, with an eye for efficient world-building and power plays–I’ll definitely be finishing this series!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Winner’s Curse is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch – Meira has lived her whole life in exile, working towards freeing the kingdom Winter from Spring’s tyrannical grip. But the process involves more than luck and magic–it pits Meira into a world of politics and strategy that might be beyond her. See my review here.
  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo – Alina’s unique abilities present an opportunity to save her kingdom from the spreading darkness–if that’s all the Darkling truly wants. This has a similar relationship between two main characters and a similar tone. See my review here.
  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor – Speaking of star-crossed relationships that could ignite a war, Karou’s mysterious past finally finds her, but in the way she least expects. This is probably the most similar to The Winner’s Curse. See my review here.
  • Rook by Sharon Cameron – A fun, fast-paced adventure following another pair of strategists as they spy, plot and slip around each other trying to free innocent victims from the violent city’s regime. See my review here.
  • The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh – The evolving relationship between the king who killed so many girls after one night, and Shazi, the girl determined to avenge them, set against the backdrop of political intrigue and mystery. See my review here.
  • Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard – Mare Barrow finds herself with the people she hates most – the supernaturally powerful Silver-blooded royal family – after a strange display of her own gift. The gift she shouldn’t have, because she’s Red-blooded. Spies, plots, and twists abound as Mare navigates her new life and tries to find a way to free the oppressed Reds before she’s killed. See my review here.
  • Old Magic by Marianne Curley – Kate is inexplicably drawn to the new boy at school – and once she realizes it’s because she needs to break his family’s deadly curse, they have to work fast before he is the next victim. This is a light YA fantasy with some fun twists.

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