Monday, April 18, 2016

The Winner's Kiss

The heartstopping end to The Winner's Trilogy starts with Kestrel trying to figure a way out of prison due to her betrayal being discovered and swiftly punished by her father. Arin is gunning for war after ensuring the aid of the Dacran queen. Kestrel tries to escape a few times, but after harsh punishment and being subject to various drugs, she loses the will to fight and starts to forget who she even is. Arin focuses on simply not feeling and throwing himself in the war to cope. The Dacrans and Herrans are clearly outnumbered, outgunned, and out maneuvered plus his Moth spy has disappeared. Will Kestrel and Arin ever see each other again? Can the Herrans and Dacran cooperate and overthrow the Valerians?

The Winner's Trilogy is epic fantasy at its best, addictive and masterfully written. Although there isn't any magic to speak of, the world is completely realized with the different people's customs, attitudes, and norms. This book in particular is a wonderful mix of romance, political intrigue, and war without having one aspect take up too much of the plot. One of my pet peeves with young adult fiction is how the angsty romance takes up so much of the plot when earth shattering things are usually happening all around. There's a place for everything in The Winner's Kiss and nothing is forgotten. The romance has the usual miscommunications and pride of the respective people involved which is expected because it builds tension. However, Kestrel and Arin finally level with each other and get all of their feelings out with real conversations instead of half truths and misunderstandings. The political intrigue is the smallest part in this novel because Kestrel is no longer at court, but it's mainly present when Dacran royalty is involved. The war depicted here isn't glorious and honorable. It's bloody, messy, dirty, and horrific. Kestrel finally directly involves herself with the war and is forced to take lives to save her own and get her hands dirty instead of orchestrating everything from safety. All aspects of the book were filled with just enough forward momentum, tension, and drama.

The characters of The Winner's Trilogy are really what kept me reading, especially Kestrel, Arin, and Roshar. Every character is dynamic and interesting to read, even the ones I loved to hate. Kestrel is no longer surrounded by riches. She starts out trapped in a prison built to create mindless slaves through drugs. After months of fighting to escape and being punished, she succumbs to the oblivion of the drugs and forgets literally everything about herself. Once Arin saves her, she has no idea who he is or even who she is, having to relearn and remember everything. The person who comes out the other side isn't exactly like the old Kestrel, but someone new who has to get to know Arin again (plus everyone else in her life) instead of just fall into his arms. She has to discover who she is and reconcile everyone else's account of her with her own slowly trickling in memories, many of which are repressed. I like that Kestrel had to come to terms with her own lies and other undesirable things she did in order to do what she thought was best. Her complex relationship with her father also plays a large role because so much of herself was shaped around waiting for him and hungering for his approval. She has to find who she is separate from him and from Arin before she makes any definite decisions on what to do.

Arin is also changed after Kestrel so soundly rejected him in the last book. His anger and sorrow are closer to the surface as he tries to throw himself into battle to forget. Through new Kestrel, his softer side emerges more and more, but he is no less ferocious in battle. He has to let Kestrel go a little bit and stop being so controlling because she's a force to reckoned with and will make her own decisions despite his. They became a great team as the battles went on and got to know a different side of each other this way.  Arin's friendship with Roshar also develops and becomes almost like a brotherhood instead. The two have such silly banter because Arin tries to be serious all the time, but Roshar insists on making jokes at every turn, no matter how dour the situation. The mutilated prince has lots of layers underneath his jokes and it becomes clear that he actually cares for Arin and Kestrel, who he gets to know throughout the novel. The ending particularly showed the depths of his devotion even if that act in itself is told in a hilarious way. Without Roshar, the book would have been much too dramatic. He succeeds in lightening the mood (even if he may be infuriating) and coming up with schemes that don't always align with his allies. Roshar is a memorable trickster character with his own agendas, but a heart of gold.

If I had my way, I would have read The Winner's Kiss in one sitting. Alas, things like sleep and work got in the way. I loved the entire series and I couldn't ask for a better ending to this series. I eagerly await for what Marie Rutkoski writes next, whether future books exist in this same universe or not. I always lose myself in her masterful writing with its twists and turns that I can never predict.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

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