Hello everyone!

I am back with another book review, The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski. This is the final book in the Winner's Trilogy and I was so excited to read it!

In keeping with my goal this year of finishing off my started series, I was excited to see how Arin and Kestrel's story would end. It's been a little while since I've read the first and second books, but I think Rutkoski did a good job of recapping the important details from the previous books.

The story picks up around where it left off, Arin working to lead his forces against the Valorians and Kestrel is being taken away to the mines at the order of her father after intercepting a letter from her to Arin explaining everything that happened. The story just kind of goes from there, with the battles between the Herrani and Valorian forces.

In taking a break from these series, I definitely forgot how much I loved the first books. Kestrel is such a strong character and her relationship with Arin is so adorable. There are plenty of super cute moments between the two in this book, despite the tension between them and the threat of war.

I want to talk briefly about this novel's portrayal of the value of life. I think with all the dystopian/over-throw/rebellion novels I've read in the past two years, I've become numb to the amount of bloodshed and loss of life within them. It's at the point where when there is a battle between two sides, it's hard to recognize that there are real people with families and people who love them fighting on both sides, not just the 'good side.' This book definitely touched on this aspect quite a bit throughout the story, from Kestrel not being able to kill those who are keeping her captive when she gets the opportunity to escape, to Arin not being able to kill the one person he had been trying to kill since before everything started. This wasn't a pronounced element of the book, but it was noticeable enough to pick up on. And I think it's an important reminder, especially when we've grow desensitized to such actions in novels.

I also really loved Kestrel - all throughout the series, but especially in this book. She is such a smart character - it was nice to see a "strong heroine" who isn't necessarily physically strong, but mentally extremely strategic. I loved the little parts where she helped figure out what to do next and where to send the troops; it floored me how intelligent in battle she was. And then this element of her character was contrasted with her holding a sword in the middle of the battle not having a clue what to do - it was refreshing!

Once again, Rutkoski's writing style sucks you in, the chapters were just long enough to keep me interested, but short enough that I kept reading "one more" before putting it down to do something else. She weaves the story beautifully, alternating between third-person perspectives of Arin and Kestrel, showing sometimes only half the battle, and creating tension about the other half.

I really enjoyed this book overall, but if I was to nit-pick, I wasn't crazy about the pacing. For me, it felt a touch too slow at times, but Rutkoski's writing style is so beautiful it almost isn't an issue. I just found towards the end, there were one too many battles, I think I would have been okay with one large one, or even two medium ones, instead of three smaller battles. But that didn't kill the novel for me, that's just being picky.

I wasn't crazy about the ending, not necessarily what happened but the general way it felt tacked on after such a momentous battle for victory. I mean, it answered all the questions I had, but I just felt like it could have been more.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this trilogy and I look forward to reading more from Rutkoski!