A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Marie Rutkoski's The Winner's Kiss is the last book in a romantic fantasy trilogy, following The Winner's Curse and The Winner's Crime. Expect more mature content in this finale. Book 2 took place mostly in a palace, not on the battlefield such as in The Winner's Kiss. Readers are taken right into the middle of bloody battles with swords, daggers, arrows, and explosions from cannons and early versions of guns. Every kind of assault is up close: beheadings, many horses injured with spikes and stabbed swords to unseat riders, stabbings into the weak points of armor, an arm chopped off, throats slit, shrapnel loaded into cannons shredding victims into "bloody chunks," and necks snapped. Outside of battles, the main character is drugged repeatedly and whipped, then suffers from drug withdrawal. At the center of the series are star-crossed lovers Kestrel and Arin, who went from a few passionate kisses in Book 2 to having sex (not well described) in The Winner's Kiss. They both drink a little, and their ally, Prince Roshar, often smokes a pipe. Even though war rages in this story and many die, readers are shown how cunning and strategy are more effective weapons than swords, gun powder, and massive numbers of fighting soldiers. Revenge drives main characters for most of the story to seek out those who wronged them, but the power of mercy prevails.
What's the story?
When Kestrel is discovered as a spy at the end of The Winner's Crime, she is sent to the tundra to do hard labor, a mercy when the punishment for treason is usually death. But it doesn't feel like a mercy to Kestrel. The food is drugged to make her work harder during the day, sleep at night, and slowly forget who she even is. An escape attempt leads to a whipping, and afterward she succumbs to the power of the drugs. Arin, meanwhile, makes his way back to Herran with his new allies from Dacra who have vowed to help him fight. There's no way around an all-out war after the Valorian emperor poisoned his country's water supply, leaving everyone too sick to fight. As they get their energy back and war is imminent, word comes from Valoria about Kestrel's capture. Arin, feeling both responsible and heartsick, is determined to free Kestrel before he takes on the Valorian Emperor.
Is it any good?
Fans of the series will all-out devour the nail-biting jailbreak opener and the twisty climax of this finale; the middle takes a bit more patience. Rutkoski's writing is lovely, full of thoughtful imagery and depth. It's usually an asset, but as Kestrel grapples with her hazy memory after the prison drugs and Arin tries to bring her back to herself, there's so much to ponder. Who is she now? Does Arin love her out of guilt? Could she just use him to help her remember who she was before? Does she want to be that person again? It feels as hazy for the reader as it does for Kestrel, and the author's beautiful prose loses its impact.
Luckily, as soon as the characters set up camp for battle, the pace builds again -- and Kestrel magically finds her mojo again. That requisite "all hope is lost" moment in every underdog battle really feels that way in THE WINNER'S KISS, making the ending all that more surprising and satisfying.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the battle scenes here where readers are in the thick of the action. Does that affect you differently than a bird's-eye view?
How do you think the author used her knowledge of slavery to create the character of Arin?
Are you satisfied with the ending of this trilogy? Will you seek out more work by this author?
- Author: Marie Rutkoski
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Horses and Farm Animals, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Publication date: March 29, 2016
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 496
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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