The Winner's Kiss: The Winner's Trilogy, Book 3

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Winner's Kiss: The Winner's Trilogy, Book 3 Book Poster Image
Winning trilogy ends on a more mature note.

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age 13+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

In the author's note from Book 1, Rutkoski mentions a connection to the world created for the Winner's Trilogy and "the Greco-Roman period after Rome had conquered Greece and enslaved its population in the expected way of the time." In Book 3's author's note, she mentions a dozen books that offered "inspiration and guidance," including Frederick Douglass' famous account of his life as a slave and Sun Tzu's The Art of War.

Positive Messages

Star-crossed lovers are at the center of the series, leading to the question, what's stronger? A sense of loyalty to country, family, and way of life or the love of one person? Also, war rages in this story and many die, but readers are shown how cunning and strategy are more effective weapons than swords, gunpowder, 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.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Kestrel must rediscover who she is when most of her memory is wiped out. She slowly rediscovers her gifts for battle strategy and her own bravery. Arin struggles with his thirst for revenge, eventually choosing mercy, and takes on a leader's role not out of a need for power, like the Valorians, but as a service to his people.

Violence

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," necks snapped. Outside of battles, Kestrel is drugged and whipped, then suffers from drug withdrawal; people are poisoned, a man's corpse is found after he's been eaten by wolves, and corpses of innocent children and women are seen after they're killed and left in a ditch. Talk of a whole town's water supply poisoned by the enemy, of slaves taken from their mothers as babies, and about what Arin remembers of his family -- they were all murdered when he was a boy.

Sex

Some kisses, then sex between main characters, with more described about the undressing than the act. Prince Roshar talks of his preference for men and jokes about entertaining lovers in his tent.

Language

"Damned" a few times.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Kestrel -- perhaps 18 in this book; she was 17 in Book 2 -- and Arin, who's slightly older, both drink liquor and wine. Roshar often smokes a pipe. Alcohol is served at a banquet. After Kestrel is drugged she goes through withdrawal.

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.

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Teen, 13 years old Written byjulie2003 October 31, 2016

GREAT ENDING!

I did not find this one better than the last two, but the ending was great. There is more physical aspects to their relationship in this book, but it is not wel... Continue reading

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?

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