The Winner’s Kiss – Marie Rutkoski (Review)

Title – The Winner’s Kiss (Book 3, Final book)

Author – Marie Rutkoski

Publisher – Farrar Straus Giroux, 2016

Genre – YA Fantasy Romance

This review can also be found at Goodreads or TeacherofYa’s Tumblr

My Review:

Whew! That was 484 pages of frustration and relief! 

**Wanna know something cool as an aside? I read the Author’s Note (like I usually do), and the very last sentence mentioned two friends of mine on Goodreads who run a blog called Cuddlebuggery: Kat Kennedy and Steph Sinclair. I was so proud of my friends and awed that Rutkoski remembered to add them as the first people to review The Winner’s Curse. In the blogging community, that is a big deal. So I want to praise them on that amazing shout-out!!**

Anyway…I have seen several reviews of this book and apparently people were not pleased. I don’t know why. I honestly don’t. I was thrilled, though tempted to kill Kestrel every ten minutes. It wasn’t so bad in this book versus the other two, but the desire did surface from time to time. Let’s recap, shall we? (Without ruining the book for others)

We open with Arin trying to forget Kestrel. The last time in the music room was the last straw. He’s determined that she is a liar. A manipulator. She’s no good, and he must focus on Herran and freeing them from the Valorians.

Kestrel, on the other hand, is whisked off to a prison in the tundra, where for a brief moment she gives a boy a masker moth and ask that he deliver it to Arin. He’s her last hope. As she is drugged morning and night, she clings to the belief that he will come rescue her, even though she has treated him like garbage every time she’s talked to him.

Eventually Arin gets the moth, realizing that Kestrel is in trouble, that she is his spy, and that she is trapped in a prison work camp. He must rescue her…but he must also entertain Roshar, the Dacran with the military support to help Herran win the war. He does rescue Kestrel, but by the time he gets to her, she is a shell of her spunky, bitchy self. She doesn’t even know who he is.

Will Arin be able to bring Kestrel back from the fog she is in? Will Kestrel realize AFTER ALL THIS TIME that she should love Arin after all he’s put her through? Will both be alive after a war where they are heavily outnumbered? Or, after finding each other and exposing the lies for what they were (a way to protect Arin and his people), will Arin and Kestrel finally see that each one holds the other’s heart?

Arin stepped close to her, his footfalls hushed by the pale, sandy earth with its wisps of grass. He touched the nape of her neck, fingertips brushing down to the first bones of her back. He gently hooked the collar of her shirt.

Her skin sang so loud that she couldn’t think of any words, let alone the right ones, and by the time she knew that she should, that it was now, that it wouldn’t hurt to say what she felt, that she could give her love to someone without being broken for it, Arin has already gone.

The book is filled with agonizing moments like this. You get the urge to throttle an imaginary character: “Choke. Stupid. Chick.”

But it’s worth it. So worth it. Be patient, my novel-reading friends. 

Is it Classroom-Appropriate?

Yes, and actually I think the battle strategy lends itself to something other than a fantasy romance. There’s no graphic scenes, no swearing, and the prose is vivid and complex. It’s something that would be great as a fantasy historical fiction, much like Tolkien, without magic but with a world so uniquely different from our own. No technology, cultural customs, and elements of honor and bravery come into play. I wouldn’t necessarily think it best for a freshman class, but a junior or senior class might get a kick out of it. The only problem would be the trilogy aspect: you can’t very well read three books this size during one unit. However, you could use the first book, The Winner’s Curse, and hope the students continue the series to see what happens next. And I’m sure they would.

Age Range:

I’d say 13 and up. It’s a little gory, but not horrifyingly so. I’d let my niece read it. But it’s complex with the intricacies of all the war elements…and then there’s the Herrani, the Valorians, and the Dacrans, and it might be too complex for a lower level reader. It receives an HL590 Lexile score from They also suggest the age range from 14-17, though we know there’s no age cap in YA!
End Result:
This one gets ★★★★★ for me. (It’s got a killer ending…makes the whole series worthwhile.) I enjoyed the ride, but the main character leaves much in the personality department until this book. So, if you can get through The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime, there will be a big payoff for you in The Winner’s Kiss.

8 thoughts on “The Winner’s Kiss – Marie Rutkoski (Review)

    1. I only enjoyed it because it ends well. I was satisfied. If you’ve liked the other books, then definitely read this one.
      If you haven’t started the series, then I’ll warn you: the main character drives you insane!!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I would if I were you…it sucks you in and won’t let you go! When I was done with book one, I HAD to read book two. But, honestly, you receive any REAL satisfaction until this last book. It paid off and made my time investment worth it.


  2. Aimal @ Bookshelves & Paperbacks

    Great review! I was like you- I quite liked this one, but I did feel it was lacking in some areas too. My favorite thing about the second book was how intricate the political strategizing was, how Rutkoski was slowly unraveling the larger plot at hand. That’s one of my favorite things to read about, so when I went into this, I was expecting a lot of the same. Instead of politics, I was greeted with war. Which was awesome as well- just not what I, and it seems many others, were expecting.
    Having said that, this book was such a wonderful finale. I felt the pay-off was done brilliantly and I finally got to see the two together. ❤

    ~ Aimal @ Bookshelves & Paperbacks


    1. Thank you! I’m finding people didn’t like this book, which is strange because if anything it makes up for all the frustration from the other books, you know?
      I like how Kestrel’s character became more endearing, too. I felt so bad for Arin after all she put him through, and I am just glad that things turned out the way they did. (Won’t say for fear of spoilers, lol)
      I added your blog. You have some amazing reviews. Thanks for taking the time to check mine out! 🙂


  3. Great review, I’m so glad you enjoyed this book and The Winner’s Trilogy is one of my favourite series and I thought the last book was the best of the lot. I really loved how Arin and Kestrel’s relationship finally seemed to progress in a more healthy way, without any secrets between them, and I loved the way Kestrel pulled herself to the front of the battle lines to help defeat the emperor! All in all it’s an amazing book! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I know…it made up for all of Kestrel’s complete bitchiness before.
    Well, mostly.
    But I’m glad the ending was the way it was…I kept thinking one of them would die and I was gonna be pissed. 😒


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