Weekend Reads #78 – The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski

Posted September 17, 2016 by Lillian in Reviews / 1 Comment

Weekend Reads

Last month I joined the Can You Read a Series in a Month challenge. Obviously I bit off more than I could chew. I’ve never had a problem binge reading a series before, but with little man starting school and life in general being SO busy, I didn’t complete it. HOWEVER I definitely enjoyed reading the series that y’all voted on for me to read. The winner was The Winner's Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski. I so enjoyed this series. It took me nearly the whole month plus the first week of September to get this series read, but I really loved it. If you enjoy fantasy with a touch of romance, I highly recommend it!

Weekend Reads #78 – The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie RutkoskiThe Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner's Trilogy #1
Published by Macmillan on 2014-03-04
Length: 355 pages
Reviewing Hardcover from My Book Shelf
Reading Challenges: 2016HW, Can You Read a Series in a Month?, COYER 2016 Summer Vacation

Winning what you want may cost you everything you love.

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions. One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction.

Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski grabbed my attention from the first page and held it to the last. As the general’s daughter, Kestrel lives a privileged life in Herran, one of many conquered Valorian countries. Her love of music and distaste for war is in opposition to the society she represents. When she acquires Arin a Herrani slave from the trading block, her eyes become open to the atrocities her countrymen are capable of.

I really liked Kestrel. My heart bled for her. She isn’t the daughter the general wants, yet she is cunning and smart. Her heart lies with her music, not war and as in Valoria you must either wed or join the army, Kestrel is left with little choice but to marry. She lives a life of privilege, but I don’t think she takes that for granted. She sees what her actions can do to the Herrani slaves and she is compassionate towards them, thinking of their needs and what she can do to make their lives better. She is a conundrum to Arin.

Arin is a fantastically flawed character. There are not many I can say that about. He’s a Herrani slave. Born to a life of privilege and then watched as his family was murdered and he was taken in to slavery, Arin has no love for Valorians. He hates them, he will do whatever is necessary to free his people. Yet Kestrel makes him pause. He should hate her, she’s the daughter of the general, yet he doesn’t. He’s confused by her and her actions. Is she nice because she wants something in return or is she just genuinely kind?

What makes this book fantastic in my opinion is the alternating view points between Arin and Kestrel. It leads to a lot of dramatic irony, where we the readers know what is going on or about to happen but the characters are going in blind. There were times I caught myself holding my breath as I was afraid for Kestrel and Arin as the rebellion began. The sweet romance that blossoms between them is just a bonus as the story focuses more on the Herrani rebellion.

Overall I really enjoyed this book and dove into The Winner’s Crime immediately as I couldn’t handle that ending! If you enjoy historical fantasy with a touch of romance, I highly recommend you read this one.

Weekend Reads #78 – The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie RutkoskiThe Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner's Trilogy #2
Published by Macmillan on 2015-03-03
Length: 416 pages
Reviewing Hardcover from My Book Shelf
Reading Challenges: Can You Read a Series in a Month?, COYER 2016 Summer Vacation

Book two of the dazzling Winner's Trilogy is a fight to the death as Kestrel risks betrayal of country for love.

The engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria’s crown prince means one celebration after another. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement... if she could only trust him. Yet can she even trust herself? For—unknown to Arin—Kestrel is becoming a skilled practitioner of deceit: an anonymous spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret.

As Arin enlists dangerous allies in the struggle to keep his country’s freedom, he can’t fight the suspicion that Kestrel knows more than she shows. In the end, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth. And when that happens, Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them.

If you have not read The Winner’s Curse, please do NOT read this review. There are spoilers to the previous book in this review!

Oh my!!! Oh my, my, my!!!! I can’t handle the events of The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski. I just thought the author couldn’t top the emotions generated from reading The Winner’s Curse, I was wrong. I don’t even know how to start this review. I’m in shock!!! A little recap: Kestrel is engaged to the emperor’s son after she bargained for Herran’s freedom, granting them independence as a territory of Valoria. Arin doesn’t know what Kestrel sacrificed for him and his country and is now the unofficial governor of Herran.

Kestrel is in over her head in this book. I truly felt for her and caught myself holding my breath on more than one occasion. Like the last book, the POV alternates between Kestrel and Arin so the reader knows things the character does not. For me this was torture. After a few run-ins with the emperor and seeing how truly evil he is, Kestrel sides with Arin, becoming his spy in secret. Even Arin is clueless to the identity of his Moth. I wanted to scream at Kestrel as events played out. I worried for her as she isn’t the most stable in this book. She thinks she knows what is happening, having learned from the best, but unfortunately she’s playing with fire.

Arin is lost in this book. He’s gained everything he wanted from the rebellion: Herran’s freedom, his own freedom, even the house he grew up in, BUT he lost his heart in the process. He fell in love and fell hard for Kestrel, yet she deserted him for Valoria and the prince. She left without a word and brought the empire to his doorstep in the process AND he let her. He let her go. This fact haunts him and he is SO angry in this book. And his trust, well he places it in the wrong people.

The plot revolves around Kestrel and the Valorian court. She is in over her head as she gains information about Herran and passes it to Arin’s spymaster. She is the Moth, anonymous and dangerous to Valoria. Yet she underestimates her opponent, and thanks to the dual POV the reader is in the know. I love (and hate) this dramatic irony! It kept me turning the pages out of fear for the characters.

Overall I really enjoyed this book. It did lose a star from 5 to 4 because it has a slow start and Kestrel and Arin are separated pretty much the entire book. So if you’re looking for romance, look elsewhere. There is a lot of drama and angst in this installment of the series. However the irony and edge-of-your-seat suspense kept me reading. If you enjoyed the first book of the series, I highly recommend you continue reading! And that ending?! What are you doing to me Marie Rutkoski?

Weekend Reads #78 – The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie RutkoskiThe Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner's Trilogy #3
Published by Macmillan on 2016-03-29
Length: 484 pages
Reviewing Hardcover from My Book Shelf
Reading Challenges: 2016 New Release Challenge, Can You Read a Series in a Month?

Some kisses come at a price.

War has begun. Arin is in the thick of it with untrustworthy new allies and the empire as his enemy. Though he has convinced himself that he no longer loves Kestrel, Arin hasn’t forgotten her, or how she became exactly the kind of person he has always despised. She cared more for the empire than she did for the lives of innocent people—and certainly more than she did for him.

At least, that’s what he thinks.

In the frozen north, Kestrel is a prisoner in a brutal work camp. As she searches desperately for a way to escape, she wishes Arin could know what she sacrificed for him. She wishes she could make the empire pay for what they’ve done to her.

But no one gets what they want just by wishing.

As the war intensifies, both Kestrel and Arin discover that the world is changing. The East is pitted against the West, and they are caught in between. With so much to lose, can anybody really win?

The Winner's Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski has become one of my all-time favorite series! The Winner’s Kiss delivers an ending that is both stunning and beautiful in its execution. The series has boiled down to the events in this book. Arin is prepared for war, he has gained the alliance of the East and developed a new weapon he calls a gun. He’s moved past his feelings for Kestrel (at least he’s fooled himself into thinking he has) and is prepared to lead Herran. Kestrel has hit rock bottom. Her own father has betrayed her, she’s betrayed herself and is now living as a traitor exiled to the northern mines. Can the two find each other and defeat Valoria?

Like Arin in The Winner’s Crime, Kestrel is lost in this book. She’s subjected to horror upon horror until she loses her own memories, her mind blocking them in an attempt to protect her. When her knight in shining armor arrives to save her, she’s distrustful of him. She’s lost the naiveté of the previous books, thinking that she was invulnerable. Now she knows the horror that awaits her if she’s caught and she’s scared. I like the vulnerable side of Kestrel that is shown in this book. I always knew it was there under her bravado but it’s a nice change of pace.

Arin has accepted his role as leader of Herran, albeit reluctantly. He’s made allies of Dacran and developed a handheld cannon he calls a gun. He’s ready to win Herran’s freedom from Valoria. He’s shut his mind off from Kestrel after their last encounter. He will not let her control him, he will not let her fool him again. Then the messenger arrives with news that Kestrel is dead and another messenger arrives with news that the Moth, his anonymous spy, has been caught and sent to the Northern mines. It doesn’t take long for Arin to connect the dots and all his feelings for Kestrel come back and then some! He rides and rides hard to rescue her but she’s not what he expects.

The plot of this book is simple. It’s war! The atrocities, the scheming, all the information that Kestrel fed him during the last year…it all boils down to this book. I love the details that the author adds, the complexities in the relationships formed by the characters, and the brutal imagery of the scenes of war. Nothing is left to the imagination, almost all questions are answered. This is the perfect ending to the series! If you enjoyed the series thus far, you don’t want to miss the ending.

About Marie Rutkoski

Marie Rutkoski is the author of the YA novel The Shadow Society and the children's fantasy series The Kronos Chronicles, including The Cabinet of WondersThe Celestial Globeand The Jewel of the Kalderash. Her next project is a YA trilogy that begins with The Winner's Curse, which is scheduled to be published in March 2014.

Marie grew up in Bolingbrook, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago), as the oldest of four children. She holds a BA from the University of Iowa and a PhD from Harvard University. Marie is currently a professor at Brooklyn College, where she teaches Renaissance Drama, children's literature and fiction writing. She lives in New York City with her husband and two sons.

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