The Winner’s Kiss Review

Synopsis: 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?

Find my review of the first book, The Winner’s Curse, here, and the second, The Winner’s Crime, here.

Review: 1.5/5

Well, cancel 2017.

What do you rate a book when you’re saddened to your core that you finished the series, but also you didn’t enjoy it and thought it was objectively not good? WHAT DO I DO? It’s like mourning a childhood friend who turned out to be a meninist, or a My Little Pony fan, or a fan of buttered popcorn-flavored jelly beans. You know, something definitively but somewhat harmlessly Bad™.

God. Okay. Okay okay okay. I’m going to try to coalesce approximately 1,472,389 emotions into a review here. Oh this is so hard. Oh I don’t want to write this. This review might be really bad, you guys. (Also I was in denial for roughly 60% of the book about the fact that I wasn’t liking it and thereby refused to take notes. So. Really making it hard on myself.)

I’m just going to jump into it. My BIGGEST ISSUE – the type of problem that makes you scoff and turn your nose up even when you’re alone – was stupid Arin. (Yes, the one who narrates 50% of this book.) I’m furious about this. I never loved Arin, though. He’s always been a touch too angsty and obsessive. Where Kestrel balanced her growing feelings with cunning and common sense…Arin chose not to deal with that sh*t. But, you know, whatever. The surprising thing is that despite this guy creeping me out, I still lowkey shipped him and Kestrel. This book forced me to realize that I only tattooed Arin + Kestrel 5ever on my lower back supported them when they were apart. Because they don’t work well together, like, at all.

Anyway, why are they not good together, you ask? Well, it’s Arin’s dumb fault. A good relationship – okay, wait. I want to clarify here that I’m making a sweeping generalization about love in YA fantasy, NOT giving unsubstantiated relationship advice. Despite my charm, charisma, beauty, and immense skill at review-writing, I’m not qualified for that sh*t. OKAY, so a good relationship in books consists of the two characters supporting each other. Having each other’s backs. Synonyms. This is important as hell, because obviously good fantasy is action-packed and filled with kickass battle scenes. So all couples should be essentially fighting back to back and doing cool tricks where they flip and stab people or whatever. Okay, so I don’t know a lot about fighting, but I do know that Arin is never supportive of Kestrel. This book takes place during a WAR, and every time Kestrel tries to do ANYTHING he spends 20 pages moping and begging her not to go. UGH. SHE’S A BADASS. SHUT THE F*CK UP FOR ONCE ARIN.

So…I guess now I talk about Kestrel. Sigh. Her badassery got her into the exclusive club of my all-time-favorite-female characters list in the second book. The central aspect of her character is that she is not physically a badass, but her political and intelligent mind more than makes up for  it. That’s an amazing foundation for a character. That’s my dream version of myself. But…she felt reduced in this book.

BIT OF A SPOILER HERE: Kestrel starts off this book in a work camp – one thing this book did well is the work camp trope, which didn’t get too repetitive or last too long – and becomes addicted to the drugs she is force fed. This addiction causes her to lose her memory. (Shoddy science but GOD you have to accept it in YA fantasy, no?) The memory loss plotline takes forever and is so boring. It also reduces the best part of her character, which, sorry, is just a bad writing choice. And so disappears my favorite part of the last one. END SPOILER

I don’t talk about writing style a lot in reviews, and when I do, it’s usually a positive. It’s not my intention to cast blame on YA books – I goddamn love them, bro – but a lot of the YA I’ve been reading of late has been stylistically unremarkable. I think that’s an asset to young adult books, as it helps with pacing, clarity and level of difficulty. But this book was written bonkers-ly. (Yes, I just attempted to use bonkers as an adverb. What of it?!)

First off, this book was TEEMING with the world’s longest sentences. I’m talking paragraphs of just a single run-on, baby! I wasn’t even mad so much as fascinated – like, this sentence is six lines long without so much as a comma? Bananas!

What really bugged me was how overwrought it was. This isn’t the kind of overwrought I talked about in my review of I’ll Meet You There, where every single moment is emotionally significant…although there was a lot of that, too. I’m talking about the sheer amount of figurative language put to work in this book. I have never read so many similes in my life. Marie Rutkoski, don’t think I didn’t notice you say make three separate comparisons between something and an egg. And these aren’t just the usual, dumb YA similes, like “his eyes were like chocolate” or “her hair shone like gold.” Here’s an example of one I literally just found on the random page I flipped to: “A feeling floated over him like sillage from a rare perfume. He seemed to hear the tinkle of a glass stopper lifted from a tiny flacon. The release of scent. How was it possible, to smell flowers that weren’t there?” Like, um, okay. I don’t even really know what that means. A hallucination? A good smell? Both? Who can say.

Everything is profound, everything is a simile, everything is a runon. For almost 500 pages. It was EXHAUSTING. I never wanted to be angry at this book, and so getting angry at it made me even angrier. And on and on, even more egg comparisons and sweeping, tryhard generalizations about ~life~. Flipped to another random page, and: Kestrel “wondered if there was any difference between how she listened to [her father] and how Arin listened to his god.” Um, yes, many differences. Just because it sounds smart doesn’t mean it’s deep. Or accurate. Or NOT DUMB.

But this book does have one impressive thing about it: it manages to be pure, unadulterated boring while a WAR IS GOING ON. Even the battle scenes are just eh, nowhere near enough to make up for the countless pages of Kestrel and Arin making goo-goo eyes at each other. There was just so much romance in this book. I’m getting physically sick just thinking about it.

This just…got rid of everything I liked about the last one. The intrigue, the action, Kestrel’s cunning, the politics, the lack of romance, me not wanting to straight up murder Arin. I’m so, so, SO upset and I’m canceling this year. Four disappointments in a row.

Bottom line: I’m not giving this book one star only because I liked the last one SO MUCH. And I still think people should read this series. Maybe you’ll even like this book!

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