May 12, 2016
At the end of Book 2, Kestrel had just been betrayed by her father to the emperor, and sentenced to life in a work camp up in the frozen tundra. Book 3 opens with Arin not knowing any of this, instead returning to Herran with his new allies from the Eastern empire, the Dacrans, fearing what he might find out about Kestrel's betrayal. However, as he's soon to find out, she is imprisoned in a mining camp, digging for the raw materials for the explosive black powder the Valorians need to wage war on their enemies. She's never betrayed him at all, and this wrenching discovery ultimately brings Arin and Kestrel back together, this time as allies against everything she once held dear.
Observations: I like stories in which the characters succeed against difficult odds, get slammed down again and again only to ultimately rise in triumph. At the same time, it bothers me when a character is all ABOUT suffering and defeat, with no room left over for even the smallest of victories; I find it suffocating and disheartening. This trilogy, and the concluding book in particular, strike the right balance for me in general, even if I did want to give Arin a little smack upside the head now and then for being so willing to assume Kestrel would betray him.
Besides being a novel about love and betrayal, this is also a book about war (in many ways I'd call it a War Novel, actually), and it doesn't pull any punches about the terrible cost in terms of loss of life, people turning against one another, and the ravaging of the land itself. I credit the author's excellent research into the great and terrible wars of history, as well as the details of life during the Classical period and other past eras. Borrowing real-life details gives the story a richness and believability that is almost tangible, and as a writer working on some world building right now, I am in awe.
Conclusion: This is a very well written and deeply plotted trilogy that's in a genre I'd call "fantasy without magic"—an imaginary setting, but a world in which the rules (and the inhabitants) are very much like our own. As with all great fantasy, magic or not, it makes the reader think about this world a little differently.
I received my copy of this book as a birthday present. You can find THE WINNER'S KISS by Marie Rutkoski at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!