The Friday 56, #110: The Winner’s Kiss

The Friday 56The Friday 56 is a weekly blog meme hosted by Freda’s Voice. Join us every Friday and share an excerpt from a book you’ve been reading.

Rules:

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader.
*Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grab you.
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post here in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url. It’s that simple.

**Be sure to leave a link to your Friday 56 post in the comments!**

“Arin slunk forward on his belly and inched over the patchy grass. The wind shrilled in his ears. It whipped dirt into his eyes. He blinked it away, eyes streaming, and crept to the edge of the cliff. He heard soil crumble beneath his weight. It sifted down the cliffs.

Arin’s pulse thumped hard. He imagined the lip of the cliff giving way. He’d plummet fast.”

Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Trilogy is one of my favorite series of all time. Picking up this final book was truly bittersweet. The protagonist Kestrel is all kinds of amazing, she exhibits strength through intellect rather than physical skills, which is something I’d like to see more in fantasy books. Excerpt is taken from the third book, The Winner’s Kiss. You can read my full review here. Synopsis below is for the first book in the series, The Winner’s Curse (my review here)in order to avoid spoilers. Cover is linked to Goodreads.

Goodreads Synopsis for The Winner’s Curse:

      “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.

The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

Title: The Winner’s Kiss
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner’s Trilogy, #3
Pages: 496
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: March 29th 2016 

      “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?”

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“She fled. She couldn’t really see where she was going, couldn’t look back. Gasps tore at her throat. She stumbled, nearly fell, forced herself forward. She heard the horses stop and that was worse, because the guards must be dismounting now, they were close, and she didn’t want to know this. It could not be over.”

The Winner’s Kiss, the final book in Marie Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy, is an emotional and riveting conclusion to one of my favorite fantasy series. Rutkoski’s protagonist Kestrel has always been one of my favorite lead characters. She embodies strengths we don’t typically focus on when we speak of strong female characters. She isn’t a warrior, though she’s been raised among them; she has no desire to fight, though her country of Valoria prizes itself on its battle-ready philosophy; and she has continually been drawn to the Herrani culture, though she’s been taught that as a conquered nation they are beneath her. Her greatest strength is her capacity to strategize, to outwit and outmaneuver her opponent. But she’s learned that she can’t win every mental battle, that despite her intelligence, sometimes experience outweighs a crafty move. Kestrel has had her entire world ripped out from under her, she’s used others and been used herself. At the end of the second book, Kestrel is betrayed by someone close to her and given into the hands of Valoria’s nefarious emperor. The Kestrel of this novel is not the same Kestrel from the first two books. She’s been betrayed, broken and left completely abandoned. She has been unmade and remade into a woman who, despite the evil done to her, is stronger and more determined than ever. She makes choices that may surprise some readers, but she still remains that stubborn, intelligent girl we met in the first book.

Arin has undergone his own transformation. In the second book, he was torn between leading his people and trying to understand Kestrel’s betrayal, but at the beginning of the final installment, he has committed himself fully to the cause. With Valoria on his doorstep, Arin has formed an alliance with the nation of Dacra. He knows the risk, that the queen may take Herran for her own when all is said and done, but his determination to defeat Valoria and take back what was once lost outweights this risk. I feel that this novel gives the most insight into who Arin is and how the collapse of Herran and the injustices done to his people are echoed in every decision he makes. There is a ruthlessness in Arin that we haven’t seen before, it propels him forward and sometimes gives way to a scary kind of recklessness. He also deals with the unwanted adoration of his fellow Herrani, who believe that Arin has been blessed by the gods themselves. His relationship with the Dacra prince Roshar is equal parts frustrating and rewarding. Roshar understand the politics of leading a nation and pushes Arin to embrace his role. Of all the minor characters, Roshar is by far my favorite and he probably deserves a novel of his own.

Both Arin and Kestrel have faced difficult decisions throughout this series; they’ve continually been torn between each other and their respective nations. I’ve always found that their characters, despite their difference in opinion on various subjects, compliment each other so well. There’s always been mutual respect and equality. There’s a give-and-take aspect to their relationship that doesn’t feel like one is giving more than the other. One of the underlying issues between the two is Kestrel’s privileged life as a Valorian, which comes at the expense of the Arin’s people. Kestrel has grown up in an environment that made it easy to ignore Valoria’s wrongdoings. Arin has never had such a privilege, he has lived everyday with the knowledge of the horrors committed against the Herrani. They taunt him, bring him shame as well as courage. Kestrel’s journey makes it impossible for her to make excuses for her people, she learns to accept her own role in ignoring what was happening around her and it is for this reason that she presses forward.

The Winner’s Kiss is a gratifying conclusion to a beautifully written series. Rutkoski continues to develop her characters, challenging their capacity to remain true to themselves in the midst of adversity and it will be a long while before I recover fully from reading it.

Rating: 5/5

★★★★★

The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski

Title: The Winner’s Crime
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner’s Trilogy, #2

To stop the Valorian emperor from crushing the rebellion in the Herran peninsula, Kestrel has convinced the ruthless leader to cede the land to the Herrani people in exchange for fealty. To ensure this treaty, Kestrel has agreed to marry the heir to the Valorian throne, Prince Verex. As Kestrel tries to adapt to life at the palace, she quickly discovers the emperor is a skilled manipulator and in this new environment where anyone can be working for him, Kestrel must use her own strategic skills to stay one step ahead. Despite the confining circumstances, Kestel agrees to play spy for a Herran dignitary, but the more she discovers, the closer she gets to being caught and Kestrel may not be the only one who pays for her treachery.

“Kestrel set the soldier back on the shelf. She made certain her voice was clear when she spoke her last words before leaving the room. ‘If you won’t be my friend, you’ll regret being my enemy.'”

Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse was one of my favorite books from 2014 and this sequel is so devastating good, I’m bursting with love. Full of sly characters and mounting tension, The Winner’s Crime is a thrilling story of being caught between your head and your heart. Kestrel has used herself as a bargaining chip to secure Herran’s freedom, but what she doesn’t realize is she’s entered into a dangerous game with the emperor that she isn’t fully prepared for. Every conversation the emperor has with Kestrel is perilous, every word calculated, every question a test. What makes it worse is Kestrel’s situation, she cannot risk telling others, including Arin, and the isolation weighs heavily upon her shoulders.

Arin struggles with Kestrel’s decision while simultaneously trying to find a solution to his people’s weakening economy. The emperor has placed a stringent tax on the Herran people that surpasses their means. Despite their new freedom, most Valorians continue to treat the Herrani with contempt, including their new governor. Arin is desperate to help his people and his frustration is further aggravated by Kestrel’s refusal to help. It is this strained relationship that is the most devastating part of this book. Arin is unaware of Kestrel’s motives behind her future marriage to the prince and Kestrel must convince Arin of her disinterest in order to keep them both alive.

The Winner’s Crime widens our understanding of Rutkoski’s world. We learn more about the Valorians and the leader behind their “Manifest Destiny” philosophy. We also get a glimpse of the land to the east, Dacra, the next territory the emperor is set on conquering. There were a couple of characters whose stories I wanted to hear more about, including the Dacra princess, Risha, who was raised alongside Prince Verex. I’m hoping she gets more page time in the next book. I am really struggling with the knowledge that I’m going to have to wait a year before I find out how this series concludes and may I just say that Kestrel has earned my unwavering loyalty at the conclusion of this book.

Rating: 5/5

★★★★★

The Re-Read Challenge: February Recap

The 2015 Re-Read Challenge
The Re-Read Challenge is hosted by Belle of the Literati and So Obsessed With. While I originally intended to only reread twelve books this year, in which case I would only reread one book per month, I somehow ended up rereading two books yet again for the month. Both of these books have sequels being released in March, so I wanted to revisit them before I read the sequels.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

WHEN I First Read:
I read Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina two and a half years ago when it was first released. I can’t believe it’s been so long!
 
WHAT I Remember:
I remember dragons, music and a rather bittersweet ending.
 
WHY I Wanted to Re-Read:
Finally, the sequel, Shadow Scale, is being released and it’s been a very long time, so I really needed to reread this one.
 
HOW I Felt After Re-Reading:
In awe of its sheer brilliance, in love with the world Rachel Hartman has built.

WOULD I Re-Read Again: 
Yes. This book is just fantastic and who doesn’t love dragons?
You can read my reviews for this book and its sequel here: Seraphina and Shadow Scale.
~~~
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

WHEN I First Read:
I read The Winner’s Curse last May after a spur-of-the-moment purchase.

WHAT I Remember:
Kestel. I remember how impressed I was with this protagonist. She’s brilliant and soft-hearted and I just loved her.

WHY I Wanted to Re-Read:
The sequel, The Winner’s Crime, is coming out next week, so I wanted to reread this before then.

HOW I Felt After Re-Reading: 
Although I remember how good this book was, I forgot how painful it was too! I continue to be impressed with Kestrel, but feel that I have a much better understanding of Arin as well. The Winner’s Curse isn’t about a good side and a bad side. It’s so easy to see both sides and the chasm between Kestrel and Arin is not about what they want but who they are.

WOULD I Re-Read Again:
Yes. It was just as good the second time around. I reviewed this book last May, which you can read here.

Are you taking part in the Re-Read Challenge? Have you reread any books lately?