Title: The Winner's Kiss
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Release Date: March 29, 2016
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux Books for Young Readers (Macmillan imprint)
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 Kiss is a conclusion. It's weighted by determination, by anger and betrayal, by the bitter taste found on the tongue when one trusts in a lie. But it's also buoyed by a glimpse of the future, by the hope that war won't always be the answer. By the hope that one day the war will end.
I look at Arin and I see someone driven, someone searching for ways to make things right. The Valerians invaded, colonized, took everything from the Herrani and made them slaves. Now Arin fights back, leads soldiers and those hoping to regain their homes. I look at Arin and I see someone who couldn't look past his own anger, who couldn't look at Kestrel and the things she wanted to say but couldn't. Someone who wouldn't listen. It's painful, all the ways he wouldn't listen to Kestrel. Each and every time he would only see lies on her face, in her voice. But he couldn't afford to listen.
I look at Kestrel and I see a smart, determined young woman hoping to do the right thing, hoping to save those she cares about, and ending up caught by those who would wield power and control like a slavemaster would wield a whip. Without hesitation, moving smoothly and cleanly. Inflicting the most damage. Enforcing control. She's caught, punished, forced north towards a horrific work camp. But what then? I don't want to say what happens next, I don't want to give it away, but what follows for Kestrel is a rather surprising search. A look back at herself, into herself, and who she becomes on the other side.
This book is the end result. A land of war and change, the result of lies believes and truths unspoken and cast aside. The air between Arin and Kestrel is thick with regret and mistake. As heavy and dry as a mouth full of sand. But it's not the only thing between them, not the only thing that pushes them together. This had been a series of empire and war, of winners and losers, of soldiers and musicians. Of those favoured by the gods. This series has been a heavy one, with serious consequences, and the overall story is amazing. A must-read.
(I purchased a copy of this title.)