SERIES REVIEW: The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski is a stunning, fast-paced trilogy loaded with action, political intrigue and romance. Taking place in the conquered territory of the Empire, The Winner’s Trilogy follows the stories of Kestrel, the daughter of the General who conquered the Herrani people, and Arin, a Herrani slave who seeks to reinstate his once proud people as the rulers of their own lands.

The Winner's Trilogy

The Winner’s Curse

Winning what you want may cost you everything you love… They were never meant to be together. As a general’s daughter, seventeen-year-old Kestrel enjoys an extravagant and privileged life. Arin has nothing but the clothes on his back. Then Kestrel makes an impulsive decision that binds Arin to her. Though they try to fight it, they can’t help but fall in love. In order to be together, they must betray their people . . . but to be loyal to their country, they must betray each other. Set in a new world, The Winner’s Curse is a story of rebellion, duels, ballroom dances, wicked rumors, dirty secrets, and games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

The Winner’s Curse immediately caught my attention with it’s dark, complex society of slaves and rulers; especially since Kestrel immediately appeared opposed to the practice of keeping and buying slaves, despite her father’s position and her otherwise deference to the social order. She ends up buying Arin not because she needs a slave, but because of her love for music, because the slaver, Cheat, says that Arin can sing. Kestrel is a study in opposites – small defiances hidden by general submission. Kindness hidden by a cold, hard demeanor. Rebellion hidden by a stoic facade. Arin, for his part, is a dashing and dark slave with a bucket-load of secrets, the least of which is his association with the Herrani rebels. However, he and Kestrel quickly become fast friends, and are evidently leaning towards being something more when Arin becomes party to the ultimate betrayal – a rebellion that seeks to destroy Kestrel’s way of life. As Kestrel struggles to stay alive, and Arin struggles to regain her trust and prove his feelings for her, the two find themselves at impossible odds, with impossible decisions to make.

As individuals, I really enjoyed both Kestrel and Arin’s characters. However, what was even more satisfying was the fact that they didn’t simply fall in love and run away – they stayed beholden to their responsibilities, and Rutkoski made it quite clear that their was no easy way out of their predicament – forcing Kestrel to leave Arin behind, despite her own personal interests, and breaking Arin’s heart.

I also enjoyed Kestrel and Jess’ friendship – strong, female relationships are so rare in Ya Fantasy! However, I was quickly disappointed when Kestrel pushed Jess away (in favour of Arin). Rutkoski somewhat redeemed the friendship through Kestrel’s determination to save her friend, but the damage was done, and I no longer felt any real attachment to their friendship, since it is evidently as flimsy as the wind.

Overall, The Winner’s Curse was a solid start to the trilogy, introducing strong characters, significant conflicts, and drawing the battle lines quite clearly. I was quite interested to see where Rutkoski would take Kestrel and Arin, and could barely wait to  pick up The Winner’s Crime! (4/5)

 

The Winner's Curse

The Winner’s Crime

Following your heart can be a crime… A royal wedding is what most girls dream about. It means one celebration after another: balls, fireworks, and revelry until dawn. 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: that she agreed to marry the crown prince in exchange for Arin’s freedom. But can Kestrel trust Arin? Can she even trust herself? For Kestrel is becoming very good at deception. She’s working as a spy in the court. If caught, she’ll be exposed as a traitor to her country. Yet she can’t help searching for a way to change her ruthless world . . . and she is close to uncovering a shocking secret. This dazzling follow-up to The Winner’s Curse reveals the high price of dangerous lies and untrustworthy alliances. The truth will come out, and when it does, Kestrel and Arin will learn just how much their crimes will cost them.

Following the events at the end of The Winner’s Curse, Kestrel finds herself tied up in the Empire’s twisted court without a friend in sight, while Arin struggles to support his people against the growing oppression of the Empire. Kestrel is unfamiliar with the games at court, but she refuses to concede defeat – even if it means sacrificing her own freedom and happiness to do so. Arin, for his part, isn’t ready to give up on Kestrel, believing that there is more to her decisions than he understands. Both quickly find themselves drowning in a game they don’t understand, up against impossible odds and daunting dangers. Then, Kestrel discovers a shocking secret that changes everything – even her own allegiance.

While I didn’t love The Winner’s Crime as much as a loved The Winner’s Curse, it was certainly a well-written book, riddled with the same political intrigue, romance and adventure as its predecessor. Unfortunately, as I had suspected, Kestrel and Jess’ friendship all but vanished in this book, with Rutkoski completing dropping the narrative of a female friendship. But Kestrel’s loss of Jess’ friendship was more than that – it symbolizes her fall from grace, her choice to turn her back on her people, who she now understands to be wrong. Kestrel and Arin’s romance/relationship was also complicated in this one – it was pretty much non-existent, pining for one another and Arin’s outbursts not included. Kestrel’s choice, and her subsequent fate at the end of this book lead me to believe there’s more to come for the two star-crossed lovers though. Finally, I just wanted to add that I was glad that Rutkoski avoided the love triangle trope here- she had the opportunity to throw it in, what with Kestrel’s imminent marriage, but instead chose to have everyone remain faithful to their existing relationships.

Overall, The Winner’s Curse was a good book; Rutkoski avoided some cliche YA tropes, while creating an engaging plot filled to the brim with intrigue and danger (3.5/5).

The Winner's Crime

The Winner’s Kiss

War has begun. Arin is in the thick of it, with the East as his ally and the empire as his enemy. He’s finally managed to dismiss the memory of Kestrel, even if he can’t quite forget her. Kestrel turned into someone he could no longer recognize: someone who cared more for the empire than for the lives of innocent people-and certainly more than she cared for him. At least, that’s what he thinks. But far north lies a work camp where Kestrel is a prisoner. Can she manage to escape before she loses herself? As the war intensifies, both Kestrel and Arin discover unexpected roles in battle, terrible secrets, and a fragile hope. The world is changing. The East is pitted against the West, and Kestrel and Arin are caught between. In a game like this, can anybody really win? The Winner’s Kiss brings a stunning conclusion to the irresistible romance between Kestrel and Arin and the crippling war that has torn about their world in the Winner’s trilogy, by Marie Rutkoski.

Kestrel is trapped, and slowly losing herself to despair, and a drug designed to destroy her. Arin is aimless, fighting a war without any real cause, oblivious to the fact that Kestrel is slowly slipping away – soon, the rumours of her death won’t be exaggerated. After what seems like an eternity of willful ignorance, Arin realizes the truth and races to save Kestrel, only to find her mind seemingly destroyed and her memories gone. As Kestrel tries to piece together her life, and fill in the holes in her life, Arin loses himself, piece by piece, as he gives himself to the war, and to the girl who barely remembers him. It’s breathtakingly sad, even heartbreaking, to see the two finally together, but with a seemingly impossible void between them.

However, as Kestrel heals, she slowly finds her way back to Arin, who would do anything to help the girl he loves regain herself, even if it means losing her. But there are secrets – forgotten by Kestrel – that even Arin doesn’t know. Soon, the two find themselves in the heart of the war, plotting the downfall of the Empire, while all the while, Kestrel’s memory slips back into place, and she must make some difficult decisions.

I loved how sweet Kestrel and Arin’s relationship was in The Winner’s Kiss. Right from the moment he rescues her, Arin is willing to do anything Kestrel needs, even if it means giving her up. He’s primarily concerned with her well-being, pushing his feelings for her aside in order to make sure her needs are met. Then, as Kestrel’s memories start to return and the two drift together, Arin is hesitant, and sweet, but still willing to give Kestrel the time she needs to find her own way, rather than forcing his feelings upon her.

Overall, The Winner’s Kiss was, at its core, a story about love and finding oneself – the war was more of a side story in comparison. However, like its predecessors, The Winner’s Kiss did have lots of political intrigue and action, only this time, they weren’t the guiding motivations behind the plot. I enjoyed seeing these two selfless characters finally be selfish, and make decisions for themselves, rather than for the ideals of their people (5/5).

The Winner's Kiss

Overall, The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski is certainly worth the read. It’s got everything you could want – political intrigue, romance and action – all balanced quite wonderfully, and woven into a complex, but not confusing plot that will leave readers wanting to know how it all ends. So if you haven’t read it yet, it’s time to pick up The Winner’s Curse and give it a try!

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To Be Read: April 2017

Last month, I made it my goal to cut my To Be Read List down to 5 books (it had gotten more than a little bit out of control). This meant a book buying ban (with 3 exceptions – oops) and some intense reading binges! However, I am proud to say that I achieved this goal – I currently only have 5 books on my bookshelf/on my Kindle that I have not read yet!

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That being said, as a result of some new releases, an ARC, and my general lack of control when it comes to books, my April TBR is a bit longer than 5 books!

  1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  2. The Alchemists of Loom by Elise Kova
  3. Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini
  4. Assassin’s Heart by Sarah Ahiers
  5. The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski
  6. Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves
  7. Shadowcaster by Cinda Williams Chima
  8. Wicked Like Wildfire (ARC) by Lana Popovic

I’m also planning on re-reading A Court of Thorns and Roses and A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J Maas, in preparation for the release of A Court of Wings in Ruin on May 2nd!

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Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton

Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton, released in North America on March 14th, 2017, is the highly anticipated sequel to Rebel of the SandsTraitor to the Throne is a sizzling, un-put-downable sequel that immediately grabs the reader’s attention, and refuses to let go. Hamilton once again demonstrates her prowess for story-telling, creating a beautifully written tale, lined with action, betrayal and romance.

Mere months ago, gunslinger Amani al’Hiza fled her dead-end hometown on the back of a mythical horse with the mysterious foreigner Jin, seeking only her own freedom. Now she’s fighting to liberate the entire desert nation of Miraji from a bloodthirsty sultan who slew his own father to capture the throne. When Amani finds herself thrust into the epicenter of the regime—the Sultan’s palace—she’s determined to bring the tyrant down. Desperate to uncover the Sultan’s secrets by spying on his court, she tries to forget that Jin disappeared just as she was getting closest to him, and that she’s a prisoner of the enemy. But the longer she remains, the more she questions whether the Sultan is really the villain she’s been told he is, and who’s the real traitor to her sun-bleached, magic-filled homeland. Forget everything you thought you knew about Miraji, about the rebellion, about djinni and Jin and the Blue-Eyed Bandit. In Traitor to the Throne, the only certainty is that everything will change.

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Flamecaster by Cinda Williams Chima

Set in the world of the Seven Realms series, a generation later, Flamecaster by Cinda Williams Chima is a tale of magic, danger, espionage, and daring teens toeing the line between life and death as they push back at their oppressor. Flamecaster is a stunning debut to a new series by Cinda Williams Chima, picking up a quarter decade after the concluding events of the Seven Realms series. Cleverly written, and well executed, with just the right amount of intrigue and action, Flamecaster is not to be missed.

Adrian sul’Han, known as Ash, is a trained healer with a powerful gift of magic—and a thirst for revenge. Ash is forced into hiding after a series of murders throws the queendom into chaos. Now he’s closer than ever to killing the man responsible, the cruel king of Arden. With time running out, Ash faces an excruciating choice: Can he use his powers not to save a life but to take it? Abandoned at birth, Jenna Bandelow was told that the magemark on the back of her neck would make her a target. But when the King’s Guard launches a relentless search for a girl with a mark like hers, Jenna assumes that it has more to do with her role as a saboteur than any birth-based curse. Though Jenna doesn’t know why she’s being hunted, she knows that she can’t get caught. Eventually, Ash’s and Jenna’s paths will collide in Arden. Thrown together by chance and joined by their hatred of the ruthless king, they will come to rescue each other in ways they cannot yet imagine (Summary from chapters.indigo.ca).

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A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

The review contains some spoilers 0 read at your own discretion. 

I’ll be honest, I was hesitant about this book, unsure of what to expect. I was immediately worried by the fact that half of the book synopsis focused on the “handsome young men” Henrietta would meet and her relationships with them. Yet the intrigue of magic and an alternate Victorian England was simply too much, so of course I picked A Shadow Bright and Burning up, despite my reservations.

Henrietta Howel can burst into flames. Forced to reveal her power to save a friend, she’s shocked when instead of being executed, she’s invited to train as one of Her Majesty’s royal sorcerers. Thrust into the glamour of Victorian London, Henrietta is declared the chosen one, the girl who will defeat the Ancients, bloodthirsty demons terrorizing humanity. She also meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, handsome young men eager to test her power and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her. But Henrietta Howel is not the chosen one. As she plays a dangerous game of deception, she discovers that the sorcerers have their own secrets to protect. With battle looming, what does it mean to not be the one? And how much will she risk to save the city—and the one she loves?

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Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

You can find my review for Six of Crows here. In addition, you can also find a series review for Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy here.

“No mourners, no funerals. Another way of saying good luck. But it was something more. A dark wink to the fact that there would be no expensive burials for people like them, no marble markers to remember their names, no wreaths of myrtle and rose.” – Leigh Bardugo (Crooked Kingdom, page 266).

Crooked Kingdom has been one of my most anticipated fall releases (along with Empire of Storms by Sarah J Maas), so of course I picked it up as soon as it hit shelves. I did, however, force myself to read this one more slowly than I would have liked, simply because I know I’ll be waiting awhile for anything else of this quality, or anything else from Bardugo for that matter. Crooked Kingdom was everything I wanted from the second book in this duology, and then some. As with it’s predecessor, the characters were perfect, and the story was so twisted and unexpected that it was hard to put the book down.

Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets-a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.

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A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

This review may contain minor spoilers- I have done my best to avoid spoilers whenever possible, however I may have let little details slip here or there!

After the tumultuous finale of An Ember in the Ashes, I, like most readers, couldn’t wait to get my hands on A Torch Against the Night. I simply needed to know where it was all going, and I simply needed more of Laia, Elias and Helen (no, I don’t, and never have, liked Keenan). So, as expected, I headed over to my local bookstore and picked this up the day it came out (they were actually still putting them out on the “New Releases” shelf when I showed up). But let me tell you – the wait was worth it – because this book is absolute perfection.

Elias and Laia are running for their lives. Following the events of the Fourth Trial, an army led by Masks hunts the two fugitives as they escape the city of Serra and journey across the vast lands of the Martial Empire. Laia is determined to break into Kauf—the Empire’s most secure and dangerous prison—and save her brother, whose knowledge of Serric steel is the key to the Scholars’ future. And Elias is determined to stay by Laia’s side…even if it means giving up his own chance at freedom. But Elias and Laia will have to fight every step of the way if they’re going to outsmart their enemies: the bloodthirsty Emperor Marcus, the merciless Commandant, the sadistic Warden of Kauf, and, most heartbreaking of all, Helene—Elias’s former friend and the Empire’s newest Blood Shrike. Helene’s mission is horrifying, unwanted, and clear: find the traitor Elias Veturius and the Scholar slave who helped him escape…and kill them both.

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MINI REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany

I’ll be honest, I’ll forever be disappointed that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child isn’t a novel, but instead a screenplay. I won’t complain too much though, because it’s a new Harry Potter story and its a wonderful story. First and foremost, this book is a story about a son, Albus Severus, coming to terms with the legacy of his father, Harry Potter, and coping with its inevitable impact on his life. It’s a coming of age story, and a story of the relationship between father and son.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children. While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted.  As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

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The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

After reading Six of Crows, I could hardly wait to get my hands on The Grisha Trilogy. I have no idea how I hadn’t come across these books before, since they’re right up my alley, and absolutely fantastic! In this series review, I’ll be providing a summary and mini-review of each of the three novels in the Trilogy, as well as my overall thoughts on the trilogy. Please note that the reviews for the sequels may contain unintentional spoilers for earlier books, as certain plot points from earlier books may be touched upon

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