About the Book

Title: The Winner’s Kiss (The Winner’s Trilogy #3)
Published: 2016
Series: The Winner's Trilogy
Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Cover Story: Fancy Dress Controversy
BFF Charm: Let Me Love You
Talky Talk: Masterful (Mostly)
Bonus Factor: Allegiance
Ambivalence Factor: Work Camp
Relationship Status: Goodbye, My Friend

Spoiler Alert: This is Book 3 of The Winner’s Trilogy. Spoilers ahead for Book 1 and Book 2!

Cover Story: Fancy Dress Controversy

This cover concludes the trilogy of fancy dresses, but it very nearly didn’t make it to the finish line. It was originally revealed last May, but then Macmillan unveiled a new look for the entire series in December.

It’s not uncommon for paperback covers to be different from the hardcovers, as would be the case for The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime. But the hardcovers of The Winner’s Kiss would only be available with the new cover — which did not sit well with the online YA community. So much so that the change was reverted a scant few days later and the fancy dress restored.

There’s plenty of precedence for mid-series cover redesigns, much to the chagrin of readers who want all of their covers to match, but a redesign is usually an improvement. This new concept misses the mark, choosing to play up the fighting skills of a heroine who prefers battles of wit (although I think neither set is representative of Kestrel). The poses are also reaaaaaaally reminiscent of those of the Throne of Glass series (which also had redesigned covers), esp. the ones on Crown of Midnight and The Assassin’s Blade — which I get, because success spawns imitators, but Celaena is a fighter and Kestrel isn’t. While it’s great that Macmillan listened to fan feedback (and there was no delay to the release date), this commotion could have been avoided altogether. Live and learn, I guess.

With that kerfuffle out of the way, let’s get back to the once and future cover. Well… at least it matches? I’ve never been a fan of these fancy dress covers anyway, and this one is no different. It’s also a little strange that the sword is just THERE, lying on top of her dress, which just seems like negligent sword handling (not a euphemism). I prefer the UK cover with the fancy dress in green, but it’s only available in paperback (darn!).

The Deal:

After her own father turns her in for treason, Kestrel has been sent to a brutal work camp in the unforgiving tundra. Unbeknownst to Arin, of course, of both her being the Valorian spy and being imprisoned. He’s more preoccupied with the Valorian emperor’s plans to regain control of Herran and eliminate all Herrani, and he has secured an alliance with the Dacrans against their common enemy. Trust — shizz is about to go DOWN.

BFF Charm: Let Me Love You

BFF charm with teary eyes hugging a heart

Kestrel has long since cemented her status as one of my fictional BFFs, but OH MAN, she’s been put through the wringer. Now that she’s been freaking imprisoned — again, to reiterate the awfulness, thanks to Father of the Year candidate, General Trajan — she begins to lose her sense of self. But the fundamental aspects of her personality — her brilliance, her tenacity — persevere, as does my love for her. Although now it’s tinged with sadness for what she’s endured.

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Given her current predicament, Kestrel is understandably not in a headspace for swoon. And Arin still believes Kestrel’s deception that she chose her ambition and her people over him. Soooooo yeah — this relationship is in desperate need of mending when the two of them cross paths again. Dubious circumstances aside, Kestrel and Arin are just so compatible and well-matched and both so deserving of happiness that I can’t help but declare, “I WILL GO DOWN WITH THIS SHIP.”

Talky Talk: Masterful (Mostly)

Marie Rutkoski, why are you so good at words-putting-together? Keen descriptions that perfectly distill the situation, and cerebral battles that have the intensity and suspense of physical warfare. These books aren’t hurting for action, but Kestrel’s — and Rutkoski’s — battlefield of choice is the mind, and it’s an arena that they both excel at.

My only quibbles are with a particular plot device, in which the problem lies more with my own fatigue rather than its execution (highlight for spoiler: it’s amnesia), and the characters repeatedly associating suicide and self-harm with weakness and cowardice, in which the stigma of mental illness in this fantasy world just might be a little too real.

Bonus Factor: Allegiance

The interests of the Herrani and the Dacrans align — for now. But both sides will still look after their own first. Then there’s Kestrel, the girl who betrayed her country and had it betray her right back. In this time of war, though, everyone’s mettle will be tested and their true colours will eventually shine through. Which isn’t quite what Cyndi Lauper intended with that song, but I’m extrapolating.

(This is all probably barely applicable to Civil War, but 1) I didn’t want to go too historical and/or political with the image, and 2) I AM V. EXCITE FOR IT.)

Ambivalence* Factor: Work Camp

Tucked away in the desolate tundra, the Valorian work camp is like if the Soviet Gulag used drugs to subjugate its prisoners. Like, damn, Valoria — you know you’re on the wrong side of history when you’re unfavourably compared to a Soviet Gulag.

*Obvs, this concept is deplorable, but its depiction is done well.

Relationship Status: Goodbye, My Friend

Real talk, Book: I’ve been having trouble with finishing this book report and letting this series go. (I mean, it’s the end of an era!) But all stories must come to an end, and this is yours. Thank you for bringing to life a world so grand and duplicitous, and characters so captivating and unforgettable.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. I received neither money nor froyo for writing this review (dammit!). The Winner’s Kiss is available now.


Mandy (she/her) lives in Edmonton, AB. When she’s not raiding the library for YA books, she enjoys eating ice cream (esp. in cold weather), learning fancy pole dance tricks, and stanning BTS. Mandy has been writing for FYA since 2012, and she oversaw all things FYA Book Club from 2013 to 2023.