Words do not describe how much I love this series. They’re the kind of books that take me back to exactly where I was when I was reading them. They’re a treasure of symbolism and theme and I could just go on and on.
Since this is a fangirl-ish post, I’m not going to do a huge series recap. Most of this content is meant for those who have read the stories before, so be WARNED. THERE ARE DEFINITELY SPOILERS AHEAD.
Whenever I hit a reading slump I tend to turn to my old favorites. I find a home in rediscovering the beauty of an old world I loved. I remember that the magic of books and escape exists. When I started my re-read of these books I was in one of those slumps.
I read these in a series of days and loved it so much that after it was over I immediately picked book one back up again to go through them again. If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is.
My particular taste lies with massive fantasy world stakes, but also romantic stakes. This is one of the things I adore in YA. The way these stories tend to balance romance with actual world and plot. With this particular series I think it is more heavy on the romance, but it still meets all of my requirements and does it so excellently it takes my breath away.
To be a five star read from me, a book has to make me feel the angst of a relationship. Rutkoski does tension and missed opportunities So. Well.
“The God of Lies loves you.”-The Winner’s Curse
My heart aches for Arin during Kestrels lies. My heart aches for Kestrel during Kestrels lies.
Themes of winning and losing run so rampant through this series. Both in the actual world plot of the war between Herran and Valoria, and in the emotional stakes of the characters.
This series has the reader truly examine the layers of how one can win and lose at the same time. Examples of this are absolutely littered throughout the series:
- Kestrel literally wins Arin in an auction at the opening of the book, but in doing so let’s a dangerous rebel informant into the General’s home.
- Arin wins Kestrels love, but he loses because there is no way he can not go to war with her country, which buries her affection for him under layers of complication.
- Kestrel wins Herran’s freedom (and secures Arin’s country) by accepting a deal with Valoria’s emperor and so she loses Arin.
- Arin wins his country by losing Kestrel.
All of this against a backdrop of Kestrel’s relationship with her father. A man who doesn’t have to win her love, who has it unequivocally at the beginning of the series. You would think this makes him the winner in the straight Arin vs. General Trajan choice but it produces layers of complication.
Another thing that blows me away is the parallel between the start of the series and the end of the series being tied into rigged games. They both revolve around going into a situation with the players not knowing the trap that has been set up for them.
“You cheated. How could you cheat and still lose? “-The Winner’s Kiss
I love this line. The beginning of this series is about her losing even though she won the auction. And here at the end it’s very fitting that the emperor loses while also winning the literal game of Bite and Sting. THE BEAUTIFUL PARALLELS. They were both. Set. Up. Ahdjcojek. Beautiful. Its stunning.
“A tree is a tree.”
“A tree is not a tree.”-The Winner’s Kiss
Things aren’t always as they seem. In The Winner’s Kiss upon seeing Risha and understanding a common feeling they have Kestrel wishes to cleave it off and for them to both examine this feeling. To compare it with another.
And that’s just my fangirling about the themes of the story. LETS TALK ABOUT THE CHARACTERS.
Kestrel the hot mess. Who does a lot of sacrificing of herself. I love the dynamic between father and daughter. She truly loves him and tries to choose him over Arin, but fails. The General, and the world she is in, doesn’t truly make it possible for her to pick both. Then she is left to choose what her morals tell her is right, which is that her country isn’t very noble.
Part of what takes my breath away in the middle book in this series are the constant missed connections. Kestrel lies at all the wrong moments, Arin believes her at all the wrong moments, other characters interfere in the communication of truth. It’s all too much. I read that book on a road trip to Chicago and I can still remember gasping when Arin wrenches a pen out of Kestrel’s hand when she was trying to write him a message she could not speak.
Good lord let’s talk about Arin.
There is so much I love about his character. I love that he doesn’t back down from his cause even after growing closer to Kestrel. He is shown as an emotional character, which is something I think is important for teens to see. A problem I have with the packaging is that the covers and marketing are very much geared towards girls. Like, look at those covers, what boy is going to pick up a girls in dresses cover? Not many. But these are books I would read with my daughters and sons. I would go so far as to tell them as bedtime stories.
Arin is noble and ruthless all in one.
“Arin was becoming the sort of person her father admired. Remorseless. Able to make a decision, walk though it, and close it behind him.”-The Winner’s Curse
He feeeeeels. A. Lot. And that is what I love about the story. It is what endears him to me. He second guesses. Over thinks himself to no end. He is so close to the right thing but then doesn’t want to make a mistake. I love it. The tension built in the series is masterful. This is what I would hope to craft my own stories to be like.
Arin who is melodramatic AF in The Winner’s Kiss when Kestrel has been badly injured, both mentally and physically.
“Will she live?”
“Gods Arin, pull yourself together.”-The Winner’s Kiss
SARSINE. The beautiful good soul. She has been through so much and is still capable of such grace. I cant imagine going through the things she does and come out with the patience and love she manages for Arin let alone Kestrel. Kestrel who’s father is General Trajan and directly responsible for the murder and enslavement of her people. Sarsine is absolutely pure and good and I admire her so much.
I’m super awkward around authors. For some reason I get super shy and just become all around nervous, But when I met Marie I worked up the courage to tell her that I felt her story had one of the best endings I’ve ever read. She told me she had known for a long time that was the last scene she wanted it to end on.
During my re-read I had forgotten this conversation and wondered why she had written “Ready?” In the inscription of the last book. And now I cant remember if she wrote it before or after I told her I loved the ending. It is something I really treasure out of my personalized copies collection. When authors write something that really resonated with you in the book, it makes it that much better.
For me, these books are a wonderful example of what I aspire to be. The writing is beautiful, the characters all fly off the page, moral concepts are explored and examined from both sides… ahhh I just cannot share my enthusiasm of these books enough.
I have also found out the Marie will be returning to the world of these characters next year in a new book (I’m not sure if it is a series or not) and I lost my mind when I found out. If you’re interested in learning more about that story, you can add it on Goodreads here.
Fangirl Friday is something I’m trying to put out there for myself and others. So much hype is put around new stories and new releases that sometimes we lose sight of our timeless favorites. With each post in this series I hope to highlight those stories, the things I love about them, the details that didn’t get lost on me, and hopefully share the love.