KiraKira Treasure Box

Random Readings: The Winner's Trilogy

Ever read a book series where you enjoyed the writing more than the actual story?

Aaaand I am back for another RR post! I've been in a little bit of a slump in reading where I just keep consuming easy romances that aren't what one would particularly describe as 'exciting.' And I know I have this huuuge list of recommendations you lovelies dropped on me after my 'Make her Queen!!' RR post, but I'm struggling to find the motivation to read any of them (sorry, please don't hit me, I have started some of them!!).
So in my reading time —which usually happens when I'm walking to flamenco lessons with my face stuck to my kindle— (yes, I have run into a few lampposts before) I decided to scroll back to the veeery beginning of my 'want to read' list and look through the YA dystopian books I was once interested in reading, back when YA dystopia felt like la crème de la crème of fiction writing to me. I was up for some adventure, some fighting, some save the world kind of stuff!! But at the same time I didn't want more Hunger Games rehashes, or your usual victim of the system who was born ready to fight the baddies... so I decided to go with Marie Rutkoski's Winner's Trilogy.

The Winner's Trilogy

 Young Adult Literature
AUTHOR: Marie Rutkoski
GENRES: Romance; War; Historical; Dystopian
TOPIC HIT? Yassss!!

Sooo as I did with my last comment on a book trilogy, I'm going to talk a bit about my overall thoughts on all three books, and then post a short spoiler talk that will be hidden under a read more function for those of you who have already read them or, well, just want to be spoiled.

The Valorian Empire is vast, and as a nation that favours war, every Valorian must choose between joining the army or marriage at their coming of age. As the daughter of a general, there are certain things that are expected from seventeen-year-old Krestel. Unfortunately her lack of fighting skill and her love for the piano don't exactly fit said expectations, and her reluctance to join the army disappoints her father greatly. Yet the prospect of marriage sounds just as terrible, and Kestrel is set on using her intellect to postpone the moment when she'll have to pick as much as she can.
The choice she makes at the market to purchase a Herrani slave named Arin, however, will set in motion something much bigger. Not only does she find a kindred spirit in him, but finds herself falling hard for the young man. But Arin has a secret of his own too, and it will set them both on an irreversible path that will culminate with an unstoppable a war between nations.
Star-crossed lovers + hate to love relationship???
Hmmmm come to mama!!

Bro, how do I begin explaining how incredibly beautiful the writing is in this trilogy is? It's flowery, but it didn't feel like wordyness for show. It's full of emotion and softness, and some of the metaphors Rutkoski slipped into the narrations had me stuck on a many pages simply admiring how breathtakingly she could portray a character's feelings. It was magical, which really brought out the religious elements in the trilogy, and for this alone, I insist you give it a go.

I feel The Winner's Trilogy is misplaced under the dystopian YA fiction category, or at least the image we have of it after stuff like The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, or the Divergent series. It is dystopian in that the society Kestrel lives in hangs from a dangerously thin thread and that it is far from perfect, but it would be more appropriate to think of it as an alternative universe, alternative history, or a high-fantasy sort of story. In truth, The Winner's Trilogy focuses on the power struggle between three nations at war  —Valoria, Herran and Dacra— in a middle-eastern sort of world, where Valoria has taken over the Herrani peninsula, made it part of its empire and enslaved its people (tu-tu-tuuun).
STILL. Though that's the blanket setting for the books, lets face it: the trilogy is mainly about the romance between Kestrel and Arin (cue the doki-dokis ➡♡♡). Though the drama on star-crossed love is cut after the first book (The Winner's Curse) ends, making way for spy games in the second book (The Winner's Crime) and then abandoning that to centre on actual war in the third book (The Winner's Kiss), the overall focus of the story is still the romance. And really, most of what happens in the books is an accessory to the romance, because even the decisions Kestrel took felt like they were ruled mainly by her feelings for Arin, not by what she thought was 'right.'
Personally I didn't mind this, because I found the story to be very run-of-the-mill dystopian stuff yet found the romance and the sentiment in Rutkoski's writing to be absolutely brilliant. However I think this might be a bit off-putting for other readers who are looking for, say, something more along the lines of the other three dystopian YA series I mentioned before, as those focus on rebellion and the strong opinions that motivate the protagonists to act against those in power. So heads up, if you're not particularly into the idea of a slow-burning romance that spans three books that pretty much steals the spotlight of the story, I advise you start walking away from this one. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I find that there are many aspects in the books worth praising. Other than the beautiful writing, I absolutely loved how Rutkoski laced religion and the divine into the story through the Herrani stories and traditions. It gave it all a very overwhelming larger-than-life feeling, and made for some excellent worldcrafting. I also liked that the protagonist, Kestrel, relied on her sharp wits to get around rather than her physical strength, showing the importance of intellect, which I feel isn't something we get much in dystopian YA fiction.
I also feel compelled to mention that there is no love triangle drama and that Rutkoski does an excellent job at showing that people can care deeply for each other without there being any romantic feelings (at laaaaaast!!!).

Spoiler Talk

Spoilers for all three books (duh!)
Click to view/hide spoiler!
I don't have much to say in my spoiler talk, because I feel that my non-spoiler comment highlights pretty much all my thoughts on the trilogy, but I have to say that the second book was my least favourite. After the build-up towards Arin's betrayal in the first book and Kestrel's consequential "revenge" (not really?), I was expecting the second book to be a lot more exciting. Instead I found the mind games between Arin and Kestrel too draw out. I really just wanted Kestrel to just tell Arin that she was actually his ally and that she was the secret spy they had at court, but they kept on going back and forth with this, with the truth never truly being revealed, and it just got boring. (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻
What I did like about the second book was Kestrel's friendship with Prince Verex, because I at first thought we'd get caught up in a love triangle with him but we didn't. We didn't!!!! And they were allies and they each had their own romantic interests and still cared for each other and it was perfect.
The cliffhanger in book two was extremely exciting, too. It was heartbreaking to see Kestrel get caught and betrayed by her own father, and it was terrifying to read through her experience in the work camp she gets sent to in book 3. AND ALL THE WHILE ARIN THE IDIOT HAS NO IDEA BECAUSE HE THINKS SHE'S EVIL. Have you any idea how much I suffered in those first chapters of book 3??? I literally stayed up until 4 A.M. because my hands were sweating and I couldn't put down the bloody book, God damn it.
Also, I feel that I must casually drop in that my absolute favourite character in the trilogy was Roshar, the eastern prince. He was witty, clever and funny, and when he came out as gay I practically jumped around my sitting room because I freaking knew it. Though I loved Roshar and Arin's friendship I suspect Roshar had a little bit of a thing for Arin, and the thought broke my heart when they said goodbye at the end of the series (´;︵;`)

Final Verdict

It's going to take me some time to get over how much I enjoyed reading this series. Though I'm still puzzled over what colour Kestrel's hair is supposed to be (really though, was it blonde? Brown? Red??), Rutkoski's exceptionally beautiful writing and the diverse world she builds is enchanting. I was incredibly satisfied with the ending, and though I do feel that the pacing of the books is rather slow, I liked the portrayal of emotions in it too much to let that affect my overall enjoyment.

If my comment piqued your interest even just a little bit, I suggest you give the first book a go!!

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Posted on: 04/02/2017

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  1. Ahhh, finally someone else who read these! It seems like we mostly agree about this series too, easily the most frustrating part for me was the Moth arc. For all that some people might complain about the romance consuming the story, I feel like the way she did it gave it time in a way a lot of YA books don't. By the end, their power imbalances have been dissolved, and they know each other in a way they didn't when things started in book 1. I also have no idea what color Kestrel's hair is supposed to be.


      And yes, I totally agree with you that the slow romance gives their relationship a quality that other YA dystopian books ton't have!


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