Title: The Winner’s Crime
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, Romance
Published: March 3rd 2015
Book two of the dazzling Winner’s Trilogy is a fight to the death as Kestrel risks betrayal of country for love.
The engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria’s crown prince means one celebration after another. 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… if she could only trust him. Yet can she even trust herself? For—unknown to Arin—Kestrel is becoming a skilled practitioner of deceit: an anonymous spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret.
As Arin enlists dangerous allies in the struggle to keep his country’s freedom, he can’t fight the suspicion that Kestrel knows more than she shows. In the end, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth. And when that happens, Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them.
“You have changed, Kestrel. I don’t know who you are any more. And I don’t want to.”
The Winner’s Crime is the second book in Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Trilogy. I loved the first book, except for a few minor issues. Also, I’m always wary of sequels in trilogies, as they tend not to live up to the first book’s brilliance and is just used to set things up for the final book.
The Winner’s Crime begins in the capital of Valoria, with Kestrel engaged to Prince Verex, heir to the empire. Her marriage to the prince is a bargain with the emperor that bought Herran’s freedom – a secret that Kestrel must protect all cost, even from Arin. Instead, Kestrel becomes an anonymous spy for Herran, passing information she gleans to Tensen, the Herrani minister of agriculture.
I love and admire Kestrel’s character: she’s strong and brave, but not necessarily in the way you would think. She’s not a gung-ho warrior, but she’s smart and resourceful, and uses that to survive the deadly imperial court.
“Her fierce creature of a mind: sleek and sharp-clawed and utterly unwilling to be caught.”
I admire Kestrel, because it takes strength to be able to go against the emperor, her father, and everything she’s been brought up to believe and help Herran and keep it secret. She learns to do what is right, and not just what is expected of her as a Valorian.
“There was dishonor, she decided, in accepting someone else’s idea of honor without question.”
Reading Arin’s point of view was a tumultuous mix of heartbreak, frustration and agony. He no longer trusts his instincts, for everything he once believed to be true is being turned on its head. He wants the best for his country, but a stubborn, relentless part of him still loves Kestrel, no matter what she does to make him feel otherwise.
This isn’t a book filled with sweet and romantic moments. Rather, it’s where Arin’s love for Kestrel is challenged at every turn. I was a bit frustrated when Arin just couldn’t figure what was going on right beneath his nose – and all those near-miss conversations were agony. But Arin is still just as honourable and loyal and kind, even if a bit more jaded than ever.
Rutkoski’s writing makes wonderful use of imagery and every emotion is felt deeply. Her characters are complex and real. I also like how Kestrel finds an unexpected friend in Prince Verex, rather than him becoming another love interest.
I’d always thought the world-building in the first book was lacking, but the sequel does a much better job. Rutkoski adds those tiny details – the customs, the food, the art – that makes Kestrel and Arin’s world so much more real. While I’m glad readers get to experience all the countries, and the story kept me gripped, I will admit the chapters set in Dacra didn’t interest me as much.
All in all, this book was wonderful. It had political intrigue, deadly secrets, a palpable romance and a torturous ending (talk about cliff hangers). The stakes have been upped and the characters are put even further through the wringer. It’s safe to say that The Winner’s Crime is one to get your hands on.