Book Review: The Winner’s Crime – Marie Rutkoski

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Title: The Winner’s Crime (2015)
Series: The Winner’s Trilogy – Book 2
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Genre: Young Adult, Historical, Fantasy
Extent: 416 pages
Release Date: March 3, 2015
Rating: ★★★★☆

Goodreads Description

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.

Review

I picked up The Winner’s Crime right after finishing The Winner’s Curse (thank god for e-books), and… what do you know, tensions are thicker, stakes are higher, our characters more developed. This review contains spoilers for the first book, so please turn back if you haven’t read that yet and plan to. 🙂

The story picks up right at the end of The Winner’s Curse, where Kestrel is living in court as the future Empress, engaged to the Emperor’s son and navigating life as pretty much a prisoner: one wrong step and she’ll likely be dead. Meanwhile, Arin is facing struggles as the Herran leader — his people are starving, crops are dying, and the taxes are killing whatever money they could make. It’s only when Kestrel invites Arin for her engagement party that the two finally meet.

Seeing as our leads are in separate places for most of the book, you’d think there’s less romance, but what’s in place is a lot (and I mean a lot) of pining for one another. I think this is where the book dips for me — it’s already extremely clear that these two really miss each other and can’t be together given their positions in life, and after a while, the angst loses its impact on me. It’s tedious, it’s unnecessary, and it made the pacing sluggish.

“Like she had broken her own heart. Kestrel felt the pieces of her heart suddenly, as if love had been an object, something as frail as a bird’s egg, its shell an impossible cloudy pink. She saw the shock of its bloody yolk. She felt the shards of shell pricking her throat and lungs.”

Secondly, I already didn’t like Arin in Curse, and unfortunately my opinion of him lowered with this book. I found him broodier than before, more reckless, more quick to anger. It frustrated me that when Kestrel was doing her best and using her smarts to navigate the perilous situation she was now in, Arin simply ignored it all and pushed her boundaries — the boundaries she had set to save them both.

Kestrel, meanwhile, is as great as she was in the first book: cunning, manipulative, a brilliant strategist… except with a darker edge this time, as she was planning on a wider scale, with higher stakes. Her love for Arin, however, made her reckless — she did a number of quite stupid things in the name of romance, and I was often more frustrated than touched by these actions.

He said, “How can the inconsequence of your life not shame you?”

He said, “How do you not feel empty?”

I do, she thought as she pushed through the library doors and let them thud behind her. I do.

Some of the secondary characters shone more in this book than the previous one. A new face to the cast is Kestrel’s fiance, Prince Verex, who I really liked. At first he came across as standoffish, but he actually has a good heart. Kestrel’s father also made an appearance and played a bigger, more important role this time — I still loved his relationship with Kestrel and enjoyed reading about their clashing positions and personal desires.

The Winner’s Crime contains more political intrigue and warfare than the previous book. Rutkoski has obviously done a lot of research on war strategies and included many interesting ones in this story and to me, this is where the story really shines and becomes truly unique, different than other YA fiction out there.

The world-building is also still solid and now includes the Dracan — yet another race, another kingdom, involved in this political war. I love how they were contrasted against the Herrani and the Valorian; for example, unlike the Herrani (who burn their dead) and the Valorian (who bury their dead), the Dracan carve their dead into stone. These little details make the setting that much more vivid in my mind.

“I’m going to miss you when I wake up,” she whispered, because she realized that she must have fallen asleep under the sun. Arin was too real for her imagination. He was a dream.

“Don’t wake up,” he said.

At the heart of it, The Winner’s Crime was a captivating, thrilling read. I still feel like the romance stole the spotlight more often than it should, but Rutkoski’s writing style is as elegant and beautiful as always, and it was a delight to see the plot take a nastier, darker turn. 😛

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21 thoughts on “Book Review: The Winner’s Crime – Marie Rutkoski

      • Oh, I see what you mean. I know she is trying to protect him, but sometimes he’d give her all these opportunities to just say that, and she would be so mean to him. Then her heart would break when he couldn’t see it. You need to read the final book. I think it redeems all her actions…but at least you see the strength in her character. And one thing she most definitely is, is strong.

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        • Haha, yeah! I feel like she was always afraid someone was going to find out (as she should be), so she kept pushing him away. 😛

          I’ve actually read the final book! I actually didn’t mind any of her actions so I thought there was no need for ~redemption~, but OMG, the conditions at the mine were just terrible, I was horrified. She’s definitely one of the strongest (and smartest) protagonists I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about.

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  1. Great review Reg! I’m really glad you enjoyed this book as well and I can’t wait to see your thoughts on the last in the series! 😀
    I enjoyed the fact that this book focused more on the polical side of things and how both Kestrel and Arin tried to play with strategy and politics without making it look like they were fighting back. I really loved Kestrel in this book, I thought she played the game with the emperor really well and it was only events outside of her control that kind of ruined it a little. I felt so sorry for her by the end of the book though and I remember being really glad I had the last book on hand because I would not have been able to handle that cliffhanger if I’d read The Winner’s Crime when it was first released and I had to wait god knows how long for The Winner’s Kiss!
    I can’t wait to see your review for The Winner’s Kiss! 😀

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    • I loved Kestrel too! For me she was definitely the highlight of this whole series – I really like how smart she was and how she was focused on just keeping everyone safe as much as she could. Like, she didn’t let her ~feelings~ get in the way, and I just thought that was refreshing. 😛

      Thanks, Beth! I’m super slow with publishing my reviews as usual… that cliffhanger was KILLER and I thank god ebooks are a thing now because I could just jump straight into the next book like that. *snaps fingers*

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  2. I’m so glad you enjoyed this book, probably more than the first? Because it’s definitely one of my favorite series of ever 😛 but ohhh I so agree with you with Arin being so reckless and put everything Kestrel had done in jeopardy! Resulting in Kestrel ended up pushing him too hard which definitely broke my heart 💔 this book is so heartbreaking! But you’ll see how it finally takes toll on him in book 3 😉

    Also, I agree with you on the elegant writing. It’s so beautifully written and I normally would shy away from books about war and political situations but this book just stole my heart right from the beginning. But personally, I have always thought of this series as a romance, it’s Arin and Kestrel’s stories set in a war, so I don’t think the love story stole the spotlight hehe great review ❤❤❤

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  3. Since I have read this book, I am able to read your spoiler review closely. You wrote an excellent review. I see you defend Kestrel, I on the other hand, defend Arin. He acts the way he does is because Kestrel makes all the plans on her own and didn’t involve him. She should not have any right to choose what’s best/safe for him or how to protect them both. He was left in the dark. He does think a lot and his guess were correct, that Kestrel was the Moth, but I wish he asked her at the tavern after he won the game. And then I feel upset that if she was willing to tell, why not spit it out. She wants to wait until he asks. They both are too stubborn and have too much pride.

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    • Thanks, Jasmine!

      I actually agree with you – I do think that for these two, despite their feelings for one another, have a lot of distrust in their relationship given where they come from and who they are and what they’ve done. They’re both too stubborn and prideful to even give honesty a try… but imagine all the trouble and heartache they would have saved if they just communicated and strategised together from the start! It’ll probably remove one whole book and make the series a duology. 😂

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