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
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.
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. 😛