BOOK REVIEW: The Winner’s Crime (The Winner’s Trilogy #2)
by Marie Rutkoski
Publication date: 3 March 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s
Goodreads: Lady Kestrel’s engagement to Valoria’s crown prince calls for great celebration: balls and performances, fireworks and revelry. But to Kestrel it means a cage of her own making. Embedded in the imperial court as a spy, she lives and breathes deceit and cannot confide in the one person she really longs to trust …
While Arin fights to keep his country’s freedom from the hands of his enemy, he suspects that Kestrel knows more than she shows. As Kestrel comes closer to uncovering a shocking secret, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth.
Lies will come undone, and Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them in this second book in the breathtaking Winner’s trilogy.
The Winner’s Crime picks up where we left off in The Winner’s Curse. The book takes place almost entirely in Valoria, where Kestrel is now living, engaged to Prince Verex, the Emperor’s son. She essentially lives as a prisoner, being watched and manipulated by the Emperor. Every choice she makes has a consequence.
One thing I really liked about this book was that it was basically one big mind game. Everyone was trying to outplay everyone else to come out on top. At first glace it seems like the Emperor is in control, moving the pieces where he wants them. He is the emperor after all. But we know that Kestrel is smart and strategising is one of her strengths. The book is filled with spying and lying. It wouldn’t be a Winner’s Trilogy book without political intrigue and warfare.
While the book is set mostly in Valoria, we’re taken east to Dacra and I loved the way they were woven into the story (through political plotting, of course). One thing I really enjoyed was seeing the differences in all the cultures. We’re also given a glimpse into how Herran has been developing since being “freed” from Valorian rule.
Members of high society are invited to stay at court to celebrate the engagement and prepare for the wedding. This is how Kestrel finds herself face-to-face with Arin, the newly appointed Governor of Herran. And, because it’s Kestrel and Arin, trouble ensues. They don’t actually interact that much, and are in different places for most of the book. Despite this, the tension and pining between Kestrel and Arin is strong. That was a big let down for me. I get it, you guys love each other, but you can’t be together because society says so. It all eventually becomes very tedious.
Once again, Rutkoski has written some fantastic characters. Everyone was even more layered and complex than in the first book. Some of the new characters became fast favourites. I loved Verex and Risha and can’t wait to see what they have to bring to the final book. Kestrel’s father, the General, plays a bigger role this time and I love reading about their relationship.
I loved Kestrel. She was even better this time. She’s as cunning and manipulative but this time she’s learnt to play the game. She’s developed a darker side. The stakes are higher now so she’s planning on a bigger scale. However, her love for Arin made her reckless at times and all I could do was shake my head at her. Similarly, Arin is even more reckless and brooding than before. Arin didn’t seem to understand that the things Kestrel was doing, she was doing for both of them. Through his perspective we’re taken on some pretty interesting adventures though.
Ultimately, The Winner’s Crime was a thrilling read and I can’t wait to read the final book. Rutkoski’s writing was as beautiful as it was in the first book and I loved the dark twist that the story has taken on. If there’s anything I’ve learnt from two books, it’s that there are (at least) two things that Rutkoski is really good at, characterisation and world building.