The Winner's Crime
By Marie Rutkoski
Published: March 3, 2015
Note: I did my best to write this review in a "nonspoilery" way for readers who haven't read The Winner's Curse though there are some minor spoilers (where the characters are geographically at the start of the book for example).
The Winner's Crime is a sequel to The Winner's Curse, one of my favorite debuts from last year. I thought it was just as good as the first book though the romance necessarily takes a backseat to other matters.
At the end of the first book, Kestrel made a deal to keep Arin safe and stop the Valorian army from destroying his people and the land. Now she is living at the palace, trapped as a pawn of the Valorian Emperor and playing a very dangerous game to survive. Arin meanwhile is in Herran but he can't keep his mind off of Kestrel. When their paths cross, Kestrel has to convince the emperor and his court that there is nothing between her and Arin, something that Arin's presence makes very difficult. The Herrani minister also asks her to spy for him which increases the stakes. One one hand she has to show that she supports her people and on the other she is desperate to save the Herrani.
I thought The Winner's Crime really built on The Winner's Curse. There is a greater focus on what is going on in the outside world. At the same time the court is filled with political machinations and Kestrel is always acting to keep herself alive. She has enemies and doesn't know who she can trust within the palace. Even her own maids are spying on her. I think that heightens the feeling of tension and suspense in the novel.
Arin is at times frustrating. He is easily swayed and at one point really believes the worst of Kestrel. He nearly ruins her plans a number of times. If only she had been honest with him! Of course all the secrets make the plot more interesting! Arin is also looking into forming some allies against Valoria so some intriguing new characters are introduced.
There is quite a bit of violence in this book. Kestrel witnesses some torture and there of course are killings but some of that happens off screen. The emperor reminded me of President Snow from The Hunger Games. He is very ruthless and cunning. He seems to know far more than he should. Of course Kestrel's father (who reminds me of Tywin Lannister) is similarly ruthless but he does seem to love his daughter or at least he is proud of her new position at the court.
I felt really bad for Kestrel through most of the book. She continued to seek her father's love and she tried to mend fences with her best friend Jess. She is very isolated at the palace and even her music room doesn't bring her much joy. While some honesty would have made things easier between her and Arin, she was trying to protect the people she cared about even while making some dangerous decisions.
The Winner's Crime ends with a shocking cliffhanger and I can't wait to find out what happens next. I thought it was a fantastic book and it definitely lived up to my expectations. I'd suggest this series to readers who enjoyed historical fantasy with political scheming, secrets and romance like Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes and The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson. If you like books with intelligent heroines, political intrigue and secrets, consider giving this series a try!
Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss