“The Winner’s Crime” by Marie Rutkoski
5 out of 5 stars.
The wedding of Kestrel Trajan to Verex, the Valorian Emperor’s son, is a dark cloud over Kestrel’s heart. The sacrifices she has had to make, the lies she has so skillfully woven, are strangling her. She feels as if she is trapped in an immaculately decorated cage that is of her own making. For all of her cunning plans, Kestrel has never been able to find a way to save Arin while still keeping her freedom and securing her own happiness. She has been dealt a treacherous hand of playing cards, and now she must finish the game she started that fateful day in the slave market.
But Kestrel soon discovers that all of her carefully planted lies could be for nothing when the governor of Harran, Arin, comes to the emperor’s palace. It would have been foolish of Arin not to have come at the emperor’s bidding, but it was also stupid of him to be so exposed to the cunning of such a ruthless ruler. What can she, the soon to be bride of Verex, do to protect Arin from danger? How can she save him when she has no other cards to play?
As the game wears on, Kestrel and Arin realize just how easily the emperor is playing them against one another. One wrong move and the two of them, and all of Herran, will be dead. Each player must keep their cards close to their chests, but that means hiding what they most want to share with one another: their hearts. Danger surrounds them and their countries on all sides, and no one connected to them is safe. Can Kestrel really protect Arin by keeping him in the dark about her secret identity, or will her carefully planted lies be what destroys him and all of Herran in the end?
I have the hardest time trying to write reviews for books I REALLY love. It’s as if I don’t know how to put into words everything that those books do to my heart; they break me and heal me all at the same time! Marie’s books are those kinds of books, and they leave me (almost) speechless. Now that you understand my occasional difficulty in wielding the written word, please forgive the shoddy review.
Winning an ARC of “The Winner’s Crime” might have been the highlight of my month; it was incredibly special to receive something that was, and is, extremely precious and close to my heart, and I am so grateful for it. But even without having won it and being included in such a fantastic chat with the author on twitter, this book would have still been insanely enjoyable. In lieu of that, I just want to say a HUGE thanks to Macmillan Teen, Fierce Reads, and Marie Rutkoski for the ARC copy and the gorgeous map of Kestrel’s world! In no way has this affected my review of “The Winner’s Crime.”
“The Winner’s Curse” books are an abusive relationship. They treat you right for the first hundred pages of each book, and then they stab you in the heart. After the first wound has healed, you think you’re home free, but then the second half of the book comes and Marie Rutkoski uses the written word to hurt you again. This happens over and over, but I keep coming back for more, and Marie never fails as an author to deliver an amazing story that seems to shatter my heart. “The Winner’s Crime” was no exception to the heartbreaking rule; let’s just say that it was an elegantly written form of emotional torture. “The Winner’s Crime” was completely magical like “The Winner’s Curse,” and even now it’s calling to me from its resting place on my bookshelf, and it’s saying,
Okay, you get the point. “The Winner’s Crime” was beautiful torment, but now it’s time for some examples.
Kestrel was a fabulous heroine. The more I got to know this girl, the more I liked her. She was intelligent, cunning, and despite her flaws, she had a good heart. Kestrel was so clever in “The Winner’s Curse” and she was even more so in “The Winner’s Crime”; court life was a dangerous thing, and it was all about survival and protecting those she loves in this book. Another aspect of Kestrel’s personality that I really liked was how brave she was, and she had to make some very hard decisions concerning things that I would not have had the guts to face. But difficult choices also meant consequences, and Kestrel paid dearly for what she did and who she protected.
I think that might have been the most painful thing about “The Winner’s Crime”: the fact that I knew as a reader why Kestrel made certain choices, yet no one else in the book really understood. They didn’t know all that she had done for them, so they blamed and accused her for the errors that they saw on the surface. It was pure torture reading and wishing that the other characters could just see all that Kestrel had chosen to sacrifice to keep them safe, but they never did! An aspect of this book I was surprised about was that I did not end up being too frustrated with all of the secrecy. Oh, it hurt, but Marie wrote it in such a way that I could accept it while remaining hopeful that a time would come for those miscommunications to be resolved. What also made it easier to keep forging ahead was that I understood why Kestrel made those choices and decided to keep those secrets, and even though I wasn’t a fan of them, they didn’t ruin the book for me. Normally I HATE miscommunications in book to the point of it ruining the story, but Marie did a good job of tearing out my heart while making me want to read more. Another aspect of Kestrel’s character that I was really proud of was how strong and determined she was to protect her friends, family, and loved ones.
Speaking of loved ones…
If you’ve read my review of “The Winner’s Curse,” then you know that Arin grew on me the longer I read that book. I didn’t want to fall in love with his and Kestrel’s relationship, but I did. I wanted to not care about Arin, but I ended up loving him and wanting him and Kestrel to have a happy ending. “The Winner’s Curse” did not have a happy ending in store for Kestrel and Arin, and it tore me to pieces, yet I remained hopeful and kept rooting for a good end to their love story. Throughout the first half of “The Winner’s Crime” I remained firm in my desire for them to talk things through, communicate their feelings before either of them went off of the deep end.
In the first half of “The Winner’s Crime” I really liked Arin. I liked the fact that he felt a bit destroyed by Kestrel’s decision in “The Winner’s Curse,” but that he was willing to fight for her. *Sighs* And that moment on the balcony?
I’ve waited nine months for a moment like that to happen between them, and it was so good! Thank you, Marie! So, yeah, I liked Arin in that moment and for another fifty pages, especially when something quite surprising happened. I’ll be honest, I did not expect that from Marie.
There was also one other really notable moment between Kestrel and Arin that made me loved them as a couple all the more. It was such a great scene for readers to see their two personalities, and how they were both at war with their lives and current circumstances. Both of them wanted to be together, but everything seemed to be leading them down two very different paths in life, paths that would never cross again. Just the way Marie led up to that moment was so good!!
After that scene, as good as it was, I started to get irritated with Arin. I get his frustration with Kestrel’s and his circumstances, but I felt like that didn’t justify what he began to think about Kestrel. He lost faith in her for a time, and I did not like that, no matter how logical it may have seemed. Reading Kestrel’s point of view and understanding that she had given up everything to protect Arin and her friends, and then him thinking of her in that way was unacceptable!
In the end I kind of forgave Arin a bit, but I was still frustrated with choices of his. He made things even harder for Kestrel than they already were, and that saddened me greatly. I also wish that I would have gotten a few more moments of Kestrel and Arin being around each other before you-know-what hit the proverbial fan, but I get what Marie was doing; the title of the book is “The Winner’s Crime” after all. Beside my irritation with Arin, though, I really did love this book.
Another great aspect of “The Winner’s Crime” was the addition of Verex, the emperor’s son, and Tensen, a Harrani man and Arin’s friend. These two men were great characters and I loved what each of them added to this story. Tensen was a very cool older male figure, and Verex was a character that I hope to get to know a bit more in book three. I liked Verex because, unlike Kestrel, he was not shrewd and cunning. Instead he was kind and smart and clever in his own way. I really liked him and Kestrel, and how sometimes he acted as her conscience, and how he kept her from doing anything too rash. Kestrel was very smart and clever, but she was also desperate, so she would occasionally error when it came to the emperor. Verex had suffered greatly at the hand of his father, but he still seemed to have good heart, and he wanted to do good in the world.
I think my one real complaint about the characters in The Winner’s Crime” was not Arin, but that Ronan and Jess were not really in the book. Jess had a few scenes, but when she was present, she was quite cruel to Kestrel. It saddened me to see Jess do that to her friend and I don’t know where Marie Rutkoski is going with their relationship. Ronan hurt my heart even more than Jess, though. He was only in one scene with Kestrel, and he was not the kind and jovial Ronan I knew and loved from book one. I missed him and wished that he had played more of a role in this book than he actually did. Although I was disappointed about Ronan, him not being in the book was far less painful than what happened at the end of “The Winner’s Crime.”
There are not really words that I can use to describe the full torment that the final four chapters of this book put me through. Since I don’t have the rights words to describe it, I’ll just substitute them with pictures.
“The Winner’s Crime” by Marie Rutkoski was an impressive second book. It mended and broke my heart repeatedly, and I am anxious to see how Marie is going to solve everything that imploded at the end of this book. I think that “The Winner’s Curse” is still my favorite because, well, it started it all, and I fell in love with Arin’s and Kestrel’s relationship in that book. But “The Winner’s Crime” was amazing, and I loved where Marie took Kestrel as a character. Kestrel showed phenomenal growth, and she was such a strong and intelligent character that I can’t help but root for her! Overall, a fabulous book!