The Winner’s Crime: review

February 9, 2015 2015, 4.5 star books, Marie Rutkoski, Wendy 46 ★★★★½

The Winner’s Crime: reviewThe Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner's Trilogy #2
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux on March 3, 2015
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 352 pages
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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Book two of the dazzling Winner's Trilogy is a fight to the death as Kestrel risks betrayal of country for love.

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.

Note: there are some spoilers for the previous book in the series.

If The Winner’s Curse was about Kestrel beginning to understand the importance of the role she plays in Herrani-Valorian relations, The Winner’s Crime is where she takes matters into her own hands. There were already signs this would happen, particularly in sacrificing her own freedom at the end of the previous book in order to ensure Arin’s, but here you see the promise of her nature fulfilled. She is in an unthinkable position–separated from both her father and the boy she loves, cast as villain for accepting a union with the Valorian prince, and seemingly powerless in her gilded cage. But Kestrel is a young woman of intelligence, reason, and compassion, one who finds a way to further the cause she believes in, even though the odds are not in her favor…and even now that those she loved have all turned against her.

The balcony was a box, its glass walls like black ice; sheer slices of the night outside. Light from the hallway lined the seam of the curtain and glowed at its hem, but Kestrel could barely see her own hands.

She touched a glass pane. These windows would be open on the night of her wedding. The trees below would be in bloom, the air fragrant with cere blossoms.

She would choke on it. Kestrel knew she would hate the scent of cere flowers all her life, as she ruled the empire, as she bore her husband’s children. As she aged and the ghosts of her choices haunted her.

Marie Rutkoski is cruel to our little falcon, my friends. Kestrel is alone, betrayed, and misunderstood. But she is also underestimated, a mistake that proves to be her advantage as she puts into motion a daring plan to act as spy in the palace where she resides. I loved seeing her work tirelessly, as so many women have before her and since, to find purpose in her life and to be of service to others even while she is dismissed.

Part of Kestrel’s anguish is, of course, the separation and bitter misunderstanding between her and Arin. They are so well-matched–they both sacrifice for their countries, and they hold their honor dearly. But their cross purposes add anger to every encounter, even as the despairing subtext of their brief relationship colors every word. Each yearning moment is drawn with fine tension, so that a mere murmur in an ear or a brief touch of the hand can can kindle a mad flame of longing as “the world went luscious, and slow and still.”

Her blood felt laced with black powder. How could she have forgotten what this was like, to burn on a fuse before him?

I shudder deliciously at this prose.

Other things I loved: the marvelous delicacies heaped upon dinner plates (Marie is giving Leigh Bardugo a good run for her money), though even those are not nearly as delicious as the cat-and-mouse dialogue written between Kestrel and the emperor (and other adversaries); the way Kestrel’s quiet chafing at her bonds is described–in one instance, there’s a sensation of choking on fashionable canapés because the bread is colored with chalk (such thoughtful detail for a single line); Kestrel and Arin’s first meeting, which is fraught with unbearable tension and desire; gorgeous clothing; secret messages relayed by clever and unconventional means; and characters desperately trying to understand intention and meaning when they have nothing but a few clues to help them. Oh, and an important scene involving a piano and a possible eavesdropper that made me as nervous and wound up as the characters in it!

The ending, however, is brutal. There is a devastating betrayal that will haunt our heroine, as well as an uncertain fate she is helpless to control. This is war, and there will be casualties, but I didn’t expect that The Winner’s Crime would be pain and pleasure in nearly equal measure. What does the future hold next? Kestrel and Arin have arrowed into my heart, and I cannot wait to find out.

An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.

vine-divider-finalWinner’s Trilogy Freebie!

Be sure to stop by tomorrow, when we have a special Winner’s Trilogy freebie for you! I’ve been working on this for awhile and can’t wait to share it. I promise, you’re going to love it.

And if you haven’t tried out this series yet, and you’re fond of impossible romances against the backdrop of war, you should definitely be giving the first book a try. JOIN OUR CIRCLE OF PAIN.

Further Reading:

Download free Winner’s Trilogy tattoos + tutorial on making your own book tattoos!
Our review of The Winner’s Curse
Marie Rutkoski on Forbidden Love

vine-divider-final Wendy signature teal








46 Responses to “The Winner’s Crime: review”

  1. J. Oh

    Arghhh. I finally read this, and ouch, that ending! I really cannot wait for the next book. I enjoyed this book a lot as I was reading it, but all the tension and things getting worse and worse for Kestrel made it definitely more difficult than the first one.

  2. Diane

    I’m more enthusiastic about this series than almost any others right now. I love that the Snark/Swagger/Swords aspect is absent!!!

    Kestral is not too far removed from reality. She’s not part Fae (Celaena) or gifted with any super powers (Alina) or the subject of prophecy (Lia). She’s just a smart classy girl whose mind is open enough to question the values she was raised with and come to her own conclusions. Who puts thought into what honor means to her versus her father. Who is brave enough to act from those conclusions.

    That she can be called weak is a sign of how far removed from reality many popular YA heroines in fantasy are.

  3. A Canadian Girl

    I thought the first book was only okay partly because I thought Arin and Kestrel fell in love quite quickly. I mean I understood them developing some feelings for each other – after all, Arin shares Kestrel’s love for music and Kestrel as a master is pretty nice – but found it a little hard to believe that their feelings were more than that. Regardless, I liked the ending enough that I’m willing to give the sequel a try. Judging from your review, Wendy, I get the feeling I’m going to like it more.
    A Canadian Girl recently posted…Review: The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand

    • Wendy Darling

      It’s so interesting how differently everyone perceives the first book, as well as the romance. If you weren’t into it as much in the first book, I’m not sure how you’d feel about this–but I have seen friends who were so-so on THE WINNER’S CURSE then become very enthusiastic about THE WINNER’S CRIME. I’m thinking of Emily May in particular, her review might also help nudge you further! I’m glad you liked the book enough to give this one a chance, though.
      Wendy Darling recently posted…Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula: blog tour

  4. Jessica @ Rabid Reads

    Ye gods, Wendy. I’m almost afraid to read this now. The ending of the first book was pretty awful, and this one . . . this one sounds even worse, which I’m having a hard time fathoming . . . and yet, I seriously doubt I’ll be able to stop myself. Something about worst enemies and ourselves . . . ;)
    Jessica @ Rabid Reads recently posted…Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

    • Wendy Darling

      Heh. We do this all to ourselves, for sure.

      This ending is worse in some ways (okay, most ways), but it’s also an exciting ending, if that makes sense? It makes me jazzed up to see where the story goes in book three, even though everybody’s even worse off than they were at the end of book one. I think it’s good that the stakes are higher, though, and it definitely makes me care even more deeply about the characters.

      But yeah, if we had any sense, we’d wait until series were complete before we started them. *sigh*
      Wendy Darling recently posted…Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula: blog tour

  5. Melliane

    Oh yes I loved this one as well! But wow it drained me emotionally. I so wanted to share Arin. It’s terrible to see the situations without doing anything. But the story is so interesting! I want book 3!!!!! like now.

  6. Alexa S.

    Your review seriously gave me chills when I read it, because you so perfectly captured the essence + beauty of The Winner’s Crime. I like The Winner’s Curse okay, but this second novel completely won me over! Kestrel’s story, as it unfurls, gets more complicated, more emotional, just so much more – and I love it!
    Alexa S. recently posted…Red Queen – Victoria Aveyard

    • Wendy Darling

      Ahhh, thank you! I try really hard to give people a feel for the book if I can, and it’s always trickier with one as beautiful as this.

      And I’m so glad to hear this second installment has converted you into a die-hard fan! This is definitely when the stakes get higher in all the aspects of Kestrel’s life, and I think it’s interesting that the scope of the story expands as a whole even as she’s caught in this trap she can’t escape. What an ending, huh?

  7. Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings

    I agree completely that this novel is all about desire and the delicate balance between pain and pleasure. However, while I became emotionally involved with it–and it was so, so much pain–I felt as if it lacked a lot of political movement, which I wanted, and I hate feeling as if I don’t know where the plot is about to go. Usually, this late in the trilogy I have a sense of what needs to happen in the last novel, just now HOW, but with this trilogy anything could go down and I’m just not prepared. It’s a brilliant tactic–also a terrifying one, for me as a reader, to experience. Lovely review, though, Wendy–you captured this book perfectly. :)
    Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings recently posted…ARC Review: The Trouble with Love by Lauren Layne

    • Wendy Darling

      See, I’m all about emotion, so this satisfied me to no end. I try not to go into books expecting this or that either, as long as the book does what it wants to do well and I’m responding to it, I’m usually not upset by the author choosing to focus on one thing over another. Should be interesting to see what happens in book three, though.

  8. Brandi

    I’m skipping the review out of fear of spoilers….but I’m glad you liked the second one! I’ve heard really good things about this series and am looking forward to reading it!

  9. Larissa

    AHHHHH. The anticipation for this one is killing me. I have read and quite enjoyed The Winner’s Curse (3.5 stars) but feel like this one is IT. You know, the book that really just explodes the series and the world truly comes to light in pure awesomeness. Think of Throne of Glass to Crown of Midnight. I feel like that is what reading The Winner’s Crime will be like for me (: I hope so anyway, and your review certainly makes me believe this will be the case!

    Oh, how I do adore Kestrel as a character, I remember people calling weak. I would definitely disagree with that sentiment. It seems like readers even underestimate her, and I can’t wait for them to see her inevitable strength in this and especially if it goes against those restrictive definitions of the word. I can’t wait to devour this one and see her inevitable growth in the face of adversity. Really, it’s Kestrel’s thoughtful observances (coupled with beautiful prose!! oh my god, loving the snippets you included) that make this series such a treat to read. It really does increase the tension, which appears to be coming to a height in this one, and makes me really ponder the themes of the novel.

    ALSO: ARIN. Ahhhhh. Slow burn romance at its finest folks. Except it’s just so much more than that, with different political standpoints and it’s so multifaceted. From the sounds of your review, their romance seems a lot more, well- painful. Haha, which is to be excepted. I really do like the comparison with the gunpowder, their relationship does sound like it is truly explosive- a bomb about to go off at any moment with all the tension.

    That’s something I keep on mentioning, as do you: the tension. It seems like Marie is a master at crafting it, building up nice & slow- only for it to come in a crashing crescendo of an ending. I really am curious (and scared, not going to lie) for that ending you brought up. Betrayal!? Ahhh, I’m sure I’ll be reading this one and will be like “how much more betrayal and pain can Kestrel (and really me) handle?”

    Lovely review Wendy <33 Really heightened my hopes and excitement for this one. I really can't wait to read more of Kestrel, the romance and writing that I love. It also sounds like this one is much darker and hopefully I will learn more about the world we really only got a glimpse of in The Winner's Curse.

    Excited to see what surprise you got for us too! Ahhhh, you're killing me girl.

    • Wendy Darling

      Larissa, seeing a comment from you is so very pleasing! They’re always so wonderfully thoughtful, thank you for being such a good friend to us.

      I knew you would like those quotes. The first one makes me so sad for her, contemplating her bleak future in this empty box. And of course the second just whips me into a frenzy of feeling, hah. SO GORGEOUS. The writing is so layered and lush, I can’t wait for you to luxuriate in this book as well.

      This book does serve the same purpose that COM did–I like what you’ve said about it exploding the series! Things really do come to a head here, though what I like about this series is that the author hasn’t made Kestrel put on pants and strap a sword to her waist, like many other series would do–Kestrel is working within the confines of the role she has in society, which is a very different kind of fighting back than we normally see. And the harder kind to portray, I think. She’s like Tessa Gray in The Infernal Devices–they’re both bound by severe etiquette and need to find ways to overcome obstacles while still being believable. I love that this is entirely a created world in The Winner’s Trilogy, so that you haven’t gone into it with certain expectations (like, say, if it was set during the Victorian era, or even steampunk/neo Victorian), but the author had to set up the society well enough that you understood it.

      So much tension, hah. I kept having to take out sections where I said that over and over, but it still comes through! And the romance! Ahhhhh. I love them both so much, and they deserve to be with each other. Not something you can say about every couple.

      It irritates me to no end when people dismiss Kestrel as being weak. She’s not at all. Just because she’s not swaggering or throwing around snarky comments doesn’t mean that she isn’t strong.

  10. Katie @ Bookish Illuminations

    The Winner’s Curse was one of my favorite reads of 2014, but I am a bit scared to read the sequel because then I have to wait for Book 3! But of course, I’ll put myself through the agony. So happy to read your review on the blog today and so happy you enjoyed it. I’m anxious about that “betrayal” though….
    Katie @ Bookish Illuminations recently posted…Falling in Love With…Beauty by Robin McKinley (Lory from The Emerald City Book Review)

    • Wendy Darling

      I don’t blame you for being scared–I”m already feeling anxious eyeing all the months between now and 2016. D: But yeah, I couldn’t possibly resist either, hah.

      I think betrayal is an inevitable consequence of war. Particularly when you are going against your own upbringing/station in life. Poor Kestrel goes through so much (and her circumstances keep getting progressively worse–what’s up with that?!), but I’m hoping she gets her just reward in THE WINNER’S KISS. Poor girl deserves it.
      Wendy Darling recently posted…Make Your Own Book-Inspired Tattoos + Free Winner’s Trilogy download

  11. Carina Olsen

    Sigh. <3 Beautiful post Wendy. I read this gorgeous book last month, and I loved it to pieces too. Sigh. SO PERFECT. But so damn evil. Hmph. So sad and heartbreaking :( The ending was my favorite part, hah, because it makes what will happen in book three even more exciting :D And I cannot wait. So excited. <3 I'm so glad you loved this book too sweetie :) Thank you for sharing your gorgeous thoughts. <3
    Carina Olsen recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday #174

    • Wendy Darling

      And heh. MY WORDS TEMPTED YOU. I feel such satisfaction.All the glowing stars for this book are so well-deserved, aren’t they? It was evil! If she wasn’t trying to break our hearts, she sure has a natural talent for it.

      The ending actually excited me as well. My friend Emily talked about how each book has ended in a way that sets up a whole new scenario/new tone for the next book, which is really cool.

      And thank you, Carina! <3
      Wendy Darling recently posted…Make Your Own Book-Inspired Tattoos + Free Winner’s Trilogy download

  12. Brenda

    I’ve only skimmed the review, because well I really must read Winner’s Curse first. Thanks for the spoiler alert btw. I did see this though “impossible romances against the backdrop of war,” which sounds like something I would really enjoy. And I loved her MG, so probably need to bump this up way higher on the list of books to read real soon. Lovely review.

  13. Rebecca

    I think you’ve made me even more excited for this book! I can’t wait to read it, even though I know the ending (and the wait for Book 3) will be agonizing. Great review!

  14. Pili

    You’ve described it so well Wendy! This book is the most gorgeous torture imaginable!! I had palpitations and a touch of anxiety while reading (I should say devour it, to be accurate) and loved every single page of it!
    Kestrel and Arin are one of those pairs that you root for and feel their pain and shake your head at every page!
    I cannot wait to re-read it as soon as my physical copy arrives! And then I’ll be a lil more prepared to feel all gutted and have the book hangover and the pain of that awful ending all over again!
    Pili recently posted…Waiting On Wednesday #81!!

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