Author: Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner’s Trilogy, #2
To stop the Valorian emperor from crushing the rebellion in the Herran peninsula, Kestrel has convinced the ruthless leader to cede the land to the Herrani people in exchange for fealty. To ensure this treaty, Kestrel has agreed to marry the heir to the Valorian throne, Prince Verex. As Kestrel tries to adapt to life at the palace, she quickly discovers the emperor is a skilled manipulator and in this new environment where anyone can be working for him, Kestrel must use her own strategic skills to stay one step ahead. Despite the confining circumstances, Kestel agrees to play spy for a Herran dignitary, but the more she discovers, the closer she gets to being caught and Kestrel may not be the only one who pays for her treachery.
“Kestrel set the soldier back on the shelf. She made certain her voice was clear when she spoke her last words before leaving the room. ‘If you won’t be my friend, you’ll regret being my enemy.'”
Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse was one of my favorite books from 2014 and this sequel is so devastating good, I’m bursting with love. Full of sly characters and mounting tension, The Winner’s Crime is a thrilling story of being caught between your head and your heart. Kestrel has used herself as a bargaining chip to secure Herran’s freedom, but what she doesn’t realize is she’s entered into a dangerous game with the emperor that she isn’t fully prepared for. Every conversation the emperor has with Kestrel is perilous, every word calculated, every question a test. What makes it worse is Kestrel’s situation, she cannot risk telling others, including Arin, and the isolation weighs heavily upon her shoulders.
Arin struggles with Kestrel’s decision while simultaneously trying to find a solution to his people’s weakening economy. The emperor has placed a stringent tax on the Herran people that surpasses their means. Despite their new freedom, most Valorians continue to treat the Herrani with contempt, including their new governor. Arin is desperate to help his people and his frustration is further aggravated by Kestrel’s refusal to help. It is this strained relationship that is the most devastating part of this book. Arin is unaware of Kestrel’s motives behind her future marriage to the prince and Kestrel must convince Arin of her disinterest in order to keep them both alive.
The Winner’s Crime widens our understanding of Rutkoski’s world. We learn more about the Valorians and the leader behind their “Manifest Destiny” philosophy. We also get a glimpse of the land to the east, Dacra, the next territory the emperor is set on conquering. There were a couple of characters whose stories I wanted to hear more about, including the Dacra princess, Risha, who was raised alongside Prince Verex. I’m hoping she gets more page time in the next book. I am really struggling with the knowledge that I’m going to have to wait a year before I find out how this series concludes and may I just say that Kestrel has earned my unwavering loyalty at the conclusion of this book.