Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Winner's Crime ~ Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Crime
Marie Rutkoski
Young Adult/Fantasy
The Winner's Trilogy/Book 2
Farrar Straus Giroux/March 2, 2015

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.

I could make this an incredibly short review. If I did, I wouldn't tell you about the plot, the world building or the characters. I would simply write - READ THIS TRILOGY - NOW.

And that would be the end. But I'm guessing you'd like a little more. Since I don't want to disappoint, I will attempt to tell you how much love I have not only for the plot, the world building and the characters but also for Marie Rutkoski's ability to weave all of those things into an experience in reading not soon forgotten.

First - This is a trilogy with each book building on the next. You can read my review of the first book here. If you have not read the first book, be warned, there are spoilers ahead. You don't want to spoil the infinite pleasure of the first book so only read on if you have read book one.

In the first book, The Winner's Curse, Kestrel buys a slave and has no idea the events she sets in motion by bringing Arin, the slave, into her home. In The Winner's Crime, we find Arin in charge of the resistance and Kestrel living in exile, engaged to a prince. This is the one aspect of the story I wasn't crazy about - they spend much of the book apart. I understand why the plot must go in this direction and The Winner's Crime is a part of the whole, you can't read one book without the other two.

Kestrel is walking a fine line in the capital city. She is engaged to the prince but engaging in spying for the rebels. At any moment she could be accused of treason against the crown. She is desperate to see Arin, if only to assure herself that he is alright. But she must also keep up the pretense of being loyal to the crown and with the emperor keeping a close eye on his son's fiancée, Kestrel could at any moment be caught helping the rebels. The tension is such an integral part of the setting. There was more than one moment when I thought, "This is it, she's going to get caught." It was nerve-racking since I had come to like Kestrel and want her and Arin to get their HEA. Not easy to do if she's locked up for treason. She is an intelligent, strong-willed character which was infinitely thrilling to read.

Arin, oh Arin. What have you done? He was not who he claimed to be in the first book and now in this second installment I feel like I'm getting to know him much better. Which makes it so interesting to read his scenes. He is an enigma, although he wants to free his people, the Herrani, but he doesn't always show complete hatred for their conquers. He came to care deeply about Kestrel and she bought him at auction! Things are not always black and white for Arin which is why he sometimes wavers in his decisions regarding the governing of Herran. He was appointed governor by the emperor which might seem a victory but Arin knows he can not trust the emperor and must still use spies to obtain critical information.

While Kestrel and Arin are residing in different cities, they still have beautiful, if somewhat painful, moments together. Arin doesn't know that Kestrel trader her freedom for his. He sees her as the fiancée of the prince, living in luxury in the capital. While he and his people are barely surviving despite having won their freedom.  He still has strong feelings for her which play havoc with his loyalty to his people. Kestrel wants only to help Arin however she can but it is dangerous spying right under the nose of the emperor.

Their romance is volatile, with outside influences creating distance, both physical and emotional, between Kestrel and Arin. The author does well in showing the struggle Kestrel and Arin go through with their feelings for each other as well as their feelings for their people. Kestrel's loyalty isn't as strong towards the empire as Arin's is towards the Herrani. When she bought Arin and came to know him, it made her see the Herrani people as more than slaves. Arin's hatred of the slave owners is a strong, burning in his gut but Kestrel shows him that not all of the Valorians are the evil conquerors he's believed they are. I think their romance, when they finally get their HEA, will be hard won and make it that much more satisfying.

The secondary characters are a variety of both cunning, evil and kind. The prince was not what I was expecting and surprisingly likable.  Arin has some loyal compatriots who have his back. One such is his cousin Sarsine who is headstrong and doesn't always agree with Arin's decisions but is fiercely loyal to him. Arin also has a wise mentor in Tensen who is the contact for Arin's spy in the capital. Tensen also helped Kestrel when he could. The secondary characters keep the connection between Kestrel and Arin when it looks like they will be kept apart.

I have the third book in the trilogy, The Winner's Kiss, waiting patiently for me. I've put off reading it partly because I have other books I needed to read but also because I want to hold off on finishing this wonderful trilogy.

Rating: A-

The Winner's Trilogy ~

The Winner's Curse
The Winner's Crime
The Winner's Kiss

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