Series: The Winner’s Trilogy #2
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux on March 3, 2015
Pages: 352 pages
Amazon • Indiebound • Barnes & Noble • Goodreads
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.
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Our review of The Winner’s Curse
Marie Rutkoski on Forbidden Love