Last week, I posted my review of Marie Rutkoksi’s The Winner’s Curse, where the lives of Kestrel and Arin collide and intertwine despite Kestrel being the daughter of a general and Arin her slave. The Winner’s Curse ended on such a cliff of possibilities that I immediately purchased the sequel, The Winner’s Crime, on my Kindle and read full speed ahead. However, these books are each so great on their own that I felt the need to review them separately. So, without further ado, The Winner’s Crime, ladies and gentlemen.
Summary from Goodreads:
The engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria’s crown prince is the event of a lifetime. It means one celebration after another: balls, fireworks, and revelry until dawn. 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. She’s a spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret.
Despite The Winner’s Curse being predictable (only because it established a romantic storyline, and how many ways can two people realize they are in love?), The Winner’s Crime is definitely not predictable! I was so caught up in the story when reading that I never could figure out where it was going next! And the few times I knew what was coming, it was because the writing was intentional in establishing the much needed dread for a coming event. It is so easy to read this book. (No really, I gobbled it down so fast that I forgot to even eat or drink anything at all in the hours it took me to read this book.) Yet, it is so hard to see Arin and Kestrel begin to doubt each other and grow distant. It’s so hard being the reader and watching these characters lose trust in each other when you’ve read what’s going on in their minds and hearts! But alas! Such is the case in The Winner’s Crime, and it is beautiful even as it unfolds.
The exploration of relationships in this book is part of the reason I enjoyed The Winner’s Crime so much. My three favorite relationships are, in order: Kestrel and her father, Kestrel and the prince, and Kestrel and the emperor. Kestrel and her father have such an intriguing relationship, torn between familial love and duty to country. Kestrel longs for her father to be her comforter and supporter again, but her father struggles so hard with duty to country over family. In the brief moments where we get a glimpse of the general act as a loving Papa, my heart melts. And when we see him choose duty, my heart breaks. It’s no wonder Kestrel struggles so much with her relationship with Arin in the last part of The Winner’s Curse and throughout The Winner’s Crime.
Kestrel’s relationship with Verex, the prince, is also a sweet one to see unfold. Though Verex initially distrusts Kestrel, the two soon form a comradery based on their distrust of the emperor. I find it interesting that the emperor is unnamed, at least as far as I can tell. To me, this gives him an ambiguous power over the rest of the characters, making him seem almost inhuman, someone to be feared because he is unknown and seems omnipotent. He is also cruel and will stop at no end to grow his empire, and that is terrifying! The book spares no details when it comes to one of his torture methods. Even I, as strong stomached as I am, had a hard time reading though it. However, the emperor’s relationship with Kestrel reminds me of the Katniss-Snow relationship in the Hunger Games trilogy. So I am excited to see how it unfolds in the final installment.
Some random things I love about both The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime:
– I love the covers. So simple, but so beautiful! The dark background, dress colors, and simple font are such a lovely combination. The covers alone make me want to buy the whole set of hardcovers when the final book comes out, and the story is just the icing on the cake!
– Gender roles seem very balanced. It isn’t often that I get on a pedestal for gender equality (though I certainly support gender equality – clue word equality), but this book is refreshing. Women are barkeeps, senators, soldiers, and generals – not just homemakers, babymakers, and pretty people to look at.
– This book blends genres, in my opinion, but it does it so well! It is set in a created world, but that created world is so familiar and reminds me of Romans and Indians and other cultures. It is almost like a fantasy historical fiction (historical fantasy fiction? fantastical historical fiction?), though it isn’t actually based on real world history. The blending of these two genres is so beautifully and seamlessly done that it is easy to get lost in Kestrel and Arin’s world.
By the end of this book, I was so frustrated at Arin for not seeing Kestrel’s intentions all along. But I was also frustrated at Kestrel! She is so blinded by her plans that she doesn’t realize how devious the emperor is! Yet I suppose when we are blinded by love (and in Arin’s case betrayal), we often miss the obvious. Now, I am just patiently waiting on the final book in this trilogy, predicted to make its debut in 2016! In the meantime, I feel like I should go read Titus Andronicus, just to keep up my taste for Roman culture and the struggle of duty versus family.