The Winner’s Crime is the second book in Marie Rutkoski’s Winner Trilogy, which means that this review will contain spoilers for Book 1, The Winner’s Curse. Please leave now because you will be spoiled and you really don’t want to be!! Just know that I give this sequel 5 stars and that you should read this trilogy!
THE WINNER’S CRIME SYNOPSIS
Lady Kestrel’s engagement to Valoria’s crown prince calls for great celebration: balls and performances, fireworks and revelry. But to Kestrel it means a cage of her own making. Embedded in the imperial court as a spy, she lives and breathes deceit and cannot confide in the one person she really longs to trust …
While Arin fights to keep his country’s freedom from the hands of his enemy, he suspects that Kestrel knows more than she shows. As Kestrel comes closer to uncovering a shocking secret, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth.
Lies will come undone, and Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them in this second book in the breathtaking Winner’s trilogy.
How do I even begin to tell you how much I loved this book?! It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that’s made me have to keep putting it down because of all the feels and the unbearable tension. It’s been a whole day since I finished the book and I’m still trying to recover. The ending had me curled up on my bed, dying from the feels. I thought The Winner’s Curse was amazing but this book just blew my mind with its brilliance.
This sequel was set almost entirely in the capital of Valoria, where Kestrel is staying with the Emperor and Prince Verex, the man she is to marry. It’s obvious from the very beginning that she is a prisoner in the palace and is being manipulated and watched by the Emperor. When court members and other high ranking members of society are invited to a really, really, really long engagement and wedding celebration, Kestrel finds herself face-to-face with the new Herrani Governor, Arin… which inevitably leads to trouble.
“I don’t mind being a moth. I would probably start eating silk if it meant that I could fly.”
The tension and the yearning was present from the very beginning of the book. I could feel Kestrel yearning for Arin and for freedom away from the stifling environment of the Emperor’s home. The atmosphere and the suspense in this book was built so well. There are a lot of mentions in this book – this trilogy – of games, and this whole book felt like one big game. It was very interesting to see the role that each character played in the game, especially because it was never obvious who was in control. We see the Emperor manipulating the game and the characters, but Kestrel was also doing her fair share of manoeuvring and strategising. There is lying, spying, secrecy and LOTS of political intrigue. The whole book was just very anxiety-provoking and I was so stressed out about everything that was going on. Yet, the plot was so intriguing and exciting that I couldn’t help but keep reading.
What I thought was the highlight of this book was the characterisation. I loved the characters in The Winner’s Curse but everything is taken up a notch in this second book. The characters are even more complex and layered and I really connected with all of them. I empathised with them and felt everything they were feeling and gosh, my heart hurt so much. There were characters that I wasn’t expecting to like, such as Verex and the Eastern princess, Risha, but they turned out to be really wonderful additions to the series and I can’t wait to see the role that they play in the final book because they were pretty enigmatic in this book.
Kestrel remains my favourite character and it hurt me how much she was suffering alone. I felt her loneliness from being trapped in the Capital but also her loneliness from being misunderstood and not being able to reveal her true feelings. I wanted to shake all of the characters and make them understand. Her internal struggle was just unreal and my heart ached for her. We also get Arin’s perspective in this book and my love for him grew as well. But he does some rash and stupid things, and I just wanted to yell at him through the pages and make him see what was in front of him. I really enjoyed his story arc and it took us to very interesting places plot-wise and setting-wise.
While this book takes place mostly in the Capital, the world continues to build and expand. The book takes us east, to Dacra, through lots of political plotting and I loved having the East involved. I can’t wait to see the role they play in the next book. We also get small glimpses of how Herran has developed since the ending of The Winner’s Curse and I thought it was interesting how that played into the overall plot. I also appreciated the map that was included in the book!
I have so much more I could say about this book but I have no idea where to start because I’m still full of so many feels. It’s probably better if I don’t say anything more about the book because the experience of reading the book and figuring everything out for myself was a spectacular one for me.