Book Reviews · Original Posts

Book Review: The Winner’s Crime

This review is super overdue, as I’ve promised it multiple times and never delivered. Well, here it is! The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski is the sequel to The Winner’s Curse and the second installment in her Winner’s Trilogy. This review will be spoiler free for The Winner’s Crime, but not for The Winner’s Curse, so if you haven’t read the first book, go check out my review of it here and read it before finishing this post!

winner's crime

Okay, to the review! Here’s the summary from 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.

Okay, where do I start with this one? I LOVED the first book. I thought it was a really unique story with an interesting combination of history and fantasy, anchored in two of my favorite characters to read with the most brilliant writing I’ve read in a while. The Winner’s Crime, for the most part, improved on all of these impressions, and was an excellent second installment.

The Winner’s Crime shows us much more of the inner workings of Valoria, which I loved! Their society is fascinating, as is the different perspective on Herran we get because none of the story actually takes place there (other than Arin running back and forth). The Emperor is a terrifying character, wonderful in his terror, and other members of the Valorian Court are equally interesting, including Risha and Verex. We also get to explore a third society in their world (which I won’t give away, because spoilers!). That society is not only gorgeously written, obviously based on some awesome research, but also introduces us to one of my favorite characters in the series, who is a wonderful and complex friend to one of our protagonists in their time of need. Rutkoski’s writing only continues to be gorgeous, with such unique images that really spoke to me as I read. Her descriptions say things like:

“Her fierce creature of a mind: sleek and sharp-clawed and utterly unwilling to be caught.”

The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

Or, my personal favorite:

“I don’t mind being a moth. I would probably start eating silk if it meant that I could fly.”

The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

This installment does a good job of having a really substantial individual plot, despite its placement as the second in the series. Most of it is centered around the increasingly complicated lies both Kestrel and Arin are telling, and the truths they’re each keeping to themselves. These lies revolve around Court intrigue and the identity of a critical spy inside the Valorian Court for Herran.

This brings me to my favorite thing about this novel, both singly and as part of this series- Kestrel’s development. Kestrel is one of the most dynamic, well-defined, well-written characters I’ve ever read- I really, really love her. The Winner’s Crime is essentially a book about how a girl decides to betray her country, and how she struggles with how that changes her relationships with the people around her. Kestrel goes through so much, and Rutkoski paints all the struggles associated with such a choice realistically. She’s a wonderful character because her traits are so distinct- as the reader, I know exactly what Kestrel is and isn’t good at, and I understand and support her motivations. I root for her so much more than I’ve rooted for most other protagonists in popular YA novels- characters like Katniss, Tris, and Bella all come to mind as much worse characters. It’s a real shame they all got more hype. Kestrel is stronger by far, in that she can make decisions like this:

“There was dishonor, she decided, in accepting someone else’s idea of honor without question.”

The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

I also love Arin, though- he again is another very well-defined character, whose traits are painted in black and white that as a reader I can understand and love. Out of all three books in the trilogy, he annoyed me the most in this installment, because he wanted absolutes. He wanted to either love Kestrel with all of his soul, or hate her with it all, but again, Rutkoski wrote this black and white morality as part of his character, so it was consistent, as when Arin thinks:

“Arin would trade his heart for a snarled knot of thread if it meant he would never have to see Kestrel again.”

The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

This book gave me anxiety in the worst kind of way- because we get both their perspectives, so as the reader we understand them both, but they have completely wrong ideas about each other. Dramatic irony at its highest creates all kinds of angst in this one. And that ending! Super intense- I was literally screaming. I’m glad I only read this a month before the last book came out, because I’m not sure how much of a wait I could have taken! I ship Kestrel and Arin really, really hard, because I think they’re truly well-suited for one another, unlike most couples in novels. They each understand the other’s loves and strategic leanings (which is, perhaps, why Arin frustrates me so much here!) Plus, their relationship is just beautiful:

“‘Kestrel…’
An emotion clamped down on her heart. It squeezed her into a terrible silence. But he said nothing after that, only her name, as if her name were not a name but a question. Or perhaps that wasn’t how he had said it, and she was wrong, and she’d heard a question simply because the sound of him speaking her name made her wish that she were his answer.”

The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

“His dear face, dear to her, dearer still. how could she love his face more for its damage? What kind of person saw someone’s suffering and felt her heart crack open even wider, even more sweetly than before?
There was something wrong with her. It was wrong to want to touch a scar and call it beautiful.”

The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

I LOVE THEM SO MUCH! Overall, I highly recommend The Winner’s Crime, or the entire series, if you haven’t started it yet. It’s one of the most well-written, unique series I’ve read in a long time.

 Infinity stars!!! Have I mentioned I love this book and this series?

Has anyone else read this? Did the end give you feelings? Tell me about it!

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