I received this book for free from Publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!! This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner's Trilogy #2
Published by Farrar Straus and Giroux on March 3rd, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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.
Oh, oh, The Winner’s Crime. This is certainly one of the most hyped up young adult series at the moment, and yet again I find myself not necessarily the black sheep – because I do like it – but the puzzled sheep, who really doesn’t understand the raving love for this series. With a slow, slow plot of convenience, with far too much focus on a romance I don’t ship too much, The Winner’s Crime was enjoyable but suffered a bit from middle book syndrome.
I think I should be upfront with my main stumbling block for this series: I’m not really invested in the romance. I did like Kestrel and Arin in the first book, and certainly the positions they were in led to some sexual tension and chemistry. But only some. I wasn’t completely sold on it, and to me the relationship development just skipped a few steps in the first book to make me full fledged ship it. Unfortunately, The Winner’s Crime did not really fix that for me. And while otherwise I could ignore my passive liking for the ship, this series is turning out way too romance-heavy for me to focus on the rest. Now, there are other things going on, and for most of The Winner’s Crime, Kestrel and Arin are in different cities. But they think about each other all the time. And it becomes pretty sappy in how the smallest things will remind them of each other. For example: Kestrel is standing on a box while her dressmaker fits her for a dress, and of course this reminds her of an auctioning block, and how Arin stood on one of them once. Yeah. That happens in pretty much every other scene from both points of view. If you’re not invested in this ship, you’re just going to end up raising your eyebrows like, “Really?”
It’s hard for me to care about them since they don’t really have much interaction in this book to suddenly convince me of how they need to be together. (Though, I’ll admit that balcony scene did make my heart flutter just a little.) Certainly if you do have those feelings, likely every one of these moments will fill your heart with pain. But I am of a different mind. And I think the other reason why I have trouble shipping this romance is because I care next to nothing about Arin. Kestrel I love, and certainly when she’s busy with political scheming, I am so impressed by her intelligence and strategic brilliance. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and I do admire her. Arin to me just has no personality. I hardly care about him at all.
For most of The Winner’s Crime, aside from these romantic musings about each other, it felt like nothing was happening. The plot seemed aimless if not nonexistent. I just didn’t really get where anything was going. I wanted there to be more political scheming, but even with Kestrel’s new position, she barely gets any new insights. She’s just as clueless as the Herrani. I like courtly politics, and spying and scheming is definitely my jam, but it felt random in this book. They make such leaps and jump to such conclusions that in my mind would never be logical. Like, out of nowhere, Arin realizes that a clue could be found in who makes a correct (or highly specific, and thus likely correct) bet on what Kestrel’s wedding dress looks like. Because obviously the emperor would trade knowledge about her wedding dress for favors from politicians. It’s just bogus and bizarre and why would anyone think of that? And the rest of the political scheming and spying is so diluted… it felt like 80% of this book was filler material.
But. The ending was killer. The ending really was awesome, when I could ignore the obvious plot holes in how the whole spying/scheming thing led up to it. The stakes were suddenly really high, and Kestrel’s emotional distress got to me. It was really exciting and I couldn’t stop reading, and I am thrilled to think about where this story is now heading. For much of The Winner’s Crime Kestrel was in a position where she just couldn’t do much… but that’s about to change. I think the last book will (hopefully) blow us all away.
Extra shout outs for things that I adored: Prince Verex, who starts out distant and resentful but actually becomes a trusting friend and adviser to Kestrel. Kestrel is trapped by her position, but Verex has even more experience with the emperor’s threats and control issues, and he’s not as stupid and blind about it as you may think at first. (And the scene with the puppy omggggggg.) Roshar and Arin’s banterful friendship did help to lighten the mood, and I wish there had been more of that. And Kestrel’s complicated relationship with her father. I get a lot of feels from father-daughter relationships, and this one is such a complex rollercoaster, but I adore it. It really helps those themes of duty vs. love, and please hold my heart now.