Released: March 12th 2015
My Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads
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. (from Goodreads)
For some reason, I did not have high expectations for The Winner's Crime. I wanted to read it a lot, but I just didn't think it would be very good. I have no idea why, since I did like the first book. But as it turns out I enjoyed The Winner's Crime a lot, maybe even more than book one, and it definitely surpassed my expectations. This time, I am very much going to be looking forward to book three.
Kestrel was trapped in a situation that required her to constantly be acting and lying and making sure no-one suspected where her true loyalties lay. She needed to try and convince everyone that there was nothing going on her between her and Arin and that she wasn't sympathetic towards his aims. As a result she had to play to a clever game to hide what she was getting up to, and I have to say she was really smart, much smarter than I would have been in her situation. At first she was reluctant to take an active part in helping the rebels first; she just wanted to keep her head down and avoid trouble. But in the end she felt like she had to do something; she couldn't live with herself if she just sat there and did nothing. I did feel like she was too closed off at times, I think she should have told the truth about Thrynne among other things but I understand how she felt and how concerned she was about keeping a low profile. Sometimes I just felt so bad for Kestrel...especially at the end because oh my God. But I'll get back to that (oh will I get back to that). Mostly though I felt sorry for her because of this web of lies she was tangled in. It was sad that she had to pretend she didn't like Arin, or care about him. And I so desperately wanted her to tell him what was really going on, but I knew she couldn't and UGH.
Arin himself was interesting to read about. I really enjoyed his chapters; we got to find out more about him, like what happened to him in the first book all those times he wasn't with Kestrel and all the stuff he never told her, and it definitely gave us more insight into his character. We also got to see what he was planning and the people he was talking to and trying to make allies with. The Queen definitely liked him and I don't know how I felt about that. His reaction was kind of funny. Arin, however, did not spend much time with Kestrel in this book. They weren't often together. And when they were...goddamn it! He knew Kestrel was hiding something but he never found out what it was or why she agreed to marry the Prince or how she really felt - WHY couldn't he SEE ahhh! It was so frustrating that he didn't get what she was doing. But to be fair Kestrel was lying to his face every time they met, so it wasn't surprising that he doubted her feelings. But still. These two. I have such feelings.
Plot-wise, this book was really engrossing. I really liked the scenes where Kestrel was trying to gather information to help the Herrani rebels. The moth method of passing messages for some reason really stood out for me. I think it's because I kept thinking how much easier this would be for everyone if they just had some damn phones! It would be much less dangerous. But then that would be a whole different book. I just knew something bad was bound to happen eventually because of this risky method of communication. The Emperor (who was a horrible evil creep) was definitely playing a game and I knew he didn't really trust Kestrel. No matter what she did, he'd be watching her. The Prince though, wasn't as bad as I thought he'd be. He was stuck in this marriage too and I think he and Kestrel were forming a sort of tentative friendship (not really romantic though, I got the feeling Risha, who I quite liked, was a liittle bit in love with him). The ending though. The ending. How. What. I mean, I can't even express how I feel about what happened. [spoiler, highlight to read] HER OWN FATHER. [end of spoiler] HOW could it end like that? WHY WOULD MARIE RUTKOSKI DO THIS. I just. I'm kind of a little hung up on this ending even though I read this book months ago. At least I'm really looking forward to the next book now, and the different setting we'll probably get to explore.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Winner's Crime. I was an idiot to not expect great things from it, and I shall not be making that mistake with book three. Recommended.