The Winner’s Crime

The Winner's Crime

Title: The Winner’s Crime

Author: Marie Rutkoski

Series: The Winner’s Trilogy, #2

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s

Release Date: March 12th 2015


Five Stars

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 breath-taking Winner’s trilogy.

– Blurb courtesy of

This review may contain spoilers for previous book(s) in the series.

My Thoughts On…

…The Plot

“You can’t see both sides of one coin at once, can you, child? The god of money always keeps a secret.”
The god of money was also the god of spies.

After finished The Winner’s Curse I jumped straight into The Winner’s Crime. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened the Kestrel and Arin, especially after the way things ended between them in the first book. To say I wasn’t disappointed is a massive understatement; while it took a while for the story to really grab me in The Winner’s Cruse the second book had me hooked from the first sentence. Despite the war between the Valorians and the Herrani having ended the danger is not over for Kestrel or Arin.

Engaged to the crown prince of Valoria, a bargain she made to the end the siege on Herran peacefully, Kestrel finds herself thrown into the deep end of the royal court. She uses her words and her cunning to battle against the emperor every day. She feels trapped; she has no friends in the capital, no one she can trust. Meanwhile the emperor is searching for a weakness in Kestrel’s armour; he is cruel, spiteful and determined to bend Kestrel to his will.

But as the day of her wedding draws ever closer, with nobles and governors from neighbouring counties arriving at the palace for the celebration, and with them arrive the ministers from Herran.

He said, “How can the inconsequence of your life not shame you?”
He said, “How do you not feel empty?”
I do, she thought as she pushed through the library doors and let them thud behind her. I do.

Life in Herran has not been easy since the war and the siege. Although they have their freedom and their country the emperor is taxing the people to poverty and with the hearthnut harvest soon to come Arin worries about how much the emperor will take from them. The wedding between Kestrel and Verex is a chance for Arin to meet with the emperor and find out what is in store for his people, but it means seeing Kestrel again, and although she is the emissary between Herran and Valoria Arin has had no contact with her since she handed him the treaty and announced her engagement.

However the stakes are high for both Kestrel and Arin in the capital, the emperor is searching for any sign of weakness, both in his future daughter-in-law and the Herran minister. Arin makes no secret of his desire to find out what Kestrel is hiding from him, the truth behind her engagement and the generous peace treaty offered to the Herrani, and Kestrel turns spy for Herran, meeting with Tensen and revealing the emperors plans as she figures them out. Both of them are playing a dangerous game and it isn’t long before they find themselves too deep and in trouble.

…The Characters

“Kestrel saw all of her mistakes, strung in such a crowded, ugly line that it was difficult to tell which one had come first.”

Kestrel has seen more of Arin’s people and she cannot allow the emperor to take back Herran, to destroy the Herrani once more. She is still just as smart, just as cunning, and just as tactically minded but now she plays her games on a much larger scale; instead of plotting with her father she now has to stay one step ahead of the emperor. Kestrel feels alone in the court, she knows she cannot trust anyone in the palace with her. She no longer has Arin by her side, and Jess and Ronan have distanced themselves from her since the Herrani rebellion.

However she does find people she can rely on; Tensen, the Herran minister of agriculture and the spy master Kestrel works with, and Verex, the crown prince who is just as trapped by the emperor as Kestrel is. Verex is a pawn in his father’s games, and though he has no battle cunning like Kestrel he understands his father’s true nature and he is smart enough to stay on the emperor’s good side.

“Sometimes you think you want something,” Arin told him, “when in reality you need to let it go.”

Arin has changed a lot by what he did during the Herran rebellion. He has a position of power now, he is a leader to his people and determined to do everything he possibly can to help them thrive now they have their freedom. However he cannot help but think of Kestrel, trying to see her actions in a different light. He believes there is something he is missing in the treaty she presented him with but he cannot get the truth from her, and after a while he starts to believe the lies she tells him.

She turned to look at him, and he was already looking at her. “I’m going to miss you when I wake up,” she whispered, because she realized that she must have fallen asleep under the sun. Arin was too real for her imagination. He was a dream.
“Don’t wake up,” he said.

The relationship between Kestrel and Arin was so heartbreaking at times. They both seek out the other even though they know there is no future for them together. Kestrel is scared of telling Arin the truth so she buries it under harsh words and white lies to make him see her in a different light. In turn Arin wants to believe there is more to Kestrel’s actions than what she reveals to him but with everyone, including Kestrel, telling him different it isn’t long before he starts believing the lie.

The emperor was a major character in The Winner’s Crime. He seemed similar to Kestrel in some ways; he’s smart and cunning but he is also determined to win no matter the cost and he is a lot colder. He doesn’t have the same moral compass that guides Kestrel, and at times he acts petulant and childish. We were also introduced to some new characters from Dacra and my favourite by far was Roshar. He is charming, funny, sharp, and sarcastic but underneath that facade he has a darker side, haunted even today by his past actions. Every scene with him in was my favourite and I cannot wait to read more about him.

…The Setting

“There was a hill in the orange grove,” Kestrel said. “When I was little, I would lie there in summer and look at the fruit hanging in the trees like party lanterns. Then I was old enough to go to parties, and my friends and I would stay up until even the fireflies went to sleep.”
“How nice.” Yet the engineer’s voice was cold.
“Herran is beautiful.”
“The problem has never been Herran. It’s the Herrani.”

We saw a lot more of the world The Winner’s Trilogy is set in in The Winner’s Crime. The first book was primarily set in Herran, and it detailed the Herran war and the history between the Valorians and the Herrani. In the second book we see how Herran has changed since it regained it’s independence, in a way, from Valoria. The people struggle to prosper under the emperors harsh rules but they are free once again. We also see more of Valoria and the capital city where Kestrel now lives. I loved being able to explore more of the Valorians and their culture in this book, seeing the life Kestrel has in her home country.

The emperor is fighting a war with the East; and when Arin thinks to create an alliance with Dacra, to fight their common foe, we see more of the East too. I adored meeting all the new characters and seeing all the different new countries that we were only told about during the first book.

The stakes were a lot higher in The Winner’s Crime, despite the war between the Herrani and Valorians ceasing, and it certainly felt that way reading this book. Parts of the story had me on the edge of my seat and I couldn’t put it down. The ending was horrifically heartbreaking and it had me desperately reaching for the next and last book in the series.

What did you think of The Winner’s Crime? Was it a favourite of yours or could you just not get into the story? Let me know.

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