Published by: Farrar, Straus, Giroux
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.
You can see my original thoughts on this book in this post.
Those who wanted more scheming, more of the strategy over romance will find The Winner's Crime improved over its predecessor, The Winner's Curse. TWC2 has just as beautiful and purposeful of writing; every scene contributes directly to the plot/character/world in some way (and I emphasize this because not every YA book that I've read carries that sort of charge) and the layered and textured quality to the writing, character-driven and tension-filled without a hint of melodrama, reminds me of Kristin Cashore's writing. The third person alternating PoVs continues here as well.
Though I compared The Winner's Curse, and the writing above in The Winner's Crime, to Kristin Cashore's work, I was most struck by a comparison to Bitterblue. Like Bitterblue, who, once confronted with the ineptitude of her court, must decide how best to discover the horrors of her father's regime and how to help her country heal, Kestrel knows and understands the horrors of the Valorian empire and must make a choice: how much is she willing to risk to help the others most affected by Valorian greed and dominance? She traded her freedom for the limited freedom of Arin's people, but as the synopsis tells you, that is not enough. As a spy, Kestrel is sorely tested on all sides: by the emperor, her father, the Herrani spymaster, Arin himself. She enters a sticky web of deceit and intrigue that reminded me of how Bitterblue managed her nighttime strolls and her queenly duties. Her character growth is truly remarkable to behold. I loved the strength of her mind in The Winner's Curse, and here it has come to the center stage.
Arin is the new leader of his people, and he is exhausted. He continues to think of his decision to let Kestrel go, and he is sure that there was something wrong with Kestrel when she delivered her message about his people's freedom, yet more and more he grows to doubt what he felt and what he saw with his own eyes. Did Kestrel return his feelings, or did he see what he only wanted to see? Has he been doing that all along, not just as Kestrel's lover but as his people's leader? Is he good for his people if he loves a Valorian? Where Arin was the sure one in the romance in The Winner's Curse, now he is less confident, Kestrel the one who pushes forward in the trials ahead. Arin's integrity is at stake; where Kestrel's mind shines, his fortitude comes to center stage even while they deceive each other and try to figure out the emperor's plans. His character growth as a leader is just as marvelous as Kestrel's as a spy.
The plot is absolutely marvelous. It balances political intrigue against the personal considerations of Kestrel and Arin; the games and deceit of the emperor's plans for Herran and Valoria with Kestrel's and Arin's growing doubts about their relationship -- will they destroy each other before the Valorian empire has its way? While we learn more about the differences between the Herrani and the Valorian people, it never feels like too much or too little; there's a lot left to learn but we're left with the impression that it's all been mapped out, maybe to come in the last book or maybe in another series, who knows? Also this has my FAVORITE kind of intrigue and suspense with regard to the villain's plans: it makes the villain feel so well developed when the main characters have to work to understand what is coming, and even then they might be too late before the real horrors begin. I love smart villains. I love well developed villains (or shall I say, characters in general). The Winner's Crime succeeds so well in portraying both sides, the Herrani and the Valorians, in this tentative peace, with the enemies still humanized (although monstrous) in softer scenes that also reveal their cunning. The political intrigue, strategy, and world-building are amplified and come full circle, the mystery plotline running alongside the coming-of-age and romance.
The romance is a lot less prominent in this novel than in The Winner's Curse. Where we first had to understand the stakes of a relationship between Arin and Kestrel in TWC1, now we see how that relationship will further their own character development. The romance turns more into a subplot while fueling the character's motivations and yet the few scenes are just as steamy, just as tension ridden and filled with stakes. This series takes into account the personal and the overarching rebellion in a delicious tension-driven package.
Basically, mark your calendars. Find time to read this book.