The Winner's Trilogy; book I
The Winner’s Curse was one of those unsuspecting books that really swept me off my feet- I had such a book crush on it, especially since it left me DYING for a sequel.
**contains SPOILERS for book I!**
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.
So, The Winner’s Crime.
Let's start with the good bits- the best bits- which are the characters. I loved Arin’s character development, The Winner’s Curse is mostly from Kestrel’s point of view, so it was really exciting to get to learn more about Arin. I liked the character traits he embodied this time around that (mostly) couldn’t be seen in book 1, such as his lack of self-preservation, his risky need to push limits. While he was definitely more complex as a character, I found him frustrating as well-- there was a bit too much push-pull (although we can all agree, his situation really isn't ideal).
It was like the book was filled with these maddening moments where readers are teased over and over again, until I stopped feeling that stirring of surprise and longing for something to just happen already. I'm still a fan of Kestrel, though I had some issues with her INABILITY TO JUST GET WITH ARIN ALREADY (wait what? did I say something?). I liked the new characters introduced—the Emperor is a delightfully awful person (although a bit too familiar), Verex seemed sweet, and Tensen was such a great surprise. Also, Kestrel’s dad deserves a sentence too: here you go, General Trajan.
Where the book failed to earn five stars though, is the plot. The pacing was great, but the plot itself just felt messy at times. A mixture of too many things going on (Empire, Herran, Eastern lands), plus the subplots which theoretically ties well into the plot, but were executed poorly (like the trail is set… just awkwardly, but the final reveal is no less satisfying). Like, there’s this whole part with Arin that felt very “good not great”. It definitely falls to sequel-syndrome, in the sense that it feels like a bridge between books 1 and 3, but I’m also a little wary of what book 3 will bring—I think the plot will be a major make or break factor for the final book in the trilogy. It also calls back to how The Winner's Curse (book 1) felt more contained in terms of both setting and plot, and thus felt more tightly wound and better executed.
Writing? Well done, for the most part, although there was still a bit too much tell-not-show.
So overall, I very much enjoyed reading this sequel, mostly because I adore the characters—Kestrel and Arin. Rutkoski did a fine job keeping their character motivations in check, but there were just other aspects of the book that just didn’t hit the right notes.
8/10 – because it was a valiant effort, but not quite perfect. Rutkoski expanded her world and cast, but at the (minor) expense of plot and secondary characters. Kestrel and Arin are lovingly frustrating (THAT ENDING), but hey, I can deal with that. I can’t wait to deal with that.
The Winner's Crime is released March 3, 2015!
My mini-review of book one, The Winner's Curse.