Review The Winner's Crime (The Winner Trilogy #2) by Marie Rutkoski

Review The Winner's Crime (The Winner Trilogy #2) by Marie Rutkoski

Synopsis: 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.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Previous books in the series:
The Winner’s Curse

Recommended for: fans of Game of Thrones, Throne of Glass, Legend, The Hunger Games, The Selection, The Young Elites
My thoughts:
This book, gods, this book. It tore me apart, peeled my feelings off one by one, left me numb and broken but still with the right amount of hope to survive alongside precious Kestrel and Arin. A bittersweet torture. Because after this book, there has to be sunshine and freaking rainbows and flowers and hearts waiting at the next finish line. Right?!? They goddamned earned it and if they do not get a happy ending in the next installment, I'll curse the god of writing to the hell and back.
Now that I got that whole rant off my chest, let me detail. The Winner's Crime has an intricate, complex turn of events, filled with twists and revelations. Kestrel is in the capital, Arin is in Herran, but the current state and future of our heroine brings them together (avoiding spoilers right now). Suffice it to say, the tension between these two could be cut with a knife, since they all but adore each other, but they're still a million of miles away from being together for two basic motives: first, it's forbidden and down-right suicidal at the moment; second, they got other things on their plates, like how to protect Herran and Valoria from going to war -- meaning, implicitly, keeping secrets from each other.
Arin won my heart and support easier now than he did in The Winner's Curse. Basically, my heart ached for the guy thanks to Kestrel's manipulations. Even though her agenda was necessary in order to keep Arin safe, it didn't make it any less painful to see how he turns stone-cold. He's still young, he's still naïve and he's emotionally hurt to the moon and back -- and that's a combination that might prove lethal for his own sake. His love is so fierce and intense, his bravery unwavering and almost insane, his conflicting thoughts maddening -- all I wanted to do was hug the hell out of him while he was kept in the dark. 
“It’s a reminder,” he said.
“What I despise.”
On the other hand, there's Kestrel. Beautiful, brilliant, determined Kestrel (just like June from Legend). She's so desperate and alone in this sequel, trapped like a precious bird in a golden cage. Powerful, yet not having the right cards to dominate. Brave, yet needing to obey. Kind, yet using the mind of a killer. I believe her mistake was that she took the wrong risks, she placed the wrong bets in a new, dangerous game and all for the price of her freedom. She dug her own grave because she chose to wear the burden all by herself. The greatest asset is to know your limitations whereas she chose to ignore them and hope that they'll miraculously disappear. Nevertheless, Kestrel's flawed, but that makes her real, human and respect-worthy. She's not a machine, she's a loving and talented young girl with scars that run deep on the inside and threaten to burst free, but one astoundingly fierce. And for all that, I completely loved her.
“I don’t mind being a moth. I would probably start eating silk if it meant that I could fly.”
Let's talk about the secondary characters. I would've loved more of Jess and Ronan (oh, you stubborn, poor, masochistic Ronan). I would've loved more of Sarsine. And I would've loved more of the new characters -- Verex, Risha and Roshar especially. But their appearances were extremely calculated, enough to burn Kestrel's and Arin's eyes with the image of the consequences of their choices.
The rest of the newbies were, however, not exactly my choice of mates. We got to know the high and mighty emperor, who reminded me of the King from the Selection series and also the King from the Throne of Glass series, so I guess you already put together what a vicious, cold, manipulative and self-centered bastard he truly is. Then there's the dacran Queen, who reminded me of Maeve from The Young Elites and I haven't yet made up my mind if she can be fully trusted. And the last worth my attention is Tensen, an ally, a Herrani. But still just an optimistic fool that gave me Ned Stark vibes -- you know, good intentions, somewhat wise, spy wannabe and too trustful. I knew I was supposed to care about him, but I was quite indifferent towards his fate.
Another downside was that although the world-building was wonderfully expanded and we got the chance to roam the capital and the east, we had to lose beautiful Herran in return and I realized I missed it like Kestrel yearned for it. On top of that, General Trajan, whom I've come to admire, proved just where his priorities lie -- and it wasn’t heartbreaking just for my own damn self. *sniff*
These were small quirks of mine, if you want. I could've overlooked them. Instead, the main reason why I gave this book 4 stars instead of 5 was the fact that I often felt like running in circles. Not moving forward with the plot. Stuck. That's when the boredom would seep in and at the same time, my frustration. And it was all because of the abyss of never-ending secrets and lies between our protagonists, which led the story to a not so happy place.
Speaking of which, the ending of this book is harsh, cruel, bitter and all-around merciless (besides the notion that it's a goddamn cliffhanger as well). My heart was broken in teeny tiny bits and I got all watery-eyed at the unfolding events. There are so many things happening, most of them are spiraling down, not to mention that the situation is out of control. I never thought that Rutkoski would actually allow the plot to evolve in that direction, but it is still a bold move and I wholeheartedly admire her for it.
What comes now? I don't have the slightest idea. But what I know for certain is that The Winner's Crime had the worst of the journey and that if Kestrel and Arin can overcome what is coming towards them, then they'll be truly invincible.
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.”
In other words, this book is different from what I expected. Maybe a bit eclipsed by my thundering love for the first installment, The Winner's Crime is still a strong, solid sequel. It is definitely not a light read, so if you're looking for something romantic and dangerous like the previous book, you're looking in the wrong direction, since the current focus of the story is on politics and survival and death is the smallest price to pay. Much darker, daring and enriched with betrayals, bottomless secrets and crushed hearts, this book will have you breathless for the follow-up. Read it if you're ready for a gorgeous, smart and edgy fantasy.
“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.”

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