Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Winner's Crime

Kestrel made a deal to free Herran with the emperor in exchange for her betrothal to the emperor's son. She is surrounded by the best of Valorian society and all the riches she could want, but she's completely unhappy. She's torn between wanting to further help Arin and the Herrani people and loyalty to her own people and her father. Of course she has to keep her true motives from everyone, including Arin, to be able to eventually rule the empire and do some good. The emperor is controlling and demanding, keeping watch over Kestrel's every move. Arin, on the other hand, is also miserable, but for completely different reasons. Herran may be technically free, but Valoria is leeching the country for all its worth so the people are as impoverished and beaten down as ever. Arin is trying to his best for his country, but he essentially has no power. Can Kestrel and Arin make a difference in their respective situations? Will they stay estranged forever?

The Winner's Curse was one of my favorite reads of last year and its sequel follows that same trend. It doesn't fall into the second book funk that so many other trilogies do. Although there isn't a huge revolution like in the first book, much of the plot is political intrigue and misunderstandings. Kestrel has to navigate the shark invested waters of the Valorian capital. She can never be herself or let her true feelings known, so she's constantly assessing how best to lie in each situation. With both the war in the East and the situation in Herran, Kestrel has to suggest ways to minimize harm without seeming too sympathetic towards the enemy cause. The emperor has taken her under his wing in the worst way possible. His goal is to make her as callous and cruel as possible to follow in his footsteps since he's labeled his sympathetic son as a lost cause. Kestrel can be his true heir if she follows his guidance. Understandably horrified, she struggles to seem like a true protege so she can do some real good as ruler when she and his son take over. However, this training includes witnessing torture and enduring countless mind games that wear on her psychologically. I felt for her each step of the way. I didn't always agree with her decisions, but I understood where she was coming from, even through all of the deceptions and lies. Juggling so many expectations and deceptions wears on a person.

The story also follows Arin and his struggle to save his country. The freedom of Herran is a sham since the emperor demands more money and resources than they can afford to give. Arin is still expected to be part of Valorian society even though it's painfully obvious how separate he is from them. He's mocked, looked down upon, and treated like dirt. After Kestrel convinces him she is a heartless opportunist and the emperor attempts to murder him, Arin recklessly decides to go to the East to secure an alliance against Valoria. His story is so heartbreaking  because there's truly no hope for his people without outside help. He's powerless in the face of the empire and his people starve and become sick with every passing day. His exploits in Dacran expand the world and allow the reader an unbiased look at this different culture as well as bring back an interesting character from the first book. Arin spends most of the novel angry or frustrated and I also felt for him. I was impressed by his ideas even if the implementation may have been a little rough. It's just part of who he is. He isn't built for intrigue or deception and it's one of his endearing qualities.

The Winner's Crime puts Arin and Kestrel through hell and keeps them mostly apart. Their scenes together were excruciating because they could never be truly honest with one another. It's cliche to have a couple misunderstand and misinterpret things badly, but there's a real reason for it here. The ending is a huge cliffhanger, so wait for the next one if you don't want to sped months wondering what will happen like me. The book moves slower than the last and a lot of the conflict is less obvious, but it's no less exciting or well written. Marie Rutkoski's skilled writing creates vivid images, taps into emotions, and kept me reading for hours on end. I'm counting the days until the conclusion.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

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