The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

– Review contains spoilers to The Winner’s Curse –

winner's crimeBlurb: 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.


Marie Rutkoski, how could you do this to me? Over the past two days, I have lost sleep over The Winner’s Crime, and my emotions have been dragged and now left to dry. And when I finished the book, I was a mess, I had tears drying on my cheeks, and I yelled enough profanities to pay off a student’s university debt with a swear jar.

You’d think: was the ending that bad? I say: no, the ending was that good. (I have a weird way of expressing passion.)

The Winner’s Crime exceeded the high expectations I had following its prequel, The Winner’s Curse. (And they were high.) Thankfully, this book does not suffer from Second Book Syndrome. Instead, it flourishes by being purposeful and more significant within the overarching storyline than its predecessor. Powerful enemies formidable in their cunning and inhumanity are introduced, as well as colossal stakes of the political and geographical kind. Characters are fleshed, no longer mere symbols but complex characters that grow, regress, fall apart, and are put back together. The world grows, expanding to Dacra in the east. The Winner’s Crime is a testament to Rutkoski’s ability to craft immersive worlds with an addictive story.

Who knew suffering could be so bittersweet? Rhetorical, but this question is also the book’s thematic force. Rather than reminding the reader incessantly of Kestrel and Arin’s undeniable attraction for one another until you are suffering from blunt-force trauma, this sweet suffering is intertwined with the dialogue, the actions and thoughts of the characters. Intense, tension builds like grains of sand collecting in an hourglass; seemingly harmless until the anticipation rises to suffocation. It is subtle, and fortunately, the effects never disappoint.

Some books bear the promise of fulfilled romances, no matter the travesty and drawbacks its characters endure. However, the more you read The Winner’s Crime, that certainty begins to feel like naivety; optimism may begin to falter. When you are playing for empires and victory in war, love feels so minute in the grand scheme of things. And yet, the more dire things become, the more hungry we are for honesty and love. The Winner’s Crime is a faultless balance between the two, and neither side loses integrity. It is a battle between the mind and soul, and what a wonderful, heart-wrenching exploration Rutkoski has created.

Though the romance is a highlight, the politics of Valorian court life and war are inherent in the story. We witness court to be a delicate game of risk and deceit with its players blindfolded in the dark. Trust is fragile and dangerous to those who subvert the emperor. Favours, loyalty, and secrets are the currency in court, and Kestrel finds that she has none of these. Kestrel is powerless; survival is a steadfast facade of subservience. The underlying theme of revolution and liberation from oppressors is present, except it takes a far more interesting turn than the straightforward slave/master dynamic within The Winner’s CurseThe Winner’s Crime explores the price of ostensible freedom, and that peace from war does not entail peace from suffering and oppression, and that injustice is systemic rather than personal.

I have contemplated why The Winner’s Crime keeps me up until the little hours of the morning, whilst other books make me sleepy. Looking at the notes I wrote for this book, Rutkoski’s writing is extremely emotive. As a reader you become so absorbed that the character’s terror seeps into your own consciousness. My skin crawled, my blood iced, my heart plummeted. All its metaphors are illustrations that capture the polychromatism of emotions — suppression is a white needle of ice penetrating one’s heart, the aches of could’ve been‘s and reminiscence are faded-gold threads of time coming undone, and desire is an empty gray room. Beautiful, beautiful imagery, and delightfully raw. Rutkoski expertly evokes emotional reactions from otherwise stoic readers, arousing intense feelings of dread, despair, and even hope. Rutkoski’s writing is the gifted brush and your mind the canvas.

After all, The Winner’s Crime rises above a simple romance. It is part tragedy and part romance. Arin and Kestrel spend most of this installment apart, so there is a plethora of wishful thinking, beautiful delusions to ease heartache, and subdued yearning. There are cruel misunderstandings and betrayal of the most painful kind that seize your heart and never lets go. It is about convergence interrupted by circumstance, fate, inevitability – whatever you want to call it. At its very heart, this book explores dying hope and what we do or are willing to believe in our darkest hours of desolation.

The Winner’s Crime is a strong contender for being my favourite book of this year – and with four months left of 2015, I am confident that both The Winner’s Cure and The Winner’s Crime will fall within my top five. The Winner’s Crime is an invigorating read, with a passionate and poignant narrative, and wonderfully crafted. An easy, effortless favourite.

Rating: 5/5

Book Information
Book Name: The Winner’s Crime
Book Series: The Winner’s Trilogy #2
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Publisher: Bloomsbury

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8 thoughts on “The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

  1. I’m so glad you loved this book as much as I did, CW! This will probably be at the top of my favorites list this year. I thought the piano scene near the end was particularly heartbreaking because they were just so close to finding out the truth! And I really liked where the ending went because I really have no idea what’s gonna happen next. I also really liked what you said about the book being a balance between the romance and the intrigue that was happening, I agree Rutkoski strikes that balance really well. I also really liked the exploration of power throughout this book because the imbalance of power between Kestrel and Arin is constantly changing and even more so now that they are basically on equal footing. The misunderstandings actually meant something rather than just being there for angst too.

    • Hi Carolyn!

      Oooh gosh, I love this book and I feel like a masochist for it. It took me forever to write this review because all I wanted to say was, “THIS BOOK RUINED ME!! ALL OF YOU MUST READ IT!!” but even such vehemence does not a review make.

      But yes, the piano scene! I had to put the book down a few times during because I couldn’t breathe. It was altogether gut-wrenching and heart-breaking. Wah, so much pain on both sides, but beautifully written too.

      I loved the ending too. My goodness, I’m so excited for The Winner’s Kiss and I don’t know how I’m going to wait for so long.

      Wow, you’re right (re: the power play between Kestrel and Arin), and I never saw it that way! Thinking about it, that’s so true; now you have given me something more to think about. The power between them is fluid, which is probably why the dynamic between them is so interesting and complex.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me! It’s awesome to find another fan of the Winner’s Trilogy! :)

      • so true..so much pain yet so beautiful..
        Kestrel shot up to one of my favorite characters of all time in so short of a time.
        March 2016 seems soo far away; it kills me everyday lol.

        • Me too! I really like Arin too, both of them have such different personalities, and I love it when they meet and interact, even though it’s pretty rare in the books, esp. in The Winner’s Crime.

          8 months away! T_T Ah well, hopefully it’ll fly past!

            • That’s true! But I can’t really fault them for it, since Arin was a slave and Kestrel was his master… I think any dynamic like that would have some bad blood!

              In saying that, I can’t wait to see what will happen in The Winner’s Kiss, esp since their roles are now reversed.

              Hehehh, I’m going to cry a river, I can feeeel it.

  2. I found the first book ok but it wasn’t a favorite. I think it was because at that point, the characters weren’t fully developed, as you mentioned in your review. I did like the world building in the first book but I’m extremely happy to hear that it’s even better in this one. I’ve been bad with reading the sequels but I’m hoping to get to this one soon.

    • That’s a fair thought, Kelly, and I think you are quite right. The second book takes everything that the first book does well – and didn’t do so well – and makes it much, much better. Plus, if you like that sort of court politics/danger in every corner/can’t trust anyone sort of vibe, then it’d be perfect! :)

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