THE WINNER’S CRIME

“If you won’t be my friend, you’ll regret being my enemy.”
Official Summary: (From goodreads.com)

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.

My thoughts: I think my mistake was reading it so soon after finishing the first one. Because after the wonder of The Winner’s Curse, what wouldn’t pale in comparison? I’m sorry to say that this one was just less thrilling. As a reader, I often felt overwhelmed with the sheer number of new events when there was no resolution to the first one. Or any following. I feel as though Rutkoski wanted to keep me on the edge of my seat, but she lost me in the continuing upward spiral of new revelations, when I hadn’t fully understood what came before.
    I think my biggest issue with this book was that fact- something new happened every few pages, and you never really knew why, and then there were few satisfying answers to questions that you first had while reading book one. I left book two feeling a little lost and sort of sad- I had expected more from the sequel of the book that made time explode (see the review of The Winner’s Curse).
    Additionally (and obviously this was a personal issue), I wish there had been just one moment where Arin and Kestrel were in sync, or some kind of peace between them. But all there was was mistaken hatred and anger and hurt. Even the letter explaining everything at the end of the book from Kestrel to Arin was lost, so he left thinking that she hated him (words borne of necessity because an enemy was listening) and she was swept away to the north without him knowing.
     Honestly, I would have enjoyed this more if I hadn’t read The Winner’s Curse and immediately picked up The Winner’s Curse. But that’s the way I read them, and this is how I felt- you may have felt differently, so let me know!
What to Watch (SPOILER alert):
     Really, the only thing worth mentioning in this is the violence. A spy is tortured, people are killed, and it’s no secret how they died. While it isn’t graphic, it may not be the best choice for younger readers. In addition, it does concentrate a bit more on the war Kestrel’s father is fighting in, and she offers up tactics to win battles in the east. Arin is attacked, and his face is cut open, which could be disturbing to some readers.
     Additionally, (and this was very minor) Arin is kissed once, propositioned once, and nearly lets the women have what they want, but stops himself in time. There is a slight description of these events, but nothing too serious.
     I liked this book, and I will be looking out for the third and final book in the trilogy, The Winner’s Kiss, but I wish there would have been more satisfactory resolutions to some of the issues brought up.
Questions? Comments? Have a book you’d like me to review? Post a comment below and tell me what you think!
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THE WINNER’S CURSE

“…People in brightly lit places cannot see into the dark.”

Official Summary: (goodreads.com)

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

My thoughts: This book. Wow. And again, wow. I understand the praise on the back of this one, which is from two amazing authors. This book made time explode for me. I thought I was reading for about ten minutes, but nearly forty-five had passed. I finished this one in half a day, and I don’t regret that time for a moment. I would do it again. Here’s why.

     A lot of these books- the forbidden love, the dangerous elite society catching on, etc. are predictable. You know the love story will happen in the first three or so chapters, and what’s left is all secret meetings and soft glances, maybe a stolen liaison or two. Not so in The Winner’s Curse. The romance develops in the challenges, the angry truths, the realization that even though they can infuriate each other, there’s an understanding that overreaches the world they live in, and they will change the world for each other.

     And the writing. Oh, the writing. I am in raptures. Sweeping, elegant, beautifully painful at times, Rutkoski captures what it means to write a novel that takes you into its world. Some authors have a hard time describing a foreign world in a way that makes it both understandable and yet still uniquely beautiful, but this author certainly does not, capturing the essence of the Valorian world and the beautiful, rich culture of the Herrani.

     While I loved the conflict between Arin and Kestrel, the conclusion of the book tugged at me, confused me just a little, and left me…unsatisfied. While we see the reasoning, of course, it still feels just the slightest bit forced, like Rutkoski herself was pained to write it. Contrary to popular belief, if your writing is as good as Rutkoski’s, you don’t need to end with a cliffhanger, but she did, and it felt so…wrong that I just couldn’t appreciate the thrill.

What to Watch:

     The most unsettling thing in this book is the way the Herrani are treated as the slaves of the Valorian, and the descriptions of their rebellion. Many people die, by the sword or by poison, and a popular punishment is the cutting off of the ears and nose. Slaves are also beaten and verbally mistreated, spoken to like animals and insulted to their face. When the Herrani take revenge, they do it with a bloody overthrow, and the violence does continue when the Valorians return to attempt to retake the city.

     This is also a romantic novel, and while there are no scenes of a sexual nature between Arin and Kestrel, they do kiss a few times. Additionally, after the (SPOILER) Herrani revolution, their leader, a man called Cheat, makes unwelcome advances toward Kestrel until Arin comes in and kills him.

    I have a lot of respect for Rutkoski, coming out with a book as stunning as this one. Although the sequel didn’t impress me nearly as much (review coming soon), The Winner’s Curse will remain in my memory as one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Of course, you may have a different opinion, and I would love the feedback!

     Questions? Comments? Have a book you’d like me to review? Post a comment below and tell me what you think!