Everybody loves the kind of book that keeps them up all night reading. When I was younger, staying up into the wee hours of the morning in order to finish a book was not a problem. Now that I’m older, and have to get up at six, it’s a bit more of a struggle sometimes. But certain books are worth it. One such book is Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Crime.
The Winner’s Crime is book 2 in Marie Rutkoski’s Winner’s trilogy. Book 1, The Winner’s Curse, sets the stage. A Roman-like empire rules over the small territory of Herran. Kestrel is the daughter of the empire’s highest-ranking general, but she has little interest in her country’s—and father’s—interest in the military. Though her intelligence makes her good at strategy, her real love is for music.
Arin is the son of a prominent family of Herran, but that was before Valoria conquered his home and killed his family. Now he’s a slave, bought by the general’s daughter. But Arin is also strategic, and he bides his time as a slave until the moment is right for a rebellion.
YA fans can guess what happens. Arin and Kestrel develop feelings for each other despite the numerous issues between them. Things get severely complicated when Arin helps lead a rebellion to retake Herran from Valoria. Kestrel manages to escape to the capitol of Valoria, where she bargains with the emperor to make Herran an independent territory of the empire if she agrees to marry his son.
The Winner’s Crime picks up where the first book left off. Arin is the governor of Herran, and Kestrel is engaged to the prince, destined to be the next empress. The sexual tension between them has not alleviated after Arin becomes governor or with Kestrel’s engagement. Readers can expect a dramatic but investing relationship full of passion and tension.
But while the relationship drama keeps things anticipatory and exciting, the real pull of The Winner’s Crime—much like The Winner’s Curse—is the political drama. This may seem like a trend with me right now, after reviewing books like Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series, but I love books that have complicated and intriguing political situations. Part of this is the monarchist in me, I suppose. I like to see powerful political figures—emperors, kings, queens—making big strategic decisions, and then watching as the consequences of these decisions unravel. I like the intrigue of spies and conspiracies at courts, secret deals and arrangements. But I think most of all, I like the intelligence behind these kinds of plots.
I’m not saying that books about romance or coming of age, etc., are boring books. I love these books. But there’s something so exciting about an intelligent plot. It heightens the drama, pulling the reader more fully into the story. It’s more like watching an intense film, your heart pounding as you keep reading to find out what happens next. These kinds of plots take a lot of thought to create. The author has to be as intelligent and strategic as the characters they are writing. It isn’t easy, which is why I really appreciate it when an author does it so well.
Marie Rutkoski did it well in The Winner’s Crime. While I LOVED the relationship drama between Arin and Kestrel, I adored everything political happening in the book. Spies, alliances, secrets, betrayal. Politics. The book was exciting for so many reasons, and it set the stage for an equally, if not more exciting, third book. I can’t believe how long I will have to wait until the last book in the trilogy comes out!