The Winner's Crime
by Marie Rutkoski
I loved the first book in the series, didn't think this one could top it. It did. I was wrecked by the first book, didn't think this one could hurt more. It did. So, basically, I enjoyed it so much that I'd rate it more stars than I'm even allowed to give.Summary: Lady Kestrel's engagement to Valoria's crown prince calls for great celebration: balls and performances, fireworks and revelry. But to Kestrel it means a cage of her own making. Embedded in the imperial court as a spy, she lives and breathes deceit and cannot confide in the one person she really longs to trust ...
While Arin fights to keep his country's freedom from the hands of his enemy, he suspects that Kestrel knows more than she shows. As Kestrel comes closer to uncovering a shocking secret, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth.
The first book was like...being put through a shredder -- this one was like being put through a shredder again, and again, and again, then being tossed in a bath of vinegar for good measure. And I loved it, it was an emotional roller coaster and you can't see a way it could end happily but spend every page hoping it does.
Kestral might actually be my favourite protagonist right now. She's awesome -- she can be impressively cunning and she's strong in a way that's rare to find in these types of books because her strength is in her intelligence and the difficult choices she makes where there are no good options, some characters fight with weapons, she fights with her words and her mind.
And Arin...he frustrated me a lot in this book, but I still adore him and his relationship with Kestral. I actually love how complicated their relationship is, because even if they overcome everything standing in their way, there will still be all these challenges they face, things they'll have to forgive each other for over and over again. A lot of forbidden romances seem really contrived and the things keeping them apart kind of silly, but this is one of the ones that gets it right.
I just -- I loved the book. The plot was great, the characters (old and new) were great, and I loved that we got to see more of their world and how it works. The only thing I didn't love about the book was that a lot of the Arin/Kestral stuff hinged on lies and miscommunication but even that, it's not "the book is bad for this reason" it's just frustrating and adds to the whole emotional shredder thing the book had going on.
I'd rate the book 5 stars out of 5 (more if I could). I enjoyed it so much that I stopped reading halfway through just so I could pre-order a physical copy before finishing the story (I was reading an e-galley) because I knew I needed a copy for my shelves. I really, really wish I didn't have to wait for the next book because that ending was torture.