My clumsy attempt at writing a romance story. Check it out and let me know what you think of it.
Happy Valentine's Day!
I liked the first book in this middle grade science fiction pirate series quite a bit, and Curse of the Iris is a great follow up. The characters get hashed out a little more, I was glad to see some more diversity in the overall world, and there are SECRETS and MYSTERIES and BURIED TREASURE.
Release Date: March 03, 2015
Published by: Farrar, Straus, Giroux
The Winner's Crime - Marie Rutkoski | Goodreads
Book two of the dazzling Winner's Trilogy is a fight to the death as Kestrel risks betrayal of country for love.
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.
You can see my original thoughts on this book in this post.
Those who wanted more scheming, more of the strategy over romance will find The Winner's Crime improved over its predecessor, The Winner's Curse. TWC2 has just as beautiful and purposeful of writing; every scene contributes directly to the plot/character/world in some way (and I emphasize this because not every YA book that I've read carries that sort of charge) and the layered and textured quality to the writing, character-driven and tension-filled without a hint of melodrama, reminds me of Kristin Cashore's writing. The third person alternating PoVs continues here as well.
Though I compared The Winner's Curse, and the writing above in The Winner's Crime, to Kristin Cashore's work, I was most struck by a comparison to Bitterblue. Like Bitterblue, who, once confronted with the ineptitude of her court, must decide how best to discover the horrors of her father's regime and how to help her country heal, Kestrel knows and understands the horrors of the Valorian empire and must make a choice: how much is she willing to risk to help the others most affected by Valorian greed and dominance? She traded her freedom for the limited freedom of Arin's people, but as the synopsis tells you, that is not enough. As a spy, Kestrel is sorely tested on all sides: by the emperor, her father, the Herrani spymaster, Arin himself. She enters a sticky web of deceit and intrigue that reminded me of how Bitterblue managed her nighttime strolls and her queenly duties. Her character growth is truly remarkable to behold. I loved the strength of her mind in The Winner's Curse, and here it has come to the center stage.
Arin is the new leader of his people, and he is exhausted. He continues to think of his decision to let Kestrel go, and he is sure that there was something wrong with Kestrel when she delivered her message about his people's freedom, yet more and more he grows to doubt what he felt and what he saw with his own eyes. Did Kestrel return his feelings, or did he see what he only wanted to see? Has he been doing that all along, not just as Kestrel's lover but as his people's leader? Is he good for his people if he loves a Valorian? Where Arin was the sure one in the romance in The Winner's Curse, now he is less confident, Kestrel the one who pushes forward in the trials ahead. Arin's integrity is at stake; where Kestrel's mind shines, his fortitude comes to center stage even while they deceive each other and try to figure out the emperor's plans. His character growth as a leader is just as marvelous as Kestrel's as a spy.
The plot is absolutely marvelous. It balances political intrigue against the personal considerations of Kestrel and Arin; the games and deceit of the emperor's plans for Herran and Valoria with Kestrel's and Arin's growing doubts about their relationship -- will they destroy each other before the Valorian empire has its way? While we learn more about the differences between the Herrani and the Valorian people, it never feels like too much or too little; there's a lot left to learn but we're left with the impression that it's all been mapped out, maybe to come in the last book or maybe in another series, who knows? Also this has my FAVORITE kind of intrigue and suspense with regard to the villain's plans: it makes the villain feel so well developed when the main characters have to work to understand what is coming, and even then they might be too late before the real horrors begin. I love smart villains. I love well developed villains (or shall I say, characters in general). The Winner's Crime succeeds so well in portraying both sides, the Herrani and the Valorians, in this tentative peace, with the enemies still humanized (although monstrous) in softer scenes that also reveal their cunning. The political intrigue, strategy, and world-building are amplified and come full circle, the mystery plotline running alongside the coming-of-age and romance.
The romance is a lot less prominent in this novel than in The Winner's Curse. Where we first had to understand the stakes of a relationship between Arin and Kestrel in TWC1, now we see how that relationship will further their own character development. The romance turns more into a subplot while fueling the character's motivations and yet the few scenes are just as steamy, just as tension ridden and filled with stakes. This series takes into account the personal and the overarching rebellion in a delicious tension-driven package.
Basically, mark your calendars. Find time to read this book.
When I first heard about this book, I was pretty excited, since I’ve consistently enjoyed Marie Rutkoski’s work (and LOVED her first trilogy). My enthusiasm suffered a slight ding when I read The Book Smuggler’s review, but I still looked forward to reading it a lot.
So, what to say, after actually reading? The writing is wonderful, which is not surprising. Rutkoski is a skilled prose writer, one of those people who can make it look so effortless. The world and characters are engaging and the pace really sweeps along, making for a breathless read, especially in the second half.
I very much liked and appreciated the fact that Kestrel is a heroine with a lot of agency and strength who is not great at fighting. Her talents lie in strategy and planning. Since I am always going on about the need for all kinds of heroines, this was a very nice thing to see.
I’ll also note that while I didn’t love the cover at first glance, and even really now, since it puts Kestrel in a weirdly passive pose, it does include a number of nice little details from the book–her braided hair, the dagger, etc.
Going in, I was worried about the romance between Kestrel and Arin, the slave she buys. It sounds fairly dicey in the abstract. That aspect actually turned out to be really well done, in my opinion. There’s a sense of meeting of the minds, rather than the purely physical “He’s so cutttteee” attraction which I personally feel is the downfall of many paranormal romances. They’re both complicated enough characters that their relationship is not a smooth one, but it’s also written in a way that I bought and became invested in.
So, all of those are positives, but I was left with some niggling issues and a whole post-it of notes. These are mostly related to the implications of the wider political scope of the book. Now, I’ll note that this is the first in a trilogy and I may later eat my words. However, I’m not entirely convinced that this will happen.
I’ll note now that the rest of this review will probably be mildly spoilery–if you want to avoid any and all spoilers, this is the place to stop reading.
Overall, I was left with a sense that, although lots of things happen–lots of huge changes in the characters’ lives and in their world which have huge implications for the way things will go in the future–the decisions and the consequences of those decisions are too easy. This is revolution, but it is a carefully planned revolution in which there is no chaos, no rioting, no uncontrolled bloodshed.
Similarly, because Kestrel’s strength is strategy, many of her decisions are made on the level of intellect rather than emotion. Although I certainly like seeing this as a strength, I also felt that it gave her actions a deliberate, bounded quality. Certainly there are consequences she doesn’t see or intend–the resolution of the book proves that–and yet, even in the twists, I felt that things were planned.
I also felt pretty strongly that Arin and Kestrel are both too Special. This is more of an issue in Arin’s case than in Kestrel’s, who is at least the child of one of the most rich and important men in the empire. Her skills make sense given her upbringing, special tutors, and so on. In Arin’s case, he’s about ten when the Herrani are subsumed into the Empire. He is then a slave, working in a quarry, in the docks, as a blacksmith. His being able to read makes sense; his knowing enough to successfully plan a revolution doesn’t work so well.
Underlying all of this is a key objection I have: that for a book dealing with the breaking down of privilege and a revolution against an oppressive government, the status quo remains oddly unchanged. We never really see the effects of slavery on the Herrani; there is no sense of the everyday violence they suffer, except the beating that Arin suffers at the hands of the Trajan family guards. The violence that we actually see as readers starts with the revolution.
I kept comparing this portrayal of Greco-Roman style slavery with that in A Conspiracy of Kings, which also deal with a child of privilege being confronted with the reality of slavery, but which has–at least for me–a much different effect. Sophos, in that instance, is himself directly affected and changed because of his experiences; his assumptions about the way the world works are completely broken down. While The Winner’s Curse makes many of the same moves, Kestrel has to be almost impossibly sympathetic, even at the beginning.
And although Arin is a point-of-view character, he is far more static than Kestrel. Kestrel, whose changing understanding allegiances are at the heart of the story. It’s her journey that is important, a kind of privileging of privilege. And Arin is, of course, a child of privilege himself, despite his current position. He is the natural leader of the Herrani resistance, because he is naturally charming and well spoken and strategically gifted–in a word, he is well born, with all that phrase implies. His conflict as a character comes with his growing attraction to Kestrel and the tension between that and his duty to his people, which is all good and interesting as it goes (I do like when main characters want to do the right thing), but it’s never resolved and I never had a sense that he had grown as a character.
All of this probably sounds more negative than I really mean it to. They’re certainly questions and concerns I have, but at the same time, I would say that I did enjoy The Winner’s Curse and intend to read the rest of the books. I’ll be interested to see if my perception changes once the series is complete. And I’ll add the caveat that other readers may not notice, or may not care about, or may disagree with my reading of the implications of the political aspects of the book. That’s all perfectly valid.