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twc The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski | Rating: ★★★★★

“Sometimes you think you want something,” Arin told him, “when in reality you need to let it go.”

Marie Rutkoski is a force to be reckoned with in the realm of action packed fantasy in young adult literature. She captures this fantastical and dangerous world of her so vividly, her characters so crystal clear and romantic. It’s easy to see the hype beyond this world and all the sparks that come with it–Marie has a talent of drawing you in within the first few pages and her characters refuse to let you go.

The Winner’s Crime has been on my most anticipated reads since finishing the first installment in the trilogy, The Winner’s Curse, and I’ve been taking my sweet time reading it. And because the previous book was such a massively captivating read, The Winner’s Crime had a great deal to live up to.

Because let’s face it, when you have such a solid start to a promising series, there’s a certain level of difficulty in capturing the magic of the previous book and expanded onto it. Sequels can be very hit-or-miss.

After such a delightful introduction, I wasn’t so sure that it could get any better–but Marie knocked me right off my game multiple times and proved that yes, it can get better, and yes–she was only just getting started.

I can’t begin to explain how captivating everything was in The Winner’s Crime; my heart nearly beat out of my chest for the duration of the novel.

I daresay that it was better than the first and that says it all right there. I mean, how can that be possible? So, I guess my first thought, when looking at The Winner’s Crime, is that the story itself was breathtakingly good to the point of heartbreak.

That’s what immediately comes to mind: heartbreak, glorious heartbreak.

We’d already been given a dose of this emotion throughout The Winner’s Curse; it had set quite the heavy tone and by the end of it, the feeling never quite went away. During this one, however, it seems to only grow and grow throughout the chapters of danger and struggle.

It hurt so much but it was still so, so, so good. Honestly, I really enjoyed the tone of danger within the empire and then in the East. You could feel the heat of an uprising boiling to the surface. It’s in these moments, you’re wondering: what can happen next?

That was the ultimate selling point for me: there’s this certain level of darkness and luxury to it all that just makes everything so alive and mysterious and thrilling. Not many people can pull this off, but Marie has a gift in toying with her audience and leaving us on the edge.

I’ll keep crawling back for more.

As for Arin and Kestrel, and the sea of characters that survived the previous book; they’ve grown in different ways and have suffered.

Each were changed and filled with different levels of tension and desire. Relationships and connections clash and cave in on themselves in a way that will have readers tearing up. There was a great deal of development amongst themselves that I really enjoyed–plus, the new scenery and characters were unexpectedly pleasant.

As their world struggles and fights and tears itself apart, alliances are threatened, broken and made; the outcome is crystal clear, though. People are dying and danger lurks in the distance–each outcome is as tragic as the next.

The Winner’s Crime puts everyone in jeopardy as the hum of war in the distance grows.

I loved that Kestrel was sacrificing so much of herself and playing the double agent when it came down to it. I worried a lot about her and her games throughout The Winner’s Crime; seeing your favorite character be put at risk so often is never easier to witness. She’s such an interestingly complex character that I was on the edge of my seat waiting and waiting for something terrible to happen.

Especially in the midst of all the coy threats brought on by the Emperor as she struggles to play her part.

She’s fooled quite a few people, but ultimately it isn’t enough because by the end of the novel she is paying for her treason against the empire. Her relationship with Arin is forbidden and crumbled to the point where we’re just not sure what can happen next–she fooled him into believing she doesn’t care for him.

She didn’t fool her father or the emperor, though. I was so heartbroken at the turn of events and how her father turned her in for her crimes. It was the most devastating blow throughout the novel.

I’m skeptical of nearly all Valorians, and have been since the start of the series, so while I wasn’t all that shocked by the way Jess and Ronan behaved in the novel, nor was I surprised that General Trajan would turn his back on his own daughter, it still hurt. I felt the abandonment and betrayal as Kestrel felt it and OH GOD, I am so worried for her!

I did enjoy a few of the less strained moments in her end of the story. She had very few bright spots this time around, but I did enjoy some things. I loved her interactions with her fiance; they have a great friendship that could have really worked for both of their benefits. I loved the inclusion of her dog and was heartbroken when she told her husband-to-be to find a safer place for the animal.

As for Arin, I wasn’t as drawn in to his story lines as I was Kestrel’s. This isn’t to say I hated them or that they are forgetful, because that is far from the truth. I just couldn’t get as into them as I liked. I enjoyed seeing his dynamic with those in the East as he tried to forget Kestrel and formed an alliance with them; gaining their trust. I enjoyed seeing his human side as he tried to sort out his feelings and figure out if he was only seeing what he wanted to see.

I think that the best part about Arin is that he is undeniably real. His struggles, his thoughts and his plans are ultimately one of the most important parts of the story.

I’m not sure where my heart went in those final moments as he hurries back to Kestrel, as he is finally understanding her actions, and she has to be harsh on him. As they talk, and Kestrel’s father watches, I’m telling you I felt the tension, I felt my heart dropping.

My heart was broken for these two as he believes her to not care. I didn’t expect to fall so hard for this relationship, but I have and I have no clue where to go from here knowing that Arin didn’t get Kestrel’s letter explaining to him why she had to say the things she did.

I am positively torn apart by the turn of events and knowing that she ultimately did this all for nothing.

Every decision she has made was to win Arin his freedom and to keep it this way. Kestrel had given up her freedom and her voice to save his; yet it would seem this wasn’t working. In all her longing to tell him, it all ends poorly for her and she’s left questioning everything. But she has to play her part–so she continues pushing him away, lying and pushing all the wrong buttons.

In the end, Arin believes her but her father and the Emperor don’t. And just like that, she has to pay for her crimes. They send her off somewhere, Arin believes her to be cruel and now… now we have no idea what could happen next.

I need the next book, now! I need to see how much longer Arin will buy into her act, I need to know if she will find a way out of her prison (giving whole new meaning to the statement “following your heart can be a crime”) and what will happen next.

I’m a bundle of excitement, of nerves and tension and heart eyes.

Oh, Marie–what have you done to me?!

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