Monday, March 9, 2015

The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski (The Winner's Curse book 2)

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t read the first book in the series, The Winner’s Curse, Stop! I don’t want to ruin one of my favorite series for you.

Please visit the Recaptains blog if you need a refresher on the first book in the series.

Kestrel and Arin’s lives have drastically changed since she bought him at the slave auction. Now, Arin is in charge of the Herran peninsula and Kestrel is engaged to the emperor’s son, all to keep Arin safe. If Arin knew the real reason behind her engagement, he would fight it and ruin himself. If the emperor knew why Kestrel had agreed, he would ruin her. She must now chart a slippery slope. Neither Kestrel or Prince Verex want to marry each other. The emperor gets Kestrel alone at dinner one night, he pins her for a wedding date since his son isn't interested. He gently pushes for a date at the end of the month but Kestrel offers her reasons for a summer wedding, many political. He sees through her ploy and remarks that she will make a fine empress. When the crown Prince arrives late, he claims that his father gave him the wrong time. Not one for his father's games or Kestrel's pity, Verex leaves. The emperor agrees to Kestrel's wedding date but wants her to meet the captain of the imperial guard tomorrow. He has a surprise to show her.

The surprise turns out to be a who. Immediately upon meeting the captain, Kestrel doesn't like the cruel man. He takes her to the depths of the dungeons where an older Herrani is chained to the wall. She is relieved then ashamed that it is no one she knows. The captain makes her watch as he tortures the man for answers. Remarkably, he tells Kestrel his name and that she needs to tell him, he needs to know. The captain is enraged that the prisoner is talking to her. He swears that he wasn't eavesdropping, only cleaning outside the door. He tells Kestrel that it is the year of money. The captain continues his torture and Kestrel loses her breakfast. The prisoner stops screaming but only because he has passed out. She leaves. Back in her rooms, Kestrel cleans up and lays down. The prisoner's words bring back memories of her nanny who once told her it was the year of the stars. Thinking further, she recalls that the prisoner told her that he needs to know. Suddenly, she realizes that the "he" is Arin but what does Arin need to know.

As the governor of Herran, Arin isn't happy to receive an invitation to a ball celebrating the engagement of Crown Prince Verex to Lady Kestrel. Just as Kestrel is unable to keep her thoughts from straying to Arin, he is in the same boat. Knowing that his attendance is required, Arin tries to send Tensen, the minister of agriculture. Tensen argues that the emperor will be insulted or guess that the older man is more important than he previously thought. Since they haven't heard from the spy they have planted in the imperial palace, this will be an excellent opportunity to see what is going on.

Kestrel goes to the emperor in an attempt to rectify her behavior in the dungeon. She wishes to go back and find out more information from the prisoner. The emperor lets her know that he is dead by his own hand. Kestrel knows that yesterday was a reminder of what will happen to her if her true intentions are found out. Running into Verex later, she is shocked to learn about the ball. Verex cannot believe that his father's chosen heir didn't know of his plans. Kestrel gets a good look at Verex and sees that he doesn't measure up to his father's standards. She promises herself that she will attempt to help him out. Nevertheless, Kestrel cannot help but look for Arin with each new arrival for the ball. When the Herrani minister of agriculture arrives on horseback just as the mountain pass closes for the winter, she is devastated to see him alone. Arin isn't coming.

At the ball that night, the engaged couple is introduced. Verex kisses her and even though she was prepared for it, Kestrel is numb. He apologizes and they dance together. He notices that she is miserable and asks if it is because he has been so unforgivable. He then asks if there is another reason that she is so determined to marry him. What is his father that holding over her? Kestrel wants to know if she is that bad of a choice for a wife. He smiles saying not that bad and Kestrel suggests that they make the best of their situation. She is then passed off to a senator to start the next dance. After a while, she feins being tired and goes to sit at a gaming table.  She looks across the room and sees Verex about to get creamed by a General at their game. He looks at her across the room and silently asks for help. Attempting for peace between the two of them, she helps him win through the use of hand signals to make the winning moves. The emperor's expression is amused but not disapproving when Verex is victorious. Looking around, she knows that her peaceful moment will soon come to an end. Declining offers to dance until later, Kestrel makes her way to an empty hallway. She looks to see if anyone is watching and slips behind a curtained off balcony closed off for the winter. Looking out the glass to the garden below, she imagines her wedding day and the life before her. She realizes that she will always be haunted by her choices. She snaps out of her despair when she realizes that someone is coming through the curtains. Kestrel is stunned to see Arin. He came after all.

He comes close but Kestrel says that they cannot be seen together. He doesn't move, only remarks on her behavior with the Prince earlier that evening. Arin wants to know how Kestrel could settle for someone like him. She will end up making him look like a fool. He speaks her name and her emotions run wild. She wars with herself to confess her motives but doesn't. Arin is looking for information about a Herrari servant. Knowing who he is asking about, Kestrel wants to know who he is to him. She realizes that Arin is being reckless with his safety. Kestrel knows that if Arin ever found out what she has done for him, he would stop at nothing to save her and she would let him. She offers to find out the information he is looking for. It will repay the debt she owes him. He tells her that she owes him nothing. What he has done, he did it for her. He gives the friend's name and Kestrel lies, saying that she knows nothing. She goes to leave but Arin stops her. His friend wasn't all he came for. He can't stop thinking of her and he knows her well. He knows that she is true to herself and has never been false with him. What is she keeping from him about his friend but more importantly, why is she marrying the Prince. Does she want him? Kestrel says yes and Arin asks her to prove it. Close to her, he begins to kiss her neck and moves up her face. He says that she is lying and Kestrel gets angry. She pushes him back and walks away. He apologizes. Walking towards the ballroom, Tensen grabs her before she can enter. She needs to have a look in the mirror before she goes back in. Tensen keeps watch while she attempts to put herself back together. Kestrel knows that he is the spymaster for Herran. She will only give him information as long as Arin doesn't find out that it has come from her. Tensen wants to know why not and she says that Arin will always put her first above everyone else, including Herran. He reluctantly agrees.
What game is Kestrel playing? Will she be found out? Does she marry Verex? Why doesn't he want to marry Kestrel? Does the emperor truly trust her? What information does she pass through Tensen? What happens when Arin realizes what exactly she has done for him? Will he put Kestrel above everyone else?

The trilogy will end with book three, The Winner’s Kiss, due out in 2016.

Visit Marie Rutkoski’s website.

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