To end the Valorian Empire's war with Harran, Kestrel has agreed to marry Verex, the Emperor’s son. She did this to save Arin’s life, as well as those of hundreds of Valorian and Herrani soldiers. While Kestrel longs to tell Arin why she has chosen the life she now lives, she worries about his reaction. Arin looks at Kestrel’s engagement and sees another well-orchestrated and executed power play. But he also sees what others don't: that despite the façade she presents, she is unhappy. He has also noticed that she has stopped playing her music. In spite of (or possibly because of) how well they know one another, neither fully trusts the other.
The palace courtiers still whisper about Lady Kestrel and the slave for whom she fought a duel and who has become the Herrani Governor. While most of the whispers at court are meaningless gossip, Kestrel begins to hear things that--under her keen strategic intellect--fall together, take shape and yield important information. She may have uncovered something that could destroy the new Herrani state. But whom can she trust? Whom can she tell? Is Kestrel prepared to commit treason?
In this second book in the series, Rutkoski increases the cast of characters, introducing new ones and developing existing ones. She also introduces another culture within the world she has built that is every bit as compelling as the Valorians and the Herrani. The intrigues are fascinating and the characters are captivating. And Rutokoski's descriptions of the world she has built, so close to our own and yet incredibly different, are lush and evocative.
Like its predecessor, The Winner's Crime is a frustrating book. While it is clear that Kestrel and Arin could, and would, make each other happier than they have ever been, everything seems stacked against them, from the societies that surround them to their own honorable ideals.
There is no publicized release date for the third and final installment in this series.
Reviewed by Daryl M., reference librarian