Wednesday, February 25, 2015
ARC Review: The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski
Title: The Winner's Crime (The Winner's Curse, #2)
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: March 3rd, 2015
The Winner's Crime is tragic. Unlike Game of Thrones, where the train wreck disasters are interspersed with complex political motivations and nearly shrouded from the reader, The Winner's Crime blatantly opens the flood gates of impending doom from the start itself and though the reader knows what the inevitable, terrible conclusion will be, they are forced to watch the entire sordid tale of despair and irony unfold without the added benefit of side politics to distract them.
Frankly speaking, I just wasn't a fan of this form of storytelling. I adore Rutkoski's prose and her ability to seamlessly weave glimpses of the past--The Winner's Curse--into the present. Moreover, her gift for metaphor wins me over every time and the simple pleasure to be gained from reading her words is unrivaled. Yet, The Winner's Crime is a slow-build novel which, for me at any rate, offers very little to love beyond the prose and impeccable characterization. I wanted politics. I wanted passion. I wanted assassinations.
The Winner's Crime picks up shortly after The Winner's Curse ends with Kestrel on the verge of marrying Prince Verex and Arin reclaiming Herran as the governor of his people. With Kestrel's impending nuptials, the Governor of Herran must travel to the Imperial Palace to be present during the proceedings prior to the wedding. Arin, who knows nothing of Kestrel's role in securing a Herrani treaty, believes that she is following through with her upcoming marriage in order to gain more political power and wealth. Suddenly, the Kestrel Arin though he knew is no longer the same woman standing before him. For Kestrel, revealing the truth of her role in Herran's freedom to Arin only leads to a dead-end. After all, she is stuck in a marriage of convenience, torn between her desire for Arin and her life-long wish to please her father. The tension between the two is painful, at times, for the truth lies between them, as wide and deep as the ocean, and the doubts and misconceptions that they share only grow with time.
And that, truly, is why I am not as big a fan of The Winner's Crime as I could be. I don't relish the drama that is built up after multiple compounding misconceptions and, frankly, felt as if Rutkoski could have used the palace setting to enrich the political machinations of this world. Though Kestrel does her best to use her power to help both the Herrani people and the people of the East, the only true individual with power is the emperor. Everyone has either been bought by the emperor, living under his thumb, or killed by the emperor, dying under his hand. It's a black-and-white world of politics, one that Kestrel struggles--and fails--to succeed in. As far as the political sphere is concerning, The Winner's Crime barely moves pieces into place for the grand finale. Arin and Kestrel remain as estranged as ever and with their relationship slowly falling to pieces over the course of this novel, the future remains bleak.
The Winner's Crime does, however, introduce a new host of characters. Verex, Kestrel's future husband and the prince, is a difficult character to like at first but I thoroughly enjoyed the development of his friendship with Kestrel. Risha, the Eastern princess who has grown up in Valoria and, ironically, is an integral part of the plot despite having very little to say throughout the novel. The manner in which Rutkoski wrote her into the plot and made her such an important figure, albeit an often silent one, amazed me. Tensen, the Herrani minister of agriculture who arrives at Valoria to represent Herran. Although Tensen seems to be loyal to Arin and Herran, his vision of what is best for the governor often clashes with the reader's vision of what is best. And, of course, the emperor himself. Rutkoski writes the emperor to be every bit as ruthless and cunning as expected--a true villain to defeat--though his weaknesses and flaws are never revealed.
Instead, what becomes increasingly evident as the novel progresses, is the weaknesses of Arin and Kestrel. Arin, who keeps wanting to believe the best of Kestrel even when she treats him with disregard and without any of the former affections she used to exhibit for him. Kestrel, who yearns to make her father proud and constantly puts a man who has disappointed her over men, like Arin, who have cared deeply for her. Arin, who is so consumed by thoughts of Kestrel and her impending marriage that he often fails to see what is right before his eyes. Kestrel, whose association with Arin causes her to lose her lifelong friendships despite the fact that Arin himself doesn't know the truth about Kestrel's feelings for him. It's all such a complicated emotional web, and though I love it, I also hate it for the wreck it made me by the end of the novel.
While I am not a fan of the tactical devices employed in The Winner's Crime, namely the endless list of misconceptions Arin harbors towards Kestrel and the lack of resolution concerning them, I couldn't put this book down. Personally, I enjoy the middle books which lend themselves to hidden clues and hints of the impending finale, unlike The Winner's Crime where the conclusion seems open-ended and tragic, but The Winner's Crime is compulsively readable and for fans of The Winner's Curse, will not disappoint in the least.