“If you won’t be my friend, you’ll regret being my enemy.”
Basically: In the aftermath of revolution, Kestrel must stay in the Valorian emperor’s good graces as she is betrothed to his son, the crown prince. Facing war with the eastern nation, spies in the capital, and treason for loving a former slave, Kestrel struggles to find a way to win her game of strategy that quickly becomes more than a game.
This story is smart, cunning, and ten layers deep in secrets. The novel may be categorized under Young Adult, but it’s complex enough for the more mature readers who still enjoy fantasy. Actually, it’s surprisingly similar to Game of Thrones, right down to the torture scene. All the war, romance, secrecy, politics, and consequences that make Game of Thrones so vivid and compelling are present in The Winner’s trilogy, but with considerably less graphic violence and sex.
Where we left off: The first book in the trilogy, The Winner’s Curse, saw our main character Kestrel, daughter of a prominent general in the army, purchase a slave named Arin. Arin secretly planned a revolution to take back his land and his people’s freedom, forcing Kestrel to choose between her feelings for him and her loyalty to her country.
In the sequel, Kestrel is still pinned between the overbearing weight of remaining loyal to a greedy, war-hungry nation and her growing feelings for Arin, which she must keep secret from everyone, including Arin and even from herself. She is betrothed to the crown prince Verex, and will become empress in midsummer, just months away. She navigates the pressures of politics, an enduring war with the eastern nation, a spy in the capital (that she’s not unwilling to help), and the treasonous beat of her own heart. Kestrel may have a skill for strategic thinking, but she quickly finds she’s in over her head as she loses friends, gains enemies, and risks everything she cares about.
Told in brilliant detail and gorgeous writing from the alternating viewpoints of Arin and Kestrel, The Winner’s Crime forces you to pay attention to each piece of the puzzle and feel the full weight of every character’s decisions until the tension is wound too tightly to stand. By the end, you’ll feel the knife driven into their own hearts, and inevitably, yours too.
In the end: Read it! It’s layer after layer of mystery and strategy in this fantasy world that feels remarkably real. The tension is high, but the stakes are even higher.