A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Marie Rutkoski's The Winner's Crime is the second in a planned fantasy trilogy, following The Winner's Curse. At the center are star-crossed lovers Kestrel and Arin, who have a few secret rendezvous with way more tension than kissing. Countries are at war with talk of horses and people poisoned or burned. Most of the action happens at court where a cruel emperor pulls the strings. People commit suicide rather than talking (one man is tortured first, the skin pulled off his fingers), and others are either injured or murdered with swords in the palace. A few characters close to Kestrel die. Far from the court a man is kidnapped and fights a tiger, with injuries. Kestrel, at 17, drinks wine with meals along with everyone else. A scene in a fighting club shows her slightly older friend drinking heavily. Throughout the story Kestrel battles with herself over what's more important: her ties to her father and country or her ties to Arin and what she believes is right. Unlike her war-happy countrymen, she feels responsible and guilty about those they kill and enslave in the name of expanding the empire.
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What's the story?
Kestrel is settling into palace life and her decision to marry the prince -- her bargain to save the country of Herran and Arin, its official governor now. Even though her wedding isn't until summertime, the emperor insists dignitaries start arriving in winter to celebrate with a number of balls. Arin, as governor, is expected to make the trip. Kestrel knows the rumors have been flying about their relationship but still awaits him breathlessly. It's not until Arin's face is slashed in a dark corner of a palace that she really understands just what lengths the emperor will go to to keep Kestrel as his obedient protégé. Some day she will rule with the same iron fist, conquering and enslaving to increase the empire. It would all be perfectly laid out for her ... if her loyalty to Arin and fear for the Herrani people didn't lead her to spy on her own court.
Is it any good?
There's something to this formula for star-crossed lovers: The harder it is for them to be together, the more gripping the love story. In THE WINNER'S CRIME, it's hard to think of a worse situation for Arin and Kestral. Each one of their rendezvous is fraught with tension, especially the last one. The climactic scene is perfectly laid out in clues throughout the novel with the secret room and Kestral's father's watch. Well played.
Occasionally pieces of the story don't fit together quite as neatly -- it takes too long to get to the connection between the dress and the water engineer. And sometimes there are a few too many coincidences, such as Arin's connection to just the right escaped slave. But it all serves to tell the story of a very unlucky couple whom readers will still desperately be rooting for in the final installment.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the series so far. The first book, The Winner's Curse, ended with a cliffhanger and so does this one. What do you think is in store for Kestrel and Arin?
Why do you think so many fantasy stories are published as trilogies? What about the genre inspires that approach?
What are Kestrel's motivations to spy on the empire? Would you have done that in her place? What are her other options if she fears for her life? Does she have any?
- Author: Marie Rutkoski
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Publication date: March 3, 2015
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 17
- Number of pages: 416
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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