A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Battle strategy isn't discussed in as much detail as in the first book, but there's still talk about different types of warfare. In the author's note from Book 1, Rutkoski mentions a connection to the world created for the Winner's Trilogy and "the Greco-Roman period after Rome had conquered Greece and enslaved its population in the expected way of the time." For this book in particular, she read Herodotus' The Histories, which, she says, "gave me some ideas about how to represent the East."
Star-crossed lovers are at the center of the series, leading to the question, what's stronger: a sense of loyalty to country, family, and way of life or the love of one person?
Positive Role Models
Kestrel is at war with herself the whole book, not wanting to go against her father but disagreeing strongly with his politics. She feels personally responsible for the welfare of those fighting against her country and reconciles this guilt by spying for the enemy instead of outright opposing the emperor. Arin can be a bit hotheaded but acts bravely to protect his country, risking his life to form an alliance with another country. He also risks much for Kestrel.
Violence & Scariness
A few people kill themselves in gruesome ways: by putting open wounds in a waste bucket and dying of infection, stabbing with one's own dagger as an "honor suicide," and stabbing oneself with scissors before soldiers can arrive. Besides the scissors death, there are two more deaths of sympathetic characters, one from a sword and the other in battle. Readers hear about all these deaths after the fact. A torture scene describes skin peeled off a man's fingers in front of Kestrel. Horses and people are poisoned. A face is slashed in a skirmish, requiring many stitches. A severe abdominal injury in battle is packed with gauze repeatedly. A kidnapping, a fistfight, a fight with a tiger -- men are injured and the tiger is killed. Repeated talk of an escaped slave's punishment: The ears and nose are cut off. And some talk of the death of parents years ago. A legend about a warrior girl kidnapped into a harem who kills her husband with knitting needles to the throat.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A couple of steamy kisses. Talk of unfaithful husbands and wives, a girl in a harem, and places in a fighting club where couples can have some privacy.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Kestrel is 17 and drinks wine at dinner with everyone else. A few tavern scenes, one with drunk sailors throwing up. Kestrel's former love interest -- who's a bit older than she is -- gets very drunk off wine and liquor. Tobacco pipes are smoked by bar patrons.
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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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.