I was given an ARC of this book.
Spoiler alert for the first book. If you have not read The Winner’s Curse but plan to, stop here!
4 out of 5 stars.
Utterly fantastic and exciting! The Winner’s Trilogy (of which this is the second) is a love story that starts out between an aristocrat of a warlike empire and a slave of the defeated lands they both live in. The first book struggles with the ethics of slavery, just war, and what honour and loyalty someone owes to their people. In the end of the first book, Kestrel escapes to the capital of the Empire and becomes engaged to the heir in exchange for the Emperor offering the revolting slaves of her homeland a treaty instead of just wiping them out. The second novel starts with Kestrel living in the Empire’s capital under the sinister eye of the tyrannical Emperor, and Arin, the former slave turned governor, trying to keep his people alive under the new treaty.
The plot of this second book was more engaging for me than that second, because instead of pondering the ethics of slavery (something most of us have already figured out), it moves into the political intrigue of a large court and Empire. For those that like the political machinations of Game of Thrones, but hate memorizing all the 100’s of characters, think of this as a toned-down version. Just as good plot-wise, but you don’t need to keep a cheat-sheet on your person to cope with the sheer amount of proper nouns Martin throws at his fans. There are spies and plots, and spies plotting, and spies spying on plots and other spies. It is really good!
Kestrel and Arin’s relationship becomes more complicated now that she is engaged, but is still a large point in the books. Like in the first book, Kestrel still has to navigate her love for Arin, her sympathy for the slaves, and her affection and need for approval from her father. She grows a lot as a character as her role in life changes from daughter of a general to future Empress. Fans of Graceling by Kristin Cashore should check this read out, as it has a similar political feel and strong lead characters. Definitely an extremely strong second novel in the series.