****SPOILERS**** I usually have a few spoilers that make their way into my reviews. So, if this is on your must read list and you want to be totally surprised, save this review for later. If you don't mind a few spoilers, read on.
If you have read The Winner's Curse, you know that the novel ends with Kestrel becoming engaged to the emporer's son. It should come as no surprise that this is purely a political move, one made in an attempt to save the man and the land that she really loves.
We find ourselves, in the beginning of The Winner's Crime. with the emporer making attempts to feel out Kestrel. They have breakfast together, meet together in his office, talk political strategy. All of this is simply so that the emporer can determine where Kestrel's allegiance lies. My opinion: Kestrel is loyal to nobody but herself. She may love Arin, but when all is said and done, she is who she wants to please.
Throughout the novel, many events are held in honor of Kestrel's engagement to Verex, including a ball that lasts through the night. Arin, claiming he couldn't come, sends another Herrani to the ball, only to show up later and engage in a tryst with Kestrel behind the curtains in her bedroom. Kestrel hides her tryst well, or so she thinks, but you can imagine that there is some fallout from her behavior. In addition to this hidden event, Kestrel also manages to offend Jess to such a degree that Jess removes herself from the emporer's home with no goodbye and refuses to speak to Kestrel ever again.
The remainder of the novel is mostly political ploys and games designed to keep us guessing as to whom is on whose side, and making us wonder who loves whom. There are spies created, allies made, and friendships broken, but what would be the point of a shaky revolution without all that?
To be honest, this is a slower moving novel than The Winner's Curse. There is not as much action. There is no revolution, not as much meeting of the hidden lovers. But, there is intrigue. There is a blackmail feel to the relationship between Kestrel and the emporer that will make you want to keep reading. I loved this book, and I loved the political intrigue in it. I loved learning about the new characters and their land - Dacra. (There are three lands here - Valoria, Herran, and Dacra.) I think it was brilliant the way that all the characters secrets are revealed slowly (and some not at all.)
Overall, this book is a must-read, so add it to your list! I give it 4.5 stars all the way!