Devourer of books with a preference for fiction. Quite good at competitive reading. Happily hoards books of all kinds. Gets stabby going too long without reading.
Disclaimer! I was granted an ARC of this book through NetGalley in return for a fair and objective review. The book is available now.
This review will contain some spoilers for The Winner's Curse. I will try to be vague, but it's pretty much impossible to review this without mentioning some of the important stuff that happened in the second half of the first book. You have been warned.
You still here? On your own head be it. Kestrel is now firmly settled in the capital, trying to put off her wedding to the crown prince of Valoria, without making it too obvious to the emperor that that is what she's doing. She desperately wants to see Arin, now the governor of the newly liberated Herran territory, but she's also not sure she can trust him and whatever happens, she needs the emperor to think her completely indifferent to her erstwhile captor. So when he arrives in the capital for her engagement celebration, she skilfully lies to him, again and again, all the while risking her own life to help the Herrani spymaster gather information against Valoria.
Every time Arin thinks he's been able to figure out Kestrel's words and actions, something happens to convince him otherwise. After he is nearly assassinated in the capital, he travels to the furthest reaches of the Valorian empire in search of allies for Herran. He endures all manner of dangers to keep his country safe, not realising that Kestrel is risking her life for the very same things, playing a very dangerous game of strategy against the emperor himself.
Anyone who was complaining about Kestrel's lack of awareness and empathy for the slaves of the Valorian empire, should be happy that in this book she is trying her very best to atone for all the unfairness she and her countrymen have inflicted on the territories they occupy. She knows she is surrounded by spies and informants and that the emperor is watching her every move, scrutinising her every statement in order to catch her in a lie or action sympathetic to the Herrani rebels. She needs to appear overjoyed at her betrothal to the crown prince, Verex, who himself is none to pleased with their coming alliance. The emperor clearly deems his son weak and disappointing and sees the marriage between his favourite general's daughter and his son as a great way to win the affections of his armies, while grooming Kestrel into a more satisfactory heir.
The romance between Arin and Kestrel is more in the background as the intrigues and intricacies of court life come to the forefront. If they could just talk openly with one another about their fears and feelings, so many misunderstandings and complications would be dispersed with, but of course, Kestrel can't be honest with Arin. She doesn't know if she can trust him, and she needs to drive him far away from her to keep him from being used as a weapon against her. For much of the book, she successfully pulls the wool over Arin's eyes. When he has figured out the truth, and confronts her with it, he chooses the worst possible moment. She has to lash out to protect herself, and manages to drive him away once more. He doesn't realise that his actions have doomed her completely.
The book ends on a very exciting cliff hanger, leaving Kestrel in very real peril and Arin apparently determined to forget about her forever. I will be very disappointed if they are not reunited in the third book, although I hope Kestrel manages to rescue herself, having shown such (sometimes foolish) bravery and ingenuity in these previous two books. Sadly, The Winner's Kiss (a promising title that seems to suggest a satisfying ending to their star-crossed romance) isn't out until March 2016, so I have a bit of a wait ahead.