The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

The basics

Title: The Winner’s Crime


Series: The Winner's Trilogy #2

- The Winner's Curse (2014)
- The Winner's Crime (2015)
- The Winner's Kiss (2016)

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Goodreads Summary:

The engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria’s crown prince means one celebration after another. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement... if she could only trust him. Yet can she even trust herself? For—unknown to Arin—Kestrel is becoming a skilled practitioner of deceit: an anonymous spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret.

As Arin enlists dangerous allies in the struggle to keep his country’s freedom, he can’t fight the suspicion that Kestrel knows more than she shows. In the end, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth. And when that happens, Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them.

Read a full summary of The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski below. If you can’t remember what happened in The Winner’s Crime and you need a refresher, then you’re in the right place.

Thanks to Adelena for writing this recap!

in short

Kestrel is engaged to the emperor’s son in order to save Herran but Arin doesn’t know. Unknown to Arin also, she secretly works as a spy for Herran and finds out vital information that saves the country from starving. But because Arin thought she had turned into a cold-hearted, power-hungry soon-to-be empress, he left for Dacra in search for an alliance to save his country. But nothing ever goes happily because Marie Rutkoski loves breaking hearts so crazy things went down, Kestrel was caught (betrayed by her own father, too, that bastard) and got sent to work camps in the north while Arin (still believing that Kestrel had changed for the worst) heads back to Herran to prepare for war.

what happened in The Winner’s Crime?

  • Kestrel receives a letter from Herran’s new minister of agriculture, suggesting they have certain matters to discuss. Over an intense dinner Kestrel had with the Valorian emperor, it’s revealed that the he is a conniving prick, crown prince Vertex dislikes his father and Kestrel, and that the royal wedding would be held next summer (it is currently around mid-winter).
  • Arin can’t stop thinking about Kestrel and we find out Tensen, the minister of agriculture, is actually working closely with him. They discuss a Herrani spy, Thrynne, that had been sent to the Valorian capital and whom they had not heard from in some time.
  • Arin also receives an invitation to the capital to attend Kestrel & Verex’s engagement ball but he wants to send Tensen in his stead.
  • The emperor orders Kestrel to accompany the captain of the royal guard to an interrogation/torture of a captured Herrani spy who is, TA DA, Thrynne. He begs Kestrel in Herrani to tell someone something but was interrupted by the captain.
  • Kestrel requests to see the prisoner again the next day but the emperor says he had killed himself by exposing his skinned fingers to a bucket of his own waste, dying of infection. The emperor then gifts Kestrel a coin with Jadis, a girl from Valerian history/folklore who was in a similar situation as Kestrel & Arin but ended up killing the warlord who captured her in order to save Valoria.
  • To Kestrel’s disappointment, only Tensen arrives in the capital for the ball, Arin is nowhere to be found and the mountain passes were blocked. It was also green storm season so a journey by sea would be near-impossible too.
  • Jess, Kestrel’s childhood friend who was poisoned during the Firstwinter Rebellion in Herran also comes to attend the ball but does not seem happy with Kestrel. However, she gave Kestrel a pretty necklace with glass flowers as a gift.
  • At the ball, Kestrel helps Verex win a game of Borderlands, improving their relationship marginally. She then retreats to a curtained alcove to get away from the crowd.
  • ARIN STEPS INTO THE ALCOVE TOO AHHHHHH (because that hot boy boy couldn’t stay away without clarifying things with Kestrel)
  • They have a heated (both literally and figuratively) conversation where Arin doesn’t believe Kestrel truly sided with the emperor but Kestrel keeps up the act as she wants to protect Arin (aww)
  • Shaken by the convo, Kestrel leaves but bumps into Tensen before she could get back to the ballroom (and thank God she did because Arin’s kiss had smeared her gold engagement line on her forehead and the glass necklace was cracked).
  • While making herself presentable again, Kestrel agreed to become Tensen’s spy on the condition that her identity is kept secret from Arin.
  • At a garden party the next day, Kestrel advices the emperor to poison Dacra’s horses in the eastern plains instead of burning them and killing everyone, he takes her counsel and also forbids her from interacting with both Tensen and Arin.
  • Kestrel’s maids found masker moths in her wardrobe and she decided to secretly keep some larvae as she planned to use them once they grew into moths.
  • At a reception in the palace gallery, Kestrel tells Tensen she’ll place a camouflaged moth on a particular painting whenever she needed to see him.
  • The emperor threatens to punish Kestrel after seeing her speaking to Tensen but did not do anything for some time.
  • Arin starts to hunt for clues as to where Kestrel’s loyalties lie and was attacked in a hallway, resulting in a nasty cut spanning his left forehead to cheek, just missing his eye (but scratching the lid).
  • He kills his attacker and discovered the dagger that was used to cut him belonged to Kestrel (but the emperor actually took it from her earlier on) and wonders if she was responsible.
  • Kestrel sneaks out of the palace disguised as a palace maid to check where a certain senator’s ship had recently sailed. She was suspicious as he claimed to have gone to the southern isles but came back with no goods nor gifts, which was nearly unheard of.
  • She discovers he had sailed to southern Herran, where the hearthnut harvest was soon approaching. She figures out the emperor plans to take all the harvest, starving the Herrani.
  • At the same time, Arin found out the suspected senator and a water pipe engineer were probably working with the emperor.
  • The two bump into each other in the streets of the capital, had feelsy conversation where Arin said he trusted Kestrel had not been the one who sent someone to kill him (TRUSTED HER EVEN THOUGH HE KNEW HE SHOULDN’T AWWW) and agreed to play a game of Bite & Sting where if Arin won, Kestrel would have to tell him the whole truth and if Kestrel won, Arin would do whatever she told him to.
  • Halfway through the game they had a misunderstanding that Kestrel no longer had feelings for Arin due to his scar and he stormed off to the bar, overhearing courtiers discussing how Kestrel’s advise helped Valorian troops win over the eastern plains. He returns to the game, wins, and only demanded to know if what the courtiers had said was true. He left before Kestrel could tell him the whole truth (neither did he want to hear it anymore).
  • Arin suspects Risha, the kidnapped Dacran princess is Tensen’s spy (referred to as the Moth), and Tensen does not deny those suspicions.
  • Arin decides to go to Dacra in hopes of forming an alliance. He drops by Herran on his way there.
  • Kestrel finds out that Jess had lied about her entire family leaving for the southern isles due to her health condition and not only is Jess still in the capital, so is Ronan, her brother, who had proposed to Kestrel in book 1.
  • She also became friends with Prince Verex after he figured out that she had been forced into their marriage as much as he had.
  • Arin arrives in Dacra but was captured as a prisoner. He meets a former slave whom he had seen get mutilated by Valorians and who was actually the Dacran queen’s brother, Roshar.
  • The emperor is furious because the empire could not confiscate the hearthnut harvest and so the Herranis had at least a little food (Kestrel had secretly told Tensen to keep the hearthnut harvest but leave some to be infested with pests). Kestrel’s father, General Trajan, also returns from the eastern warfront, seriously injured.
  • Kestrel had a sweet moment with her father where he talked about newborn Kestrel in a drug-induced moment. She lies to him the next morning when he asked if he said anything out-of-line.
  • Arin agrees to learn Dacran in hopes of forming an alliance (his punishment for entering the country was that he wasn’t allowed to leave it either). Roshar reveals that Arin fighting the Valorians the day he had been mutilated gave him the motivation to try to escape again later on.
  • General Trajan asks Kestrel to help him recruit soldiers in the fight clubs in the city. She finds Ronan in one of them, asks him if he had told Jess about his rejected proposal (he didn’t), and despite begging him not to, he ended up enlisting for the frontline.
  • Kestrel visits the water engineer who she suspects is working with the emperor and found out she designed Herran’s city aqueducts.
  • The emperor gave General Trajan a chiming gold watch once he had fully healed (an odd gift because the general goes on stealth missions).
  • Kestrel decides to confront Jess about why she was upset. Jess revealed she saw Arin with glitter on his face (from kissing Kestrel’s brow) and tiny glass shards on his attire (from the flower necklace) at the engagement ball and realised Kestrel had something going on with him. She says she never wants to see Kestrel again.
  • Kestrel also notices Jess drinking a medicine that was taken after being diluted in water.
  • She discovers a spying room in the music room the emperor had given her.
  • Kestrel visits the royal physician to make sure Jess’s medicine would not harm her. He said it could only be harmful if taken excessively and symptoms of overdosage included shaking hands.
  • On a journey upstream to convince some Dacran tent-dwellers to move into the capital, Arin tells Roshar to burn the eastern plains so Valoria can’t harvest the grass and they also survived a tiger attack, bringing home a tiger cub.
  • As a reward for saving Roshar’s life, Arin requested an alliance with Dacra but the queen refused. He asked for a forge and to be left alone instead.
  • Ronan dies in the fires of the eastern plains. Kestrel tries to reach out to Jess but she mails back the opened letter.
  • Kestrel also finds out her father spies on her playing the piano as his watch had chimed from the spying room. While in the royal gallery with her father, he noticed the moth on a painting and brushed it away. Kestrel tells Tensen she’ll no longer be his spy as it had got too risky.
  • Arin invents a weapon similar to a gun (though the inspiration was a portable version of the canon) to fight the Valorians, securing an alliance between Dacra and Herran as Herran would be in charge of production of the weapon.
  • He also puts the puzzle pieces together and realise his suspicion that Kestrel might be the Moth was not as crazy as Tensen had claimed and decides to return to the Valorian capital to confront her.

how did The Winner’s Crime end?

  • Upon reaching the capital, Arin finds Kestrel playing the piano. BAD NEWS BECAUSE HER FATHER ALWAYS WATCHES HER PLAY OH NOOOOOO.
  • During the intense convo, it dawned on Kestrel that the emperor had been working with the water engineer to poison the Herrani (Arin mentioned the Herrani looked sickly and had symptoms of shaking but thought it was due to hunger).
  • However, she pretended that Arin was delusional to believe she would work against the emperor, planning to explain the truth to him afterwards in private.
  • He believes her claims and leaves. She quickly writes a letter explaining the truth and asks Tensen to pass it on to Arin as she could not find him.
  • Tensen agrees. He ended up not keeping his promise but still informed Arin about the poisoned water. Kestrel’s father killed the minister out of suspicion after hearing Arin and Kestrel’s earlier convo and found the letter, reporting everything to the emperor.
  • Kestrel is sent to work camps in the north while Arin sails back to Herran, preparing for war. HE DOESN’T KNOW KESTREL’S THE MOTH AND EVERYONE’S HEARTS START BREAKING.

This is a full plot summary of what happened in The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski. Check out our recap list for more recaps. If you can’t find what you need, you can request a recap from us!

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  • Jessamyn says:


  • Jen says:

    *Cries forever*

    • taebae says:

      ikr! omg, i get giddy everytime i think about the book let alone the series


  • April says:

    Bless you for doing this 🙂 I would never complete a series if I always had to go back and reread previous books!!

  • Emily says:

    Can anyone remind me of the interaction Delilah (Kestrel’s dressmaker) and Arin had?

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