This review is spoiler-free.
So, the world. The world of the Winner's curse (I have no idea what it's called since it never really says) is very impressive! I thought it was really well thought out, and I enjoyed the show-rather-than-tell nature of revealing little details one at a time.
For example, the game of Bite and Sting. I'm pretty sure this game is fictional, created for these novels, but it still sounds so interesting! We don't really know how to play it as readers since the only mentions are that it has tiles with two different categories: Bite and Sting. Bite tiles feature animals such as mice, while Sting tiles are mostly bugs (and I think it specifically mentions scorpions). Cool, right?
There was some other stuff too, that I found awesome, but I've forgotten most of it now.
One thing I didn't really understand too well is how long ago the war between the Herrani and the Valorians took place. It's obvious that it took place during Arin, the male main protagonist's lifetime (and therefore, probably Kestrel's lifetime too), but unless I missed something, it never gives the exact years?
Even the secondary characters and villians were characters that I felt concerned about or connected to. Well, maybe not the villains, but let me tell you: the villains were all characters that I love to hate! Again, won't reveal anything but my blood was definitely boiling with rage.
The plot is very fast-paced but easy to follow, and it does have some slow moments sprinkled in there as well. It remains pretty steady throughout though, and very intense. Wow, is it intense! And the intensity does not pause in the second book... it only grows!
In The Winner's Crime, I did find a few of Arin's chapters a bit too slow and sometimes they were a bit too angsty for my taste, but that was plenty understandable! And I loved all of Kestrel's chapters. She's such an interesting and driven character that I love to read about. I like seeing the two perspectives of everything, from when Kestrel first buys Arin (yes, it's a book about slavery. It reminds me a bit of the American civil war.) (And no, that wasn't a spoiler it says so in the inside jacket of the first book) to the end of the second book in this trilogy!
Another thing I enjoyed was the fact that the author didn't really shy away from killing off a few characters. I haven't shed any tears yet, but the possibility is real for the third book... I am expecting great things.
I can't wait to see where the third book will go, but at the same time I'm scared for what will happen to Arin and Kestrel! And Kestrel and her father's relationship... I want to see what happens with them too, since things... well, I won't spoil the books.
I gave both books 4/5 stars on Goodreads, giving the series so far a 4/5 rating as a whole. They go by super fast and are super engaging! I'd definitely recommend this to fans of Fantasy-Romance who enjoy storylines that include war, action, and political intrigue.