I am completely in awe of this book and series at large so far. This book definitely cemented this as one of my favorite series, as long as the last book is not a complete catastro-fuck (I'm looking at you, Allegiant).
I loved this book so much. It was so consistent with the first book in terms of the characters' behavior and also in terms of the overall themes. So many times characters can be inconsistent between books to the point that they don't even seem like the same person you read about previously. This is what ruined the Divergent trilogy for me. So I was nervous something similar might happen here because I loved The Winner's Curse SO MUCH.
The political intrigue continued into this installment and the stakes were MUCH higher than they had been in the first book, which took this to a whole new level. The emperor and the system of government in general was so terrifying. I was nervous for my favorite characters in nearly every scene. It is so impossible to know in this series who to trust and what decisions may come back to bite our characters in the ass. It made this book incredibly excited, but it also caused me a fair bit of anxiety.
Kestrel was on point in this book. Was she perfect? No. Did she make mistakes? Obviously. But she is so damn smart and courageous. Some of the things she went through in this book were incredibly hard to read because I love her character so much. But she is nothing if not a survivor. I spent this entire book on the edge of my seat to see not only what she was going to do next, but also because I was dreading her being discovered in any of the dangerous schemes she had going.
Arin was heartbreaking in this story. The only thing about this book that really frustrated me was that so many issues could have been avoided if Arin and Kestrel had been up front and honest with each other. At the same time, it was always made completely clear why they could not be honest with each other and how disastrous the consequences could be for them in even the smallest interactions they had with each other. Their story remains impossible and heartbreaking. It is nothing short of soul crushing to read the things these two suffer through both together and separately.
This book ends with a MASSIVE cliffhanger. You have been warned. I feel like I'm going to die having to wait an entire year for the next book. So if you don't think you can handle that, I would probably wait to read this one until next January or February.
All that said, if you enjoyed the first book I don't find it likely that you won't LOVE this one. This is probably my favorite book that I've read so far in 2015. It is simply wonderful.