Win the Rings by K.D. Van Brunt

SKU 978-1-77130-751-2

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The Cracked Chronicles, 1

Jace has been the property of the U.S. Army since they found out about her when she was five, and now she has become one of its most valuable weapons. But Jace is not the only one of her kind. Gray is one too, but with the help of his sister, he has spent most of his sixteen years hiding from the Army.

Now, the Army has found out about Gray and they cannot allow him to roam free. Operating on the theory that it takes one to catch one, Jace is send out with a special ops squad to hunt Gray down. But Jace is not the only one pursuing Gray, and the competition is after her too. What ensues is a desperate chase through city after city as duty and honor collide with love and sacrifice.

14+ for language and violence



“They’re all in there,” Lilly says to me when I arrive at my office, nodding toward the conference room.

“Wish me luck,” I answer. “Don’t be surprised if things get loud.” I intend to let everyone speak their mind.

I pull open the conference room door and enter. Three kids sit spaced around the conference table as if to put as much distance between each other as possible. On one side sits Max, slumped in his chair with one foot up on the table, his unruly brown mop of hair looking disheveled as if he stuck his head in a wind tunnel. Opposite him is Carmen, and Viraj sits at the far end—they’re both seventeen. Viraj’s family is originally from New Delhi; he has black hair and caramel skin. Max is the oldest in the room at eighteen. All of us have been at Cracked since we were caught on testing day.

When I enter the room, they look up at me. I can see a ‘why am I here’ look on Carmen’s face, and Viraj looks nervous, as if he thinks he’s in trouble. Max looks bored. He puts his other foot on the table. It’s a passive-aggressive challenge.

“Put your feet down, Max,” I say in a terse voice. I can’t let him get away this or he’ll never stop. He doesn’t respond.

“If you can’t act like an adult and take your feet off my table, then you can leave. Your call, Max.”

Max grudgingly takes his feet down, but he gives me a sullen look.

“What’s this all about?” Carmen blurts out.

“Yeah, why’d you call me out of class?” Viraj asks, looking around the room.

“Only you would complain about missing class, Viraj,” Carmen says in a derisive voice.

“Screw you,” Viraj responds.

“Todd’s already doing that,” Max says with a smile that drips malice.

Carmen lunges across the table at Max, but Max jumps up out of her reach. I swear under my breath. This isn’t starting out the way I wanted. I thought they’d be at my throat, not each other’s. I hold my hands up in a gesture for everyone to drop their weapons and disengage, but they ignore me. Carmen is now lying on the table her hands stretched out toward Max.

“Surprise,” Max says, “Carmen’s gone horizontal on us, again.”

Viraj laughs and gives Max a thumbs up.

“Everyone shut up,” I yell, but it’s only when I slap the table hard with my open hand that everyone freezes. “Carmen, get off the damn table. You’re scratching it.”

Carmen clamors off the table and drops back into her chair. “Just tell us why we’re here, Jace,” she says in a breathy voice. “Then I’m going to fight Viraj.”

“Me?” Viraj blurts out, sounding offended. “You started it, Carmen.”

This time I put my thumb and index finger in my mouth and whistle loudly. Finally, I think I may be able to grab ten seconds of their attention before they lapse back into their bickering.

“Listen up,” I say in as commanding a voice as I can muster. “You’re here because you’ve been picked to be part of a special team. My team. You’re here because we four are the best at Cracked.”

“Picked for what?” Max sneers, but I can tell I‘ve piqued his interest.

“A special assignment. But before I go any further, we need to clear up a couple of things. First, it’s Captain Moray, and this is my team. I’m in command. That means you take orders from me. If you can’t do that, then leave now.”

Max squirms as if to rise, but he doesn’t. I wait for a long time but it turns out the General is right: Max wants in on this. No one says anything. Carmen narrows her eyes and glowers at me. Now it’s Viraj’s turn to look bored.

“Second, you all know that I’m a real bitch.” Max smiles at this. I continue. “That’s not going to change. Sorry. But, I can promise you this. As of right now, I’m turning the page with each of you. The slate is clean as far as I’m concerned. I won’t bring any baggage with me. No grudges. Nothing. But I ask that you do the same for me and for each other. Clean slates.” I look into each of their eyes. No one turns away. “If you can’t do that, then leave now.” I point to the door as I say this.

Max fidgets some more, but gives me an indifferent roll of his eyes.

“Good. Welcome to the team. Now, what exactly is this all about? For starters, each of you is being promoted to first lieutenant, effective immediately.” Carmen claps her hand and gives a triumphant hoot, while Max pumps his fist in the air. “Also, like me, you’re graduated. But you will still train with your combat instructors individually. Don’t worry. Unlike me, you’re not part of management—so, Carmen, you and Max can still lead the kids.”

When the noise peters out, I lean forward pressing my palms onto the table, and I give everyone a serious look. “Everything I’ve just said, you’re free to tell your friends. Tell your girlfriend. Tell your boyfriend. I don’t care. Everything I say after I finish this sentence stays in this room, with the exception of Leon. This isn’t a game. There will be serious consequences if you so much as talk in your sleep to your pillow friend about anything I’m about to tell you.” 


Product Reviews

Score: 5 out of 5 (based on 6 ratings)
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Loved this book :)
Written by audrey t on 4th Jul 2023

Win the Rings is a gorgeous marriage with a captivating plot, witty characters, attractive magic, and perfect pacing. I found this book to be a very satisfying read and the lovely mix of moods that Van Brunt twists gives an appropriate feeling of tension and excitement. I found the romance to be more platonic instead of romance-romance. The sibling relationships that Van Brunt creates is such a strong, powerful connection that not many writers can master. I personally did not pick this one up for any romance themes, and I did not believe that romance played a huge role in Win the Rings, so I didn't find this terribly an issue. Jace threw me off a bit, especially of her controversial personality, but this book really highlighted the paranormal aspects. I'm still new to the paranormal fantasy world, but the flavours were really well knitted together. I also love the secret governments and special abilities trope and the backstory gave me huge chills. This actually reminded me a bit of Legend by Marie Lu (all-time favourite), but with a lot more of mysterious aspects and tons of paranormal action. The storyline and world-building was absolutely stunning, and the plot curveballs? ?. Jace kicks ass, Nia is absolutely adorable, and the epilogue sets an adequate mood for book 2. Loved this book :)

Publisher Weekly
Written by undefined on 29th Jun 2015

In a solid debut, Van Brunt chronicles the existence of a secret breed of shapeshifters who have, for the most part, been co-opted by the American military as weapons and spies. Sixteen-year-old Jace Moray is one such conscript, a rebel who has survived her years at Classified Resources-Academy Delta by being tougher and meaner than anyone else. Her reward for loyal service: leading a team dedicated to capturing rogue shifters like Gray Price, who has been living off the grid as a pickpocket and grafter, using his powers to impersonate his targets and pillage their bank accounts. With Jace and Gray engaged in a high-stakes game of cat and mouse, a mysterious third party complicates matters for everyone. Van Brunt’s premise offers readers plenty to think about, as the shifters change genders and dip into their targets’ minds for information. Not all of the ideas introduced get the attention one might expect (such as the American government stripping shifters of their rights, simply because they exist), but Van Brunt leaves room to explore this and other topics in future books. Ages 12–up.

A great opener to the series!
Written by Book Passion for Life on 13th Sep 2014

Win the Rings was a really great read and a promising start to a new series. Here we have a world where people can become ‘shifters’, now these aren’t your normal shifters that change into animals and such…. These people can acquire your appearance, your memories, your clothes, your life….. with the touch of a hand. Ever since the US Army found out about this ability among the populace it devised a test in which all five year old children are given the test to discover whether or not they are shifters, if they are - they become property of the US Army and live their lives in a prison-esque training camp where they will become weapons for their country, if they survive. Others choose to run and are taken by family members before the test is administered, living a life off the grid but always running. That is how we meet both of our leads in this story. Jace has been in the ‘care’ of the US Army since her testing at five years old, she’s been trained and moulded into a hardened young 16 year old, capable of defending herself against anything and anyone. She is the perfect weapon and few will challenge her but with that status comes hatred from her peers and a loneliness that no one should bear. She focuses on being the best that she can be so that one day, she will be set free. Grey is a ‘runner’ and along with his sister Nia, has been on the run since he was five having escaped just before the testing. Life on the run isn’t great and he is forced to use his ‘shifting’ abilities to survive and they’ve been surviving for 11 years until all of a sudden, he’s on everyone's radar and they’re coming for him with all barrels blazing forcing him and Nia into a run/hide/chase scenario. Jace is soon on the case as she is promoted and given more freedom, her General is trusing her with this new position and has made her a promise that if she can win three rings by doing these missions successfully, that he will deploy her to active duty and therefore freeing her of her current confines. Nothing will stop her from this goal and that of her ultimate goal too. I really enjoyed this book and to be honest, it’s not something I would have necessarily have read. The characters are easily relatable and I empathised with both of our lead characters. I enjoyed both of their alternating points of view and thought it brought a very balanced aspect to the story because on one hand we get what it was like for Jace who was institutionalised at 5 yrs old and made into a weapon, trained in combat, given others lives to use in such training and made to live in a hostile environment with her peers, fighting for survival on a daily basis, not to mention the lack of love & such emotions a child would need – basically they are moulded as a type of super soldier. Then we have Grey who shows us what happens when you fight back, when you flee the testing because your family knows what will happen if you fail and living a life where you’re constantly looking over your shoulder and having to resort to doing the wrong thing in order to survive. Both aren’t free, both are trapped, both just want to live their lives in peace. The storyline was very fast paced, just the way I like them! We have the shifting ability which could bring endless possibilities to a story, we have a secret Army facility that trains children with abilities and we see an opposing force to this facility and it all revolves around Grey because everyone wants a piece of him. As I mentioned, it is a run/hide/chase scenario, filled with action and I find these great for keeping me on my toes and interested in the story because you never know what’s going to happen next. I thought this was great opener to the series, it is brimming with potential and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Win the Rings (The Cracked Chronicles ) is fascinating, disturbing, and exciting.
Written by Daniel Sinclair Pearson on 2nd Jul 2014

Win the Rings (The Cracked Chronicles ) is fascinating, disturbing, and exciting. A kick-ass, 16 year old female shapeshifter, and her highly trained shapeshifter companions are the U.S. Army’s Special Ops most terrifying and lethal secret weapons. This superbly crafted, extremely dark and disturbing action packed thriller was quietly listed under the YA, Sci-Fi, Fantasy category but in my opinion this imaginative fast paced story will appeal to a much wider audience than that. Some important clues have already been revealed to the public in the previous reviews, but none of the clues disturb me more than the following statement. “Pursuant to Executive Order 125800, you are hereby confiscated by the United States Government. Your United States Citizenship and all legal rights under United States law are hereby and forever annulled.” Well done, Mr. K.D. Van Brunt. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your excellent novel, and it deserves five stars. I also think Win the Rings (The Cracked Chronicles ) would make a great action movie or TV series and I look forward to reading book two.

Non-stop action and one hardcore heroine equals an amazing YA read
Written by Heather on 2nd Jul 2014

Honestly, I didn't know what to expect when I started Win the Rings, because this is not my typical go-to genre. Granted I love a hardcore, tough heroine and all. In turn, that's what gave me the motivation to really dive into this story line, see what made her this way. And boy, am I so glad I stepped outside of my comfort zone with this one. First off, there's Jace--a teenage girl who has been the part of the United States Army for a very long time. You see, Jace has special abilities where when she touches someone, she's able to become them--shift into them in a way but still have their own thoughts at the same time. All individuals who are this way need to be brought to one place, somewhere secretive that's run by the army, where they are supposed to be training and maintaining their abilities safely. Jace isn't necessarily like the others though, in the sense that she's put it mildly. Heck, Jace can beat up anyone and everyone put in her way. And she does...a lot. In turn, she's chosen to graduate the program early. But before she's granted the freedom to leave, she must go on a hunt for rogues who never took the test to see if they had these abilities. Or really one rogue in particular. And his name is Gray. Gray's been on the run with his older sister since he was a little kid. But his time is fast running short with the army on his trail. Regardless of his attempts at trying out a normal life, Gray knows he's different, and also knows his sister has risked a normal life to take care of him. But what's a guy to do when he has absolutely no idea of the fate that's waiting for him in the end? Character wise, I felt a little more attached to Gray. Knowing his background, seeing him in everyday situations, I felt he was a little bit more developed. I truly enjoyed his protectiveness towards his sister. Even not knowing his fate fully, he did everything he could to protect her, as she did him. It's not often in YA books that you get to see a great brother and sister relationship like this, but I was super excited to explore just that in Win the Rings with this pair. Jace. Loved her. I did. I just wanted more from her in a way. More emotion, less hardcore. Not that I didn't like her hardcore, it's just that I wanted to see her feel a little more. I'm really hoping that's the case in the next book, because I really did enjoy her character, but maybe seeing a softer side to her will help me love her even more. If your looking for romance in this book, then you've got to know that there is very little. A sad down point for me, but not a deal breaker at all. You do get too see Gray struggle with trying to maintain a relationship with a girl, but it's short lived. Buuuut, if your looking for a non-stop adventure that never ceases, then Win the Rings is exactly the story for you. Two young people, living through a life with the weight of the world on their shoulders, trying to find out who they are, all while channeling their abilities, is the story you'll find here. Something fresh, something truly different then than the normal YA book, Win the Rings is definitely one you don't want to miss out on. Great story line, an amazing hero, and a tough heroine? Really, that's what this story is. I loved it. A lot. And will be impatiently waiting to see what's to come in Jace and Gray's world now that...well, I'm not going to spill the secrets here, but trust me you'll want to read Win the Rings to find out the secrets and mysteries alone.

You Gotta Read YA Reviews
Written by undefined on 3rd Apr 2014

Win the Rings by K.D. van Brunt is an exciting thriller with realistic characters. The main heroine of this story is a tough-as-nails army girl named Jace. Army life has made her hard, but as she gains leadership, she also realizes it is easier to succeed with support than when standing alone. Gray is, in truth, the anti-Jace. He has run since he was five with his sister and uses his shifting to steal, but only from those who “deserve it”. All his life, though, he has wondered if it would have been better if he had been found. As the wild chase goes on, Gray wants nothing more than to end his running and give his sister her life back. Win the Rings by K.D. van Brunt is a breathtaking work of art. Van Brunt balances two polar personalities in harmony without interrupting the flow of the book. Win the Rings keeps you on the edge of your seat as a man-hunt takes place. It shows the views on each side without making the book confusing, and leaves you in nail-biting suspense until the next chapter. Jace is determined to get out of C.R.A.C.D. and Gray is her last ring in a set of three to earn freedom. Will Street or Army win? No spoilers here!