Ancillary Justice meets Red, White & Royal Blue in Everina Maxwell’s exciting debut.
While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.
But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other.
Like, I love the characters and the romance but couldn’t give two shits about the space politics? That’s my vibe.
But then again, that is what this book is. A space opera romance, with a convoluted plot and uninteresting political drama. The world building was lacking, the sci-fi aspects (like gadgets and entities) were confusing–I still don’t know exactly what a Remnant is– but if you push that all aside there is a shining romance in between the pages.
What Winter’s Orbit has in abundance is inclusion. In the Iskat Empire anybody can feel free to be their authentic self, if you wish for others to know what gender you identify with you need only illustrate it by using the right kind of accessories. Seems superficial, but it works in a pinch. There are high ranking officers who identify as “they” as well.
The characters really breathed life into the book. I loved Prince Kiem, his self deprecation, his genuine drive to do the right thing even if he goes against his family, his willingness to really listen to his partners needs and even learn his culture… Kiem is a national treasure. At the beginning of the novel he was a little sheltered, by his own choice. Politics was not his thing and he seldom paid attention. Instead he volunteered in charities and tried to rehabilitate his image from troublemaker #1. By the end he grows up so much, taking charge and using his charisma for the greater good.
Jainan! T_T oh my goodness. I knew from the first interactions between him and Kiem that something wasn’t right. He seemed too guarded, always trying to anticipate Kiem’s needs in a very fight or flight way, always holding his tongue… He broke my heart. There is a lot of miscommunication between Jainan and Kiem, mainly because Kiem lives in a world where Domestic Violence isn’t a thing (he has no experience with it) and Jainan assumes all royalty will expect the same kind of treatment. Again, it is heartbreaking, and the moment these two finally get close enough to trust in each other what they are really thinking/feeling I shouted HALLELUYAH! It does drag along in some scenes, the same misunderstanding, but it builds in a realistic way.
While I don’t think Winter’s Orbit does a great job in the sci-fi aspect, I do think it shines when it comes to the romance and the respectful way it treats domestic abuse within a queer relationship. I felt close to the characters, both the main ones and the side characters, and wish we could maybe have another novel with Bel (Kiem/Jainan’s aide) as the MC.