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.
Thank you very much to Macmillan for providing me with a review copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
CW: past domestic violence
Winter’s Orbit is out now!
“Very happy to- to-” He stuttered to a halt. To forcibly marry someone whose life partner just died. What a great idea. Long live the Empire.
I’ve always been adamant that I don’t enjoy scifi books. I hadn’t liked reading a single scifi book in all the years I’ve been a reader … that is, until I read Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell. And after I devoured this book in a day and a half, I came to the realisation that I actually love scifi books; I just hadn’t been reading any soft, queer, tropetastic books like this.
Winter’s Orbit follows Count Jainan who, after the sudden death of his partner, Prince Taam, suddenly finds himself hastily married to Taam’s cousin, the reformed partier and playboy, Prince Kiem. Together, the two men have about two weeks to convince an interplanetary organisation that their partnership is real and lasting to ensure that their home planets resign a longstanding treaty. But Jainan can’t shake the feeling that Taam’s death was not natural and before they know it, Jainan and Keim find themselves in the middle of a secret murder investigation, a smuggling operation, and the threat of war between their planets, all while dealing with their growing feelings for one another.
For a book with such a large range, Winter’s Orbit has become a comfort read to me. I’ve already read it twice within the space of three months and fully intend to reread it again at some point. I have now discovered that the types of scifi books I really enjoy are queer romances with light scifi in the background. Everything about this book just resonated with me, especially the wonderful main characters, Jainan and Keim.
Jainan has now become one of my all-time favourite characters. I connected to him on a deeply personal level, primarily due to how intense his anxiety is and how he spends so much of the novel trying to please people at the expense of himself. Jainan is so successful at hiding behind a mask that he comes across as cold and unfeeling, when he actually feels so much and so intently but he’s terrified of showing it. Kiem, on the other hand, is the star of the show: he’s incredibly likeable, a ridiculous flirt, and makes friends wherever he goes. He has a cheeky, loveable personality that everyone is drawn to, even Jainan. But Kiem tries to hold himself back from Jainan, careful to be respectful of Jainan’s grieving and give him as much space as possible. But as this book is ripe with my favourite tropes, one of them being miscommunication, of course neither Kiem nor Jainan realise the scope of their feelings for each other. While Kiem believes he is being respectful of Jainan’s grief, he’s missing some pretty obvious clues that all was not right in Jainan and Taam’s relationship.
The worldbuilding was fascinating, even as it took some time for me to wrap my head around. This is not a heavy scifi novel: you’re not gong to find an unnecessarily long and boring battle between humans and aliens here. What you will find is a captivating world full of deadly, overly large animals, complex clan systems, gender expression free from the binary, and interplanetary politics. All mixed in with a beautiful, soft queer relationship between two achingly human characters.
Winter’s Orbit is a novel I can’t recommend enough. It’s full of my favourite tropes — arranged marriage, miscommunication, yearning — with absolutely fantastic character development and a beautiful relationship at the heart of it. I’m crossing my fingers that Maxwell decides to return to this world — even if it’s an epilogue — because I would buy that story in a heartbeat!