Romance is really not my genre; for one thing I’m very much ace and spent most of my growing up time wondering what was wrong with all the story people who apparently have no self-control with the lust and related emotional stuff. However, sometimes, there comes along a romance that has enough other elements, like actually interesting characters, plot, and/or setting, that I can appreciate the whole thing, romance focus or not. Winter’s Orbit is one of these kinds of stories.
In some ways this is a reverse fairy tale, as in the wedding happens first, then the falling in love part. The main couple consists of Prince Kiem, former screw up and the Emperor’s most problem grand-child, and Count Jainan, a political representative from another planet. Kiem’s Empire seals political treaties via marriage, and since a big one is up for renewal and Jainan’s previous partner has recently died, the relationship needs to be renewed by a new marriage. The political stuff is one element of the story, Jainan and Kiem trying to figure each other out and their marriage as well is another, then there’s the revelation that threatens both of the above that Kiem’s cousin Taam who was Jainan’s previous spouse, may have been murdered, so then there’s that mystery to solve as well. The only thing that bugs me is that Kiem notices and reminds everyone occasionally throughout the novel that he thinks Jainan is hot, but there’s little description of what either of them really look like. There’s enough personality that looks don’t need to matter, but if it keeps getting brought up, I’d still rather like a clearer image.
The universe of the story is pretty interesting as well, since although most everyone seems to be human, but gender and identity does not appear to have strict rules attached. Characters might have a title associated with one gender, but use pronouns from another, and I’m not sure any of the partnered couples mentioned, except for maybe Kiem’s parents (one of who is barely mentioned on account of having died a long time before the story begins), are clearly heterosexual. There’s also space pirates (mostly tangentially but still present), “bears” and “birds” that really are described more like dinosaurs than the real-world Earth counterparts one would typically imagine, and some pretty interesting twists/reveals about some key characters; one in particular stands out about Jainan that I’m not going to spoil but it explains so much and that reveal is what kind of allows Jainan and Kiem to really start to be real with each other, even though the falling in love has already started a while back.
There’s also some adventure, including wilderness survival, sneaking into secret military facilities, plenty of reporters sometimes helpful other times not, but in the end this was the Valentine’s read I wanted. I actually wanted to finish it for Valentine’s Day, but didn’t quite make it in time, but at least I had an appropriate story in process. Winter’s Orbit is written as though it’s a standalone, but I really hope this becomes more than that because I can see Kiem and Jainan having all kinds of entertaining and interesting adventures, both personal and otherwise.