I am really, really shocked at how much I liked this one! I think I have mentioned previously that I am not exactly one of the most broad readers of the romance genre, and I am not a super huge fan of the more contrived plots the genre follows. But here I am, writing up a review on a book that who’s main premise is a fake dating/arranged marriage scenario—and confessing that I really, really enjoyed it?
I think what really got me on board with Winter’s Orbit was Everina Maxwell’s ability to juggle all the different facets of the story with grace and charm. The setting is a fun one and very trope-rich. The Iskat empire is one of many galactic civilisations tied together via a space-network which is overseen by a body known as the Resolution. There’s a lot of delicate diplomatic ties and treaties that have to be made by the various nations who use the Resolution to make sure no one abuses it. Rushing over to invade a small backwater ‘empire’ would be one such example of abuse.
The Iskat Empire is in a bit of a bind, as they use marrige to seal important political ties. One of these ties was sealed with the marriage of Prince Taam to Count Jainan of Thea. Unfortunately, Prince Taam has suddenly died. So to set Iskat’s affairs in order, the Emperor orders her young layabout grandson, Kiem, to marry his cousin Taam’s widower immediately. Like, tomorrow. No argument. Or the relatively small Iskat Empire might find itself at risk from greater, more expansionist forces.
Keim does not want that on his shoulders.
Winter’s Orbit is first and foremost a romance, but this is not a case of first comes love, then comes marrige. It’s marrige first, then maybe, possibly, love—if politics does not get in the way first. But that’s not to say that everything else is just window dressing: the political ramifications of Keim and Jainan’s relationship do make up a considerable part of the plot. Tying into that is Jainan’s suspicion that Prince Taam’s death was not quite what it seems. So while you’re hoping that the Keim and Jainan’s awkward interactions morph into a slow burn romance, you’re also letting yourself get embroiled in the political intrigue at the same time.
It’s not the most original plot but it is very well balanced: Maxwell really has her juggling act down pat.
What I also liked about these two threads running co-currently is that it gave the relationship between Jainan and Kein considerable weight. While Keim is still sort of on the more immature side, Jainan is a more seasoned political hand with his own career. These are not two giddy teenagers, but two rather well fleshed out adults with well developed personalities. Keim is a bit of a smooth operator, but perhaps a bit sheltered, while Jainan’s dutiful outside demeanour hides a mischievous centre. And, look, they both have hobbies! Independant of each other! They also each have their own particular brand of awkward dorkiness, to be sure, which drives much of the stumbling at the start. But their romance is nothing like many teen-focused ones. And I, for one, loved that.
Another sort of cool little conceit that I liked about Winter’s Orbit being a space opera is that the sci-fi setting allowed Maxwell build a world where queer identities are very normalised. The customs of Iskat are not our own, and they do not carry our same baggage. And I just found that really refreshing. Less focus on the fact that it’s two men getting married, and all the focus on the why.
For a feel good romance with an equal dose of political drama and a Sci-fi touch, Winter’s Orbit might be worth a try. And because it’s me recommending it to you, you can be assured it’s not too overly twee or cloying
(And if you’re wondering how I came across this one—It was in part of the Hugo packet for the Astounding Award)
For Bingo, this is Heart. And that should be pretty self explanatory.
Also, this is the half cannonball review?