I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In Winter’s Orbit, Prince Kiem, grandson of the Emperor, is told he must marry a count from a small vassal planet, whose alliance with theirs depends on the terms of an upcoming treaty. To make the treaty process smooth, the Emperor wants a visible sign of their being on good terms, hence the marriage. But Kiem doesn’t have feelings for Count Jainan, not to mention the strange circumstances around the death of Jainan’s first husband. So Kiem and Jainan both wonder if they can really make this match work, and therefore ensure the safety of their worlds.
Something I learned about myself when I received this ARC: If a book description compares it to Red, White & Royal Blue, I’m automatically intrigued. This book isn’t quite as good as that, but I still had a good time.
I like both Kiem and Jainan as protagonists. They’re full of insecurities and neuroses and quirks, and they work together well on the page. They have some good banter too, which is always a plus. The side characters weren’t developed enough, though; not many of them were that memorable to me, other than Bel.
As for the plot, I liked the idea of an arranged political marriage gradually becoming more, and those aspects of it were fun. The politics themselves, however, left something to be desired for me. I didn’t quite understand how this interplanetary empire worked, or the machinations of the treaty. The Resolution, which is heading the investigations and maneuverings to prepare for the treaty, confused me—I still don’t know if it’s some kind of committee of aliens, some kind of object, or what. Basically, I think the world-building could have been better, because I felt like I was missing something the whole time.
That said, the development of Kiem and Jainan’s relationship was fairly well-paced, even if I wasn’t fully convinced by the end about the depth of their feelings. The gradual unraveling of the mystery surrounding Jainan’s first husband was good, as was the way the stakes escalated. The confrontation at the end, particularly one scene, was really entertaining. And in the end, Winter’s Orbit is a decent, if imperfect novel. I think many aspects of it could have been improved, but Maxwell definitely shows promise as a writer, and if you’re looking for a queer love story in a futuristic outer space setting, you’d probably like this.
Overall rating: 7.9/10
Winter’s Orbit will be published on February 2nd, 2021!
P.S. I really wish I knew how to pronounce Kiem. Does it rhyme with “team” or “time” or something else?!