by Kristen B.
Sometimes, it’s fun to figure out why a book has its title. Often, there’s an a-ha moment while reading when I come across the phrase or the action where it all makes sense. Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell has a lot of selling points, but the title may not be one of them. Okay, okay: The main characters maybe come to understand their feelings for one another while stranded in the snowy wilderness. I’m still not a fan of the title – too cold and distant.
However, I am a huge fan of the book with all its space opera and romance fun. It was exactly the escapist fiction I needed during a recent high-stress period. Prince Kiem is the disaster of a gadfly royal who spends his life with his charities and in the tabloids, but perhaps he has hidden depths that are just too much trouble to plumb. He is instructed by The Emperor, His Grandmother, that he is to make a dynastic marriage with his recently deceased cousin’s widower, Count Jainan. While politically necessary to hold an interstellar treaty together, Kiem finds the entire idea beyond intrusive based on what he figured was a “perfect marriage” that ended in tragedy. Kiem is pretty much a good egg who gets in his own way much too frequently. Jainan is another story altogether, but we’ll get there.
Those interstellar politics are vitally important and drive the science-fictional side of the story. Kiem and Jainan’s marriage solidifies the alliance between the Iskat Empire and its planet Thea. The Iskat Empire has similar arrangements with each of the seven planets that it holds, and it must maintain those relations to have continued access to the galaxy-spanning Resolution’s technology. And, it’s time to renew the 20-year treaty with the Resolution, meaning Kiem and Jainan’s marriage isn’t just a convenience. If the Empire falls apart, the separate planets become targets for larger, toothier fish in their medium-sized galactic pond.
Jainan’s world, Thea, is not entirely convinced that being part of the Empire has any immediate benefits. While he is part of an alliance marriage, Count Jainan also has commitments to his immediate family, his larger clan, and the planet. Part of the story hinges on discovering why this immensely intelligent human (space engineer by education and avocation) has withdrawn so completely from his duties. The pattern of Jainan’s reactions and assumptions leads to some fairly ugly realizations, as his new spouse Kiem discovers that maybe the first marriage wasn’t entirely what it seemed.
As in most romances that rely on wrongly held assumptions and misunderstandings, a good conversation or two would have gone a long way to soothing some of the worst conundrums. However, personalities and various crises allow our two lovable nincompoops to stumble around each other for far too long. They eventually recognize that it’s not only their relationship that needs some sleuthing – Cousin Taam’s death looks more and more like murder, the arranged marriage isn’t being accepted by the Resolution, and something hinky is going on at a mining station in Thean orbit.
It’s a whirlwind of a book filled with handsome men, entirely competent women, and all sorts of mysterious goings-on. The secondary characters fill out the margins and spaces between Kiem and Jainan in wonderful ways. I would really enjoy a book featuring Kiem’s personal assistant, Bel, who seems to have quite a piratical background. I also appreciate this book for its rather matter-of-fact portrayal of all sorts of gender identities and love interests. Yes, the primary romance is male/male, but it’s delightful that, in some rather refreshing ways, varied gender expression is commonplace and accepted. I’m looking forward to continued adventures in Maxwell’s universe (hopefully with more appealing titles).
Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, stitch, dance, and watch baseball (but not all at the same time).