Winter’s Orbit has received significant acclaim for its insightful writing and emotional resonance. The central plot revolves around the tried-and-true romance trope of the “fake-dating scenario.” This is when the two protagonists have to demonstrate for external stakeholders that they are a romantic couple when in reality they are complete strangers to each other. Of course, the two strangers get to know each other better as they spend copious amounts of time together in order to bolster the verisimilitude of their fake relationship and (inevitably) romantic sparks fly in reality. It’s another iteration of “Love Conquers All.”
In Winter’s Orbit the main characters are Kiem and Jainan. Kiem is a grandson of the Emperor and has the title of Prince. Jainan was married to Kiem’s cousin Taam, another Prince. The Jainan-Taam marriage also served the diplomatic purpose of uniting the two worlds of Iskaat and Thea, respectively. However, when Prince Taam is killed (which may or may not have been an accident) the Emperor asks (read: commands) Kiem to marry Jainan in order to maintain the appearance of good positive relations between Iskaat and Thea. This is important because the decennial review of the treaty that Iskaat has with a galactic superpower called The Resolution that provides interstellar communication, trade and travel is upcoming and political stability and domestic tranquility are factors the Resolution will consider during the treaty review process.
Structurally, the author provides access to the inner thoughts of both primary characters (Kiem and Jainan), which primarily allows the reader to see what the two think about each other. That’s how we the reader knows that each of them is misinterpreting the words and (in)actions of the other. Because both Jainan and Kiem are essentially public figures, their marriage is first and foremost a diplomatic act, and is made available for public consumption. But of course this makes any private moments more fraught between the two.
In addition to the romantic plot, another key feature of the book is the political intrigue storyline. Both Kiem and Jainan represent their individual nations in their diplomatic and marital union, and they are pressured by representatives from their countrymen to demonstrate their loyalty in different ways. These political concerns play a role in what and how decisions are made, especially by the Emperor and the partisans from Thea and Iskaat.
One aspect of Winter’s Orbit that I really appreciated was the complete absence of homophobia. There’s never any stigma or questions about the fact that the royal marriage is between two men. This is extremely refreshing; it’s lovely to read a book where one’s existence and/or worldview as a gay man is not up for debate.
Overall, although I liked Winter’s Orbit and I enjoyed the same-sex romance storyline, as a space opera I was underwhelmed. In my opinion, the science fiction element of the book was under-developed. The good news is that even though the story in Winter’s Orbit is very self-contained, there are enough loose ends that a sequel would be reasonable. I would be interested in reading a sequel, which in some sense means that even though my overall reaction to Winter’s Orbit is muted, the book was a success since in the end I am open to reading more.
Title: Winter's Orbit.
Author: Everina Maxwell.
Length: 384 pages.
Publisher: Tor Books.
Date Published: February 2, 2021.
Date Read: October 20, 2021.
OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).