ARC Review: Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.

But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other.

CW: past domestic violence

I still remember how excited I was when I first saw the cover and premise of this book and couldn’t wait to get to it. Now that I’m done, I can just say that I have a wide smile due to how much I enjoyed it.

When someone says that a book reads like fanfiction, I find that to be a compliment because fanfics have been the ones that have gotten me through the year from hell. The writing in this book does resemble that, being very easy to read and accessible. It’s a space opera but the world building isn’t too complicated, the author giving us just enough information to understand the political intrigue. There are unexpected twists and betrayals and lots of political maneuvering that makes it a very interesting read that’ll keep you engaged. We have some very beloved fanfic tropes like arranged marriage, only a single bed, the unlikely couple getting stranded and bonding over it and also lots of miscommunication and yearning because of it. And one of the most fascinating parts of this world is how normalizingly queer it is – gender is chosen by every individual and they can present themselves as whatever they want using symbols on their person, and relationships between any genders are just part of life. It’s just so lovely to read more stories like this where homophobia and gender binaries don’t exist.

But the strength of this book is definitely the characters. Kiem is kind of an insignificant Royal who is thrust into an arranged marriage in a very short notice while Jainan, who is from a vassal kingdom doesn’t have much choice either. While Kiem is kind, charming and capable of talking himself into and out of any situation despite being not at all political savvy, Jainan is more reserved, thoughtful, slightly anxious and thinks many times before even uttering a word. They are definitely opposites, which means the attraction is inevitable. While there was a lot of communication between them for a while which made me quite tense about what was gonna happen, it was also so lovely to see them slowly become reliant on each other and then able to talk about their feelings. I was literally sobbing with happiness seeing them get together and then work with each other to figure out all the mysteries. The ending was particularly very amusing and I was full of joy seeing the proceedings play out.

Even the side characters are quite interesting and each has their own arc. I especially loved Kiem’s assistant Bel who was a total badass with an interesting backstory and was such a supportive figure throughout the mystery solving. The Auditor and Agent Rakal also turned out to be fascinating despite me doubting their motivations. Gairad was a sweet addition while the Emperor was kinda subtly funny. But it was Taam, Jainan’s dead husband who felt like a constant presence despite not being alive and the author did such a great job creating and solving all the entanglements.

To conclude, I’m so happy that I got to read such a cute and lovely romance early on in the year. This is such an easy read in the space opera genre but the author balances the love story, the politics and the murder mystery perfectly – making this a very memorable book. It made me giddy and emotional and I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I highly recommend this one, especially if you like queer worlds and sweet romances. 

PS: Thank you to Tor Books and Netgalley for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.

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