Genre: Sci-Fi, Romance
LGBTQ+ Category: Gay
About The Book
Prince Kiem, a famously disappointing minor royal and the Emperor’s least favorite grandchild, has been called upon to be useful for once. He’s commanded to fulfill an obligation of marriage to the representative of the Empire’s newest and most rebellious vassal planet. His future husband, Count Jainan, is a widower and murder suspect.
Neither wants to be wed, but with a conspiracy unfolding around them and the fate of the empire at stake they will have to navigate the thorns and barbs of court intrigue, the machinations of war, and the long shadows of Jainan’s past, and they’ll have to do it together.
So begins a legendary love story amid the stars.
You know how sometimes you start a book, read a bit, and are not sure you’re going to finish it?
That’s how it was for me with Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell. A friend recommended it to me, so it went on the TBR list sometime last year, and its turn finally came up. I dove in, eager to see what all the fuss was about.
And found myself in the middle of a fairly standard sci-fantasy MM romance. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I tend to like books that lean a little more heavily into the spec fic side of things. I might have dropped it then, but it came highly recommended from someone I trust, so I soldiered on.
Prince Kiem is low level royalty on Iskat, the kind that has no real prospects of anything beyond a life of parties and nights out with men and women that’s thrilling for a bit, but eventually pales. He’s always landing in the tabloids for doing unprincelike things, and only the steady hand of his young advisor, Bel, steers him clear of the consequences.
One day, he’s summoned to an audience with the emperor, and told he is to marry the representative from Thea, one of the planets in the Iskat empire, whose husband Prince Taam has recently died in an accident.
Count Jainan is officially in mourning for his lost husband, and in a fog. He agrees to marry Kiem, but theirs is not a love match, and he resolves to make the best of a long and unsatisfying life with the Prince.
Then it comes out that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident…
It took a bit, but when the book shifted from romance to mystery, it got its hooks into me. The main characters are well crafted – Kiem, the playboy who is finally becoming an adult, and is a bit freaked out that he has to marry a grieving man who he doesn’t know, and Jainan, the one who lost his husband and finds himself adrift in Iskan politics and intrigue.
Maxwell does a great job amping up the mystery, as different pieces fall into place at a satisfying pace – and I have to say, the guilty parties were not who i thought they would be. There are red herrings aplenty, and enough plot twists to make a bag of pretzels.
One reason it took so long for me to warm to the story was the “big misunderstanding” trope that underlies a good chunk of the story. There were so many times when the two characters could just have talked with one another and ironed things out. And the few times they tried, they were interrupted by people or events, forcing them to put the conversation back on deep freeze.
But a more charitable view of this might be that this is more of a slow burn romance than a big misunderstanding one, as these two very different men feel one another out. Jainan is strangely emotionless during his “grieving” period, and we find out later that there are REASONS for his behavior.
And whether you like slow burns and big misunderstandings or not, when the breakthrough finally comes, it is sweet and glorious.
By the end, I decided I loved the book – it manages to blossom beyond the romance plot to become a satisfying space mystery while still keeping its romantic couple central to the story, and while it wrap things up nicely, it leaves things open for another tale.
Well worth the read – stick with it, and it will reward you with a romantic happy for now ending that ties up all the loose threads (and provides comeuppance for the bad guys).
Scott is the founder of Queer Sci Fi, and a fantasy and sci fi writer in his own right, with more than 30 published short stories, novellas and novels to his credit, including two trilogies.