Review of Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

I started this book last night and stayed up till 4 to finish it. Someone please remind me not to start reading books when I should be going to bed. But apart from the fact that I got so little sleep, I have no regrets.

This was a really beautiful book. The prose and the style immediately pulled me in, and the story and the characters didn’t disappoint either. As a fan of M/M romances, it is always refreshing to see societies where such relationships are considered as normal as any other, and genderfluid and genderneutral people are so much the norm that they have gender expressions that include them as well.

The plot deals with the arranged marriage trope. Kiem is a royal prince, one who is fortieth or so in the line of succession, and he is ordered to marry Count Jainen, the recently widowed representative of one of the vassal planets that the empire rules. The catch? They have to convince an external Auditor that they are authorised to speak for Jainan’s planet or they will not ratify the treaty that keeps the empire–and by extension, its vassals–safe. But Jainan has been out of touch of his clan for years, and Kiem is the black sheep of the family, tumbling from one scrape to another, with nary an interest in politics or any knowledge of it. How they navigate the forced marriage, and all the demands that come with it, along with their conflicting personalities and all the misunderstandings that come from it make for a fascinating read.

The worldbuilding is so good in this, with the Sci Fi elements so much a part of life that nothings stands apart. Descriptions are part of the book, and doesn’t break the flow of the plot. I would say that I mush enjoyed all the background that is weaved in to the main tapestry of the story that the overall pattern is made so much better.

Both Kiem and Jainan are characters that feel real. The author deals with domestic abuse and the trauma that stems from it in Jainan’s case, and it is depicted with much sensitivity in a believable fashion. Many of his early behaviours make sense only if you’re aware of the abuse he has already suffered at the hands of his dead husband, and the trauma stemming from it, however, and since that knowledge is only hinted at earlier chapters and explicitly mentioned only later, it is possible for readers to feel disconnected from his character for a while.

Kiem’s character is so easy to like, and understand, and his self deprecation is very relatable to me. It is something he does without thought, almost as a reflex, and till Jainan calls him out on him, even he doesn’t realise how he has been putting himself down either.

Though touted as a romance, it is more of a political sci fi saga in my opinion. The romantic elements are very faint till the half way point, and after it too, it is more of an undercurrent than the main theme. An excellent read in all, and one I would recommend to anyone.

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