"Summoned before the Emperor, Prince Kiem-a famously disappointing minor royal and the Emperor's least favorite grandchild-is commanded to renew the empire's bonds with its newest vassal planet. The prince must marry Count Jainan, the recent widower of another royal prince of the empire. But the Jainan suspects his late husband's death was no accident. And Prince Kiem discovers that Jainan is a suspect himself. But broken bonds between the empire and its vassal planets leaves the entire empire vulnerable, so together they must prove that their union is strong while uncovering a possible conspiracy. In the shadows of a secret past and an insecure future, Kiem an Jainan must come together to protect both of their worlds"--
Lessee. The romance was pretty good. I liked how the bulk of Jainan's
Bel was a constant joy. I'm a longtime fan of the Vorkosigan verse, hyper-competent people in jobs where they excel is A from me. I'd forgotten her side plot and got blindsided by it and suddenly remembered being blindsided by it the first time, so maybe that wasn't as clear in the main text a the author thought.
The sympathetic side characters were in general fine. The cousin, the sister. This doesn't include people explicitly working for the emperor, more on them.
The strong point of the original story was the characters, and they got rather overshadowed by the extensive fleshing out of the world, some of which was far too much. It felt like there was a stakes mismatch by adding that - the main characters could go futzing around at their leisure when there was a month until an empire-wide crisis.
The whole thing with the emperor ties into this frustration, and leaves Bel as a glaring contrast. She knows how to get stuff done, but Internal Security/Rakal were up in there being obtuse and not sharing information that they should have had and that would have made the galactic crisis much more easily resolvable.
The emperor also was being tremendously unhelpful. This is fine if she wasn't meant to by sympathetic, but I think she was?
Romance-wise it's fine, feel free to skip over like all of the auditor stuff.
Maxwell balances a complicated m/m romance with engaging interstellar politics. While romantic fic fans will likely be sold at the mention of ‘arranged marriage’, for me it was the notion of two gay male characters featured front and centre in an exciting sci-fi story (and yes, maybe a little because of the romance).
Winter’s Orbit can be divided rather neatly into two parts. The first half of the novel is where we get most of the ‘will they/won’t they?’ action, and it’s as adorable as it is pleasantly frustrating. Kiem and Jainan’s relationship is complicated; their awkward alliance develops mostly out of necessity rather than through episodes of moon-eyeing one another, which makes the romance feel well-balanced with the greater plot. The two men are incredibly different people, so it’s a lot of fun seeing them attempt to figure each other out. Maxwell’s characterisation is well-developed, and Kiem and Jainan are both full of surprises.
While I enjoyed this set-up to the plot, I did feel that it was perhaps a little light on sci-fi detail. But then the second half came along and completely changed my mind. Suspicions around Prince Taam’s death come to a head, and the newlyweds find themselves investigating a murder while racing against time to prevent an interplanetary war. The action escalates nicely, and there are a few unexpected developments that I loved.
The overall story of Winter’s Orbit is so freakin’ good, and its orchestrated perfectly. Maxwell has offered a fantastic entry in a subgenre of science fiction that I’m going to dub ‘bureaucratic sci-fi’ (okay, stay with me for a sec). Complex politics come hand-in-hand with space opera, but the term ‘politics’ often boils down to impending/on-going conflict and shady characters with ulterior motives. So, a plot, that happens to involve government officials. However, Maxwell gets into the actual nitty-gritty of court procedures, law, trade, public relations and even government auditing. I don’t think I made that sound very sexy, but it’s SO interesting and adds a different aspect of realism to this sci-fi book. This worldbuilding tactic reminded me of A Memory Called Empire and aspects of the aforementioned Ancillary Justice.
I’d recommend Winter’s Orbit to fans of any of the titles I’ve mentioned, or who are looking for a great sci-fi read with a healthy dose of drama, humour and romance.
Iskat is the pivotal world in a multi-planet alliance which is in turn part of the Resolution, a galaxy-wide confederacy managed by the mysterious (and not a little weird) Auditors: to insure political stability, the inter-planetary treaties between Iskat and the other worlds are sealed by marriages, whose validity is periodically scrutinized by the Auditors. The relations between Iskat and the vassal world of Thea have never been ideal, and close to the next Auditor’s visit, the Iskan half of the political marriage, Prince Taam, dies in a flight accident: to affirm once again the ties between the two worlds, the Iskan Emperor orders a swift marriage between Prince Kiem, Taam’s cousin, and the Thean widower Jainan.
Kiem is something of a loose cannon, always involved in some kind of mischief and therefore well-known to the gossip press: he’s far from happy to be tied in marriage with a person who looks his exact opposite, and is still in mourning as well, but politics require everyone to do their duty, so the two start their married life, not without a lot of awkwardness and great difficulties in communication. As Kiem and Jainan walk the uneasy path of shared obligations, a number of details about the deceased Team seems to point toward shady deals and the suspicion that his death might not have been an accident. While political pressures mount and the clues hint at a far-ranging conspiracy, Kiem and Jainan find themselves getting closer, and more and more involved toward uncovering what might turn out to be a great danger to the stability of their area of space.
Let me start by dealing with the proverbial elephant in the room, i.e. the romantic angle represented by the narrative thread that sees Kiem and Jainan move from total strangers, forced into a marriage of convenience, to lovers. This is a frequent theme wherever romance is involved, and there was no doubt, from the very start, that these two would walk in that direction: the uncomfortable personal interactions, the misunderstandings, the lack of proper communication - all these elements are the classic staples of this kind of story, as is the situation that sees them alone and in danger after a flier crash, and leads them to finally speak frankly and acknowledge their mutual attraction. I am now aware that this novel started as a work of fan fiction, and as such it contains many of the tropes that fuel this kind of work, but it is all handled with such a light touch that it’s easy to lie back and enjoy the ride, even when you know from the start where it will end, even if the transition from virtual strangers to lovers feels a little too swift.
There is however a section of the story that seems somewhat forced: Jainan is indeed the poster child for the abused spouse in a toxic marriage, including the feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy at the roots of his psychological makeup, but it seems strange that none of the abuse he suffered before ever surfaces when the story is narrated through his point of view. As a reader I saw the symptoms were there, in glaring neon light, but none of it is ever brought to the surface until the moment of the “big revelation”, that is hardly surprising for the readers, unlike what happens to the characters. And while Kiem, despite his outward recklessness, is shown as a people’s person, able to make easy connections in any social situation, he never suspects the real reason for his spouse’s self-effacing attitude until he discovers hard evidence of it. I understand the need to stretch things a bit to enhance the reveal’s impact, but I would have liked a more organic approach.
Still, despite these minor quibbles, the overall story turned out to be quite enjoyable, presenting a galactic milieu where economic and military interests are at odds with each other, and where politics can be dangerously cut-throat: of course the background takes second place to Kiem and Jainan’s journey, and sometimes the details of this world are shunted to the sidelines in favor of the main story, to the point I sorely missed a closer look at this galactic empire and its many intriguing customs, like the one where gender identity is expressed through the materials employed in ornaments, which in turn made me wonder whether there are no other distinguishing factors that point to an individual’s gender. This detail is not explained and it remains one of my top curiosities about the novel, and the main reason I remain somewhat dissatisfied with the background, even though the overall flavor of the book reminds me somewhat of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan universe, which in turn makes me feel quite at home, thanks to the blend between the serious and the humorous that lends a very pleasant quality to the story.
I don’t know if Winter’s Orbit is a stand-alone novel or the first in a series, but I hope on the latter because I would not mind a deeper exploration of the setting - maybe with a little less romance ;-) - and a focus on some of the secondary characters, like Kiem’s amazing assistant Bel, to get a wider and deeper understanding of this version of humanity’s future.
Characterisation is great; detailed world building; too much plot; writing is great; pacing is a bit off at times. Spectacular for a first novel.
Okay, speaking on a perhaps more grown-up level...the pacing of the story was perfect. I loved pretty much every character that was presented, and nobody felt unfleshed.
And I want my own Bel.
I thought the world building in this was interesting. It really just throws
I typically read a few goodreads reviews before starting a book and there was definitely a divide between people who thought this was sci-fi with a little romance and a romance with a little sci-fi. I think I would describe it as a slow burn romance in a sci-fi setting. I know not everyone likes slow burn and it can make it feel like a story with less romance but I enjoyed it. I liked seeing the changing dynamic between Kiem and Jainan and learning more about them. I didn't realized this was initally published serially until I read the authors note at the end and I think some parts of this book and romance have some hints of that left in. There were a few scenes that I felt like slowed down the plot a bit but generally I think they did a really good job editing this into a finished work. I would have liked to have seen Kiem and Jainan talk about and reckon with the Taam situation a bit more but I did like the conclusion to their story. There aren't any sex scenes between them so it isn't the sort of romance that's more explicit, which is probably part of why some people didn't think this was very romancy. I like intimate scenes in my romances because I think they can help grow the relationship but I didn't miss them here and it made sense with the arranged marriage plot.
I would be interested in reading more from this author, either in this world or a different one. I almost always like space opera stuff when I read it, I just don't pick it up very often. If you're looking for a sci-fi book with some romance stuff but nothing explicit, this would be a good book for that.
Delaying the marriage is impossible. Unification Day is coming up soon, and by that time the Auditor must confirm all of the Empire's representatives and witness the treaty, or the Empire's place in the Resolution will be in danger. Trade agreements and continued peace rely on Kiem and Jainan playing their parts properly. Unfortunately, there's an additional wrinkle: Taam's death may not have been an accident.
I previously read this when it was a free original fic released on Archive of Our Own. I enjoyed it so much I read it a couple times (and reread my favorite parts even more than that), the most recent time being in 2019. I still have the file saved on my phone, although I resisted the urge to open it and do some comparisons.
I was thrilled when I heard that Tor was going to publish it - I rarely pre-order books, but I pre-ordered this one. I hoped some of the minor issues I had with the original would be ironed out prior to publication, but even if it turned out to be the exact same thing I'd downloaded from AO3, I knew I'd be happy just owning a paper copy.
I'm mentioning all of this because it very much had an effect on my reading experience (and my review - apologies for all the comparisons scattered throughout). Although my recall of the AO3 version was definitely fuzzy, I found it impossible to read Winter's Orbit without mentally noting scenes I recognized and scenes that were new to me. Even worse, my brain latched onto any information in the new and old scenes that didn't agree with each other - I caught at least one or two errors that were the result of old scenes containing info that didn't match up with the new scenes (which admittedly isn't bad, but I normally don't catch stuff like this at all).
Although the overall story was the same as the AO3 version and all the major characters were still the same sort of people, Winter's Orbit was definitely a new experience. The political aspects and setting were more fleshed out, and certain events were integrated differently (for the better, overall). The book's second half, in particular, was different enough in key areas (or my memories were fuzzier) that I was finally able to just read and enjoy what was going on without my brain spending so much time in comparison mode.
I found the political aspects of the book to be a bit dry and confusing to the point where I'm not 100% sure that my description at the beginning of this review is accurate - I still don't understand the Resolution, the Auditor (who came across as very alien but was apparently human), and why certain things were the way they were. Thankfully, understanding the political aspects of the book wasn't vital, at least not for me - I tend to be a more character-focused reader, and I was more interested in Kiem and Jainan.
That's probably part of the reason why I liked the second half of the book more - that was when most of the forward movement in Kiem and Jainan's relationship happened. I loved watching them interact and figure each other out just as much this time around as the first. Kiem was the sparkling extrovert who could make friends with almost anybody. Jainan was the duty-bound and scholarly introvert. They both secretly thought they were a bad match for the other and wished that wasn't the case - I wanted to hug them.
One character/relationship aspect that was a bit different than I remembered was the way part of Jainan's backstory was handled. In the AO3 version, I felt it was clear enough earlier on that I didn't consider it to be a spoiler. In Winter's Orbit, however, it seemed more subtle and deeper into spoiler territory. On the one hand, it made Kiem look less dense (one of my few complaints about the AO3 version was how long it took Kiem to catch on to one bit of information, since it seemed so obvious and he was otherwise great at reading people). On the other hand, it potentially made Jainan a more frustrating character.
I'm really glad that this got the print release it deserved - I enjoyed it overall, despite my "can't turn off comparison brain" issues. From what I've heard, there will be at least one more book in this setting, if not necessarily starring the same characters, and I'm very much looking forward to it.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)
When Prince Taam dies a treaty is in jeopardy and Prince Kiem, somewhat the black sheep of the extended imperial family, has to step into the breach and marry his
As the story unfolded I really felt for the characters and wanted them to succeed and to prosper. Two great characters and their side kicks were a lot of fun too. Honestly it could have been set in a corporate boardroom and still worked but it really made me want to read more by this author.
The plot and writing could have been from countless YA fantasies, but it was infinitely less annoying when the characters actually fit their
The scifi spin is mostly just the space setting, other than that this is mostly just court intrigue and political machinations.
I also liked most of the characters, even though they remained a little surface level.
I listened to this on audio and couldn't stop going until I was done, so pretty well written over all.
Prince Kiem has been told he will marry the widower Jainan in order to keep a treaty between their two planets active. They know nothing of one another other than Jainan was married to a cousin of Kiem’s that he wasn’t close to. They need to show a happy treaty marriage to the
library book read 5/6/2023
Initially it was pretty difficult to get past Jainan's personality and inner dialogue.
I did start to like him more in the latter half of the book when his abuses weren't a big mystery and he started to get more comfortable around and with Kiem, plus his interactions with the other characters.
Kiem himself is a lot more straightforward and he was immensely patient and accommodating to Jainan with little to no feedback. When they finally do show intimacy, it seems almost like a Stockholm Syndrome reaction than genuine attraction and was pretty unexpected at that point.
Overall, a good study in world building and interesting scifi tech, but not really a book I'd recommend unless you have a very empathetic personality.