Winter’s Orbit – Everina Maxwell

I received a free e-copy in exchange for an honest review.

But honestly, I already knew I would like it, as I’d read an earlier version on AO3. This rewrite preserves all the best elements of this sci-fi-romance-thriller mashup, while adding an overarching galactic politics plot that adds extra pressure to our heroes’ personal issues.

Jainan is a diplomatic representative from a vassal planet in a space empire, sealing the deal with marriage to an imperial prince. His previous partner just died in a suspicious accident, and with the faceless Auditor of the inter-galactic government potentially about to revoke the empire’s link to the rest of the galaxy, there’s a lot of pressure on him and his new husband, Prince Kiem, to be perfect and unsuspicious.

Only Jainan’s previous marriage was not what it seemed, and the fallout is throwing off all his and Kiem’s efforts to forge a partnership. Plus, the people behind the “accident” may be planning something even worse, with multi-planet implications. If Jainan and Kiem can’t solve the mystery before the Auditor pulls the plug on their link, both their planets are doomed.

Maxwell excels at psychological observation and manages a complex feat with Kiem, who views himself as irresponsible and stupid due to past actions and the distrust of people around him, but is actually a very perceptive people-person when it comes down to it. Both the main characters are very likable in their different ways, with Jainan convinced that he must do his duty whatever it costs him personally while Kiem sees that people as individuals also matter and can’t be sacrificed to politics.

The worldbuilding is very fleshed-out compared to the earlier version, and I loved the little details about the planet’s killer birds and the potentially alien “remnants,” artifacts with mysterious psychological powers. It’s also more self-aware about imperialism than it’s past incarnation, I think. I will say that if you read this as either pure sci-fi or pure romance, you will find a lot of stuff irrelevant to either genre–but embrace the mash-up and this is really well put-together.

Content warnings for torture and domestic violence.

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