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.
Thank you so much Tor Books and NetGalley for a free e-copy of this book.
The Iskat Empire controls its political relationships with the vassal planets with a system of treaties and often alliances with marriage. After the death of the Iskat Imperial prince Taam, who is married to a representative of the planet Thean, the Emperor needs to reinstate this alliance as soon as possible ahead of the imminent visit from the Auditor for the signing of the Resolution, which will guarantee peace among empires for decades. She decides to marry the Thean widower, Jainan, with her most problematic grandchild, Kiem, within only a day.
As soon as they are married, it becomes apparent that the death of the Imperial prince Taam was not an accident and Jainan is accused of murder. As they struggle to get along in this forced marriage, the murder investigation tests the relationship between Kiem and Jainan and the stability of the whole Iskat Empire.
I wish you could hear me squeaking of joy, because this novel was a beauty. This debut science-fiction and space opera was originally published on the website Archive of Our Own and it gathered so much enthusiasm that it made its way to Tor Books. It’s often compared to Red, White & Royal Blue – which was one of my favourite reads of the last year – and I can see the similarities in terms of atmosphere and feels. I still consider Winter’s Orbit as a diamond on its own, because the plot is written around a forced marriage trope, and I will add that it’s finely executed. Moreover, other than being basically based on a science-fiction story which takes place in a galaxy far far away, it also analyses and explores the topic of abuse and violence in a unique and delicate way so it definitely is a different story, with a different tone, compared to Red, White & Royal Blue.
I would say, this book reminds me more of Becky Chambers’s debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, because of its world/space building, because of its fantastic gender and sexuality representation and because of all the feelings that both stories left me. In terms of the world structure, I would say probably it needed a little bit of more development as certain details are left unsaid. For example, I felt the origin of remnants was not explored sufficiently, except the reader was given the explanation of their purpose only toward the end of the story. The best part of this world is that people’s gender is a choice that they can choose, or not, to express with accessories they wear (like glass or wood) and not with physical traits. Also, homophobia doesn’t exist, simple as that. No need to justify your gender and your sexuality and that’s so good that the writer doesn’t even mention it in the whole story or compare this reality to the normal world. However, I do understand that the main factor of this story is the relationship between Kiem and Jainan, and so other details about this world have less relevance.
Kiem is the typical social (galaxy) butterfly, he got in trouble so many times in the past and he is forced within only 24 hours into marrying someone who is grieving his previous partner. He is not educated like Jainan, but he is someone I would identify as “street smart”. Thanks to all his networking connections, he knows how to survive in this society full of journalists always ready for the next royal scandal. I loved how he was super conscious of Jainan’s grief and feelings at the beginning of their relationship. Jainan is probably one of the most intriguing characters I had ever encountered (well, I think I say this a lot about all my favourite characters – lol). Anyway, Jainan is duty bound to the Empire and to his planet, every action he takes, every thought he has, every word he says are bound to his loyalty and for the sake of the relationship between Thean and the Empire.
Kiem and Jainan’s relationship slowly progresses, so the romance builds up around the mystery of the murder of Prince Taam and all the political intrigues of the Iskat Empire, but it genuinely follows a natural development, in accordance with the main characters’ personalities and pasts until they finally complement each other. The other side characters needed a bit more love, and more background, in particular Jainan’s sister, but again, this could be me in need of learning more about these characters.
It’s a fast, action-packed read and a refreshing science-fiction story, which clearly left me thirsty for more stories in this fantastic world/space-building. A part of me is glad this was a stand-alone, and the plot itself has a round and satisfactory ending. However, the small lack of background about these planets and how they came to be, and about a few characters make me wish for more and I would keep my radar on for more novels from this writer. An absolute must-read for all the fans of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and Red, White & Royal Blue.