Gave me hours of sheer happiness
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 10 February 2021
Winter’s Orbit was recommended to me, and it was pure delight. I like murder mysteries, humour, and the kind of romance built on deepening understanding and appreciation. I hadn’t read sci-fi before, being suspicious that spaceships and planets might be a bit dry. But they weren’t! There are spaceships and planets, but they are part of an engrossing plot - a faceless, intimidating force set to invade, unless our romantic couple can work out who the baddies are, and how to defeat them. Honestly I’d say this story is so gripping, heart-warming and downright fun, it would appeal to any taste.
The two main characters, Kiem and Jainan, are thrown together in an arranged marriage, to stave off the invasion forces. Kiem is a minor Prince, who has so far managed to evade significant royal responsibilities. Good with people, he has progressed slightly from the pure partying of his student days, to a figurehead role opening charity fetes and the like. Endlessly kind, he is shocked to be instructed by the Emperor to marry Jainan immediately – Jainan who was widowed only a month before. Jainan is from a smaller and weaker planet, Thea, a planet not happy to pay taxes to Kiem’s more powerful planet, Iskat. Jainan, a duty-conscious aristocrat from Thea, had been in a previously arranged marriage to Taam - a highly-regarded Prince from Kiem’s planet, Iskat. With Taam dead, Iskat needs to plug another royal into the marriage gap, to bind the planet Thea into its web again. When the story opens, Taam’s death is thought – at first - to be a flying accident.
I loved the relationship between Kiem and Jainan. Kiem, so sociable. Jainan, so duty-bound. And so uncertain of himself – gradually we find out just why this is. Both of them trying to be considerate towards each other, and to make their enforced marriage work. What a deep happiness there is, as they come to make their show marriage into a real relationship! So many novels deal in glum realism. But in these times when we are worried about so many things, as well as a pandemic, I appreciated the value of people reconciling, and becoming close. Winter’s Orbit is positive, and hopeful.
I said above that I thought Winter’s Orbit would appeal across the board, and there’s another reason for this. Everina Maxwell has imagined a world where there is no hostility over people’s gender – or the colour of their skin, for that matter. Everyone chooses where to place themselves in the gender spectrum, and they make this preference clear by wearing a small ornament. Any person wearing a piece of flint, for example, is indicating they would like to be seen as female. Not in a showy or aggressive way. They may wear flint earrings, or a neck pendant, and there is never even the need to mention it.
It seems that Winter’s Orbit is Everina Maxwell’s first book, and I find this astonishing. Her writing is seamless and polished, and she can do humour just as winningly as gut-wrenching aspects of relationships. (I am a sucker for the happy ending, though). The writing just carries you along, as you relish the characters and the plot. It felt jarring to close the book, as if leaving that world, and its people, was far too sudden. More from this author, and soon, please!
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