Publisher: Tor Books
Page Count: 432
Release Date: February 2nd, 2021
Rating: 3.75/5 Stars – Really Liked It! (Aside from one personal hang-up)
Prince Kiem is the irresponsible black sheep of royal family, better known for tabloid headlines than anything else. No one is more shocked than he when the Emperor orders him into an arranged marriage, effective immediately. Prince Kiem’s recently-deceased cousin Taam was married to the duke of another planet, and their marriage was a legal seal on diplomatic relations. Prince Kiem’s marriage to Taam’s widower ensures that an incredibly important intergalactic treaty doesn’t fall apart on a technicality. But the revelation that Taam’s death was actually a murder jeopardizes the stability of the empire. Even worse, Kiem’s new husband Jainan is turning out to be the lead suspect. Kiem and Jainan will have to overcome the awkward circumstances of their meeting to figure out who really killed Taam before the galaxy erupts into war.
WINTER’S ORBIT is a captivating sci-fi political mystery, balanced with a romance story of two people thrust into a relationship neither of them wanted. The sci-fi elements of the book were great. I loved this little galactic empire and all its world-building. In particular, I loved that the Empire is a big fish in its own corner of the galaxy, only flourishing because of a tenuous treaty with a much BIGGER fish on the other side of an intergalactic relay who makes sure that nobody attacks them – as long as certain conditions are met. It’s a protection racket, sure, but it’s one that’s allowed trade to flourish and for the Empire to go about its business.
There’s also a great mystery as Kiem and Jainian try to figure out why Prince Taam could possibly have been murdered. They have to poke into all kinds of corners and dig through layers of politics and schemes to get to the heart of the matter, and both Kiem and Jainan have different skillsets to bring to the table. Kiem, with his charisma and social connections, can get access into a plethora of normally off-limits areas and people, while Jainan’s engineering expertise can help sort out when data isn’t saying what it SHOULD be saying. I loved when the two work in tandem.
But while I loved 75% of this book, there was one element that stopped this from being a home run for me, but the reason why is a bit tricky to work through. I’m going to be as vague as possible but to be safe, and honestly, if you haven’t read the book yet, just stop here and go buy a copy, because my hang-ups are about foreknowledge I had about a plot point. So once again, here’s your warning:
POSSIBLE LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD
Still with me? Here’s the deal. WINTER’S ORBIT was one of the few times where I read a number of reviews ahead of reading the book. I was curious if I wanted to circle back to it, not having the time to try for an ARC when it originally released. Unfortunately for me, that means I became aware of the ultimate arc of Kiem and Jainan’s relationship, that they both misunderstand where the other is coming from in a big way. I knew what the bombshell reveal was going to be, and I saw every single breadcrumb leading to that reveal.
As a result, while reading WINTER’S ORBIT, I found myself internally screaming at the characters to hurry up and get on the same page. Now, the book drops bigger and bigger hints about the truth of the matter, and its possible I would have figured things out pretty quickly and still had the same level of frustration. But in this instance, I can’t honestly sort if my frustration is because I had been spoiled on the endpoint and thought it was taking way too long to get there, or if the miscommunication trope way overplayed its hand. If I had gone in blind, would I have enjoyed watching the shell on these two characters crack and eventually reveal the emotions underneath? Or would I have still been just as frustrated?
Because here’s the thing, I really enjoyed Kiem and Jainin as individuals. As I mentioned before, their complementing skillsets were wonderful to watch, and the dialogue is well written. But every time one of them made an incorrect assumption about the other’s motivations or feelings, I had to restrain myself from tossing the book across the room in frustration. To some extent, I can excuse Jainan, because the backstory reasons for his misunderstandings garner a lot of empathy. Kiem, however, I just couldn’t believe was that dim.
Make no mistake, I will absolutely be picking up the standalone sequel to WINTER’S ORBIT because I really did enjoy the author’s worldbuilding and overall storytelling. I found myself picking up and reading the book whenever I had the chance, despite the hang-ups I had with the relationship. It almost makes me wish there was a direct sequel with these two characters, so I could enjoy them without all the miscommunication. But if you like intrigue and political schemes in your sci-fi, with occasional thrills and adventure, I definitely recommend checking out WINTER’S ORBIT.