Tammy of Books, Bones and Buffy gave this one a mention – and when I saw the cover and read the premise, I immediately requested it. And I’m so very glad I did…
BLURB: Ancillary Justice meets Red, White & Royal Blue in Everina Maxwell’s exciting debut.
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.
REVIEW: Well, this is great fun! I was immediately drawn into the story by the immersive writing, and my sympathy for happy-go-lucky Kiem went up several notches at his evident horror in being married off to someone so recently bereaved. Jainan, the Thean representative is far more difficult to get to know, but again, is likeable and sympathetic. Given the romance strand in this story runs alongside the wider ramifications of what will happen if the coming Treaty isn’t successfully ratified, it is very important that we bond with the two main protagonists.
I’ve read several other reviews that regard this story as mostly about the romance, with the rest of the storyline dealing with the tangle over the Treaty and growing suspicions regarding Taam’s death providing a convenient backdrop. I disagree. While I thoroughly enjoyed the unfolding romance, which is of the slow-burn variety fraught with misunderstandings all around, my attention was mostly drawn to the political situation developing within the Court. If it was written merely as a cardboard setting for the romance, I would have spotted it in a heartbeat and while I wouldn’t have necessarily DNF’d the book – the overall dynamic between them worked far too well for that – I certainly wouldn’t be giving it a nine.
I was impressed at the depth of the worldbuilding and how much I enjoyed the dynamic of the Iskat Empire, though in control of a solar system of seven planets, needing wider protection from bigger, more rapacious neighbours. I also liked the plurality on display – some Theans want to break away from Iskat, while others are clearly loyal to the Empire, such as Jainan, and within the Court there are also a number of factions. I also like the way same-sex relationships are treated. Not so much as an eyebrow is raised, demonstrating that it is clearly completely normalised within both Thean and Iskat societies.
I loved the actions scenes and the way the tension grew, making it all but impossible to put this one down until the end – and then I crashed quite hard once I finished it. All in all, this has been a wonderful start to my science fiction reads of 2021, and Everina Maxwell is clearly One To Watch. While I obtained an arc of Winter’s Orbit from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.