Synopsis: The Iskan Empire dominates the relationship between many different planets and does that mainly through treaties which are strenghthened by marriage alliances. As this treaty is about to be renewed, those alliances become even more important and for the Iskan Empire it becomes increasingly more crucial to show that everything is the way it should be. One of Iskat’s alliances is with the much smaller Thea, whose population has become more and more unhappy with the conditions of their alliance.
When Prince Taam, the Iskan husband of the Thean Count Jainan, dies in an aviation accident, the alliance between the two powers seems to be on the line: In comes Prince Kiem, who is forced into the arranged marriage with Prince Taam’s widower, so that the political advantages of the previous union don’t get lost.
But then it comes to light that Taam’s accident might not even have been an accident, but a murder maybe committed by Thea. So in the end, this novel is a combination of a sci-fi space opera, a gay romance and a political murder mystery and if you don’t like any of these aspects, you’re probably not going to love this book.
Review: Before I even knew exactly what this was about, I was absolutely thrilled about a gay space opera. I haven’t really ventured into the spectrum of different science fiction genres and I’m not even entirely sure, which subgenre this one is, so I haven’t really figured out what kind of sci-fi I actually like. When I had this conversation with my dad, he pointed out that I had a similar journey in the fantasy genre and that that journey just took way longer, so that I had more time to get to know my tastes. So, really, I’m just in the beginning stage of my science fiction journey, and I know that I didn’t particularly loved Winter’s Orbit. It’s just a bit hard to explain, why…
First of all the things that I did enjoy:
- I enjoyed the LGBTQ+ representation: It’s not only that the main characters are in a gay relationship – this novel’s society also has some representation concerning gender: there are nonbinary characters and generally, it seems to be quite usual that people mark their gender by using accessories of different materials:
Gender on Iskat was easy: anyone wearing flint ornaments was a woman, wooden ornaments signified a man, and glass – or nothing – meant nonbinary.
- I really liked the main characters (Jainan and Kiem). They were very different and therefore complemented each other very well. Kiem is that really goofy, extroverted character with a past as wild child, who’s very good with people and always seems to know what to say (at least when it’s not with regard to Jainan), but who also feels quite insecure about his education and intelligence. He sees all the great things about Jainan and tries very hard to do right by him. Jainan on the other hand is very introverted, nervous, and quiet as well as aware of his responsibilities. He has a hard time opening up to people and hides his many talents in fear of being judged to harshly. They’re just both giant cinnamon rolls who deserve all the best. I really enjoyed how they slowly got to know each other and how they were awed by each other’s virtues without realizing they had them in the first place. It was just super cute.
Now to the aspects I didn’t love:
- Like I said, at first I was thrilled about a gay space opera, but then the premise kind of read like the beginning of a fanfiction and from there it went downhill. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I used to read fanfiction all the time and loved the really tropy, kitchy stuff, but well – that was fanfiction. I don’t necessarily love those aspects in published novels, and the tropes just kept adding up (the arranged gay marriage and them being stranded in the wilderness and having to (oh no!) share a tent, as well as someone having to be saved from a weird dream sequence within a certain time limit, just to name a few). When I found out that this actually used to be a story posted on the fanfiction-platform AO3, I wasn’t that surprised. Anyway, this is just my personal opinion and I do like these aspects in fanfiction, but this just wasn’t the right time and place for me.
- The second thing I didn’t love was just the amalgamation of different subgenres. Maybe I like sci-fi romance – and this was quite sweet at times, but I didn’t really love it. I’ll just have to pick up some more works in that genre. What I really didn’t like was the rest. The mystery just felt forced and the solution was sort of anticlimactic. I also didn’t care for the political intrigue. It just didn’t go into the inner workings of the political society enough that I could actually understand what was going on, why people did what, and what was the goal of everything. Maybe I just got too bored and skimmed the crucial parts without knowing. I don’t know. It just fell flat for me.
Anyway, those two points of criticism are just my personal opinion and other readers seem to really love the novel, so maybe it’s great for people who already know that they love those particular sub-genres of science fiction.
Oh, and just on a side note: There should be a trigger warning for domestic abuse.