Though the planet of Iskat is cold and gray, with ferocious predatory avian species adorning the frozen environment, Everina Maxwell’s debut novel, Winter’s Orbit, is anything but frigid. This queer science fiction romance astounds not only through its believable, multilayered character development, but also in the eons of intergalactic political and cultural history that Maxwell weaves into a 400-page novel.
Kiem Tegnar is a playboy prince of Iskat in his mid-20s who would rather party until daybreak, drink at carnivals and cause a scene than deal with anything remotely resembling political responsibility. But his life is thrown into disarray when his grandmother, the Emperor, informs him that he will fulfill his lifelong duty as a minor noble by getting married the following day. Not only will this shock to the Emperor’s least favorite grandchild disrupt his hedonistic lifestyle, but his arranged marriage will be to Jainan nav Adessari, widower of Kiem's cousin Taam, whom Jainan still mourns but Kiem barely remembers. Their marriage will preserve the political alignment between Iskat and one of its seven vassal planets, Jainan's homeworld of Thea.
Suddenly thrust into a diplomatic role, Prince Kiem must navigate new etiquette to save face and maintain the relationship between Iskat and Thea. With the vassal contracts to be renewed soon, both Kiem and Jainan find themselves in awkward and uncomfortable situations as the relentless press hassles them for gossip about their impromptu marriage and a faceless Auditor comes to observe the veracity of their union—and thus, the veracity of the link between the planets. But while Kiem and Jainan share a common political goal, their strikingly different personalities pose challenges as they become a unit.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Everina Maxwell on the freedom of a "queernorm" speculative world.
Beneath Kiem’s slightly callous, celebrity exterior lies a loyal, likable potential leader with a strong sense of morality. Maxwell uses Kiem’s wry sense of humor to convey his insecurities and anxiety about his new position and his relationship with Jainan. There’s no question that he is attracted to his cousin’s handsome, highly educated widower, but because of both formal customs and Kiem's own internal compass, he feels guilt, shame and confusion as a newlywed married to a man he'd only just met. As he picks up on the Iskan government’s condescending treatment of Jainan’s fellow Theans and uncovers evidence that his cousin’s death might not have been accidental, Kiem is filled with a strong, genuine desire to help the mysterious man he has been forced to marry—and who has been forced to marry him.
Winter’s Orbit fits into the romance genre just as much as it does science fiction, and its central relationship develops and flourishes in a world devoid of homophobia. On Iskat and its vassal planets, characters wear certain tokens to indicate binary or nonbinary gender identities, and relationships, even royal ones, range from monogamous, polyamorous, queer (or not) and religious (or not). As Kiem adapts to his new relationship, he must also learn more about Thean customs and traditions if he is to truly understand and empathize with his new spouseand become both a good husband and nobleman.
Maxwell expertly weaves relatable issues—cultural tensions, strained family dynamics, relationship struggles and government and media corruption—into a stunning outer space setting where readers will be just as invested in Kiem and Jainan as they are in unraveling the dangerous mysteries afoot in Iskat. With its dark, dry humor and its unforgettable depictions of bereavement, heartbreak and new love, Winter’s Orbit is hopefully the start of much more to come from Everina Maxwell.