Pride Reads: “Winter’s Orbit” by Everina Maxwell

Sparks fly! So proclaims the inner page of Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell, my first book for Pride Reads 2023. It happens to be a quote from the NPR review, but I can’t say it isn’t accurate. This is a story with a murder mystery and political intrigue peppered with a healthy dose of romance as the main characters Kiem and Jainan are forced into a political marriage in order to protect an extremely important treaty.

Happy Pride, everybody! For those of you who may be new readers, every June myself and some of the other contributors participate in Pride Reads. It’s a challenge I started giving myself back in 2019 when I realized that I honestly didn’t read that many LGBTQ+ books and I wanted to change that. It’s something I still continue even though now I pretty much mostly read LGBTQ+ books. June is the perfect time to highlight queer books and authors and I regret nothing.

Anyway, as I said, my first book this year is Winter’s Orbit, which is something I’ve had on my TBR pile for about two years and finally sat down to read. As usual, I’m a little angry at myself that I went this long without reading it. It’s 400+ pages, but it goes by in a flash, even though it takes a while to get into the meat of the story.

What we have here is an extremely well done marriage-for-political-reasons story. Prince Kiem, from Iskat, and Count Jainan, from Thea, are rushed through a very hasty marriage in order to secure an intergalactic treaty. They only have a month to convince intergalactic representatives that their marriage is legitimate or the entire Empire could crumble. The problem is, Jainan is still officially in mourning for his late husband, Kiem’s cousin Taam, who died recently under mysterious circumstances.

It’s a classic case of misunderstanding, the kind that could be solved in ten minutes if any of the involved parties bothered to have a conversation. But for Kiem and Jainan, the miscommunication issues kind of make sense. (It’s still pretty frustrating, though.) Kiem does not want to push Jainan so soon after his husband’s death, and Jainan is still coming to terms with the aftermath of an abusive relationship – though you don’t learn the true extent until later. As such, the two are constantly tiptoeing around each other, trying to figure out what the other wants without having to do something so uncouth as ask.

Though it seems like the burgeoning romance between Kiem and Jainan will be the focus of the book, since so much of the earlier chapters revolve around it, everything takes a backseat once the two learn that Taam’s flybug accident wasn’t an accident. Someone deliberately sabotaged his vehicle and is now covering it up. And someone may be trying to frame Jainan for it. From there, things devolve even further, with Jainan being thrust into the middle of political tensions between Iskat – the ruling planet of the Empire – and his homeworld.

It does take a while for the plot to get off the ground, and then close to the end of the book everything sort of quickly blasts off and then goes into a tailspin. I think it would have been better, pacing wise, if Maxwell had introduced more of the important plot points earlier in the book. As it is, the different elements – romance versus sci-fi mystery – aren’t very well balanced. Nevertheless, I found this to be an enjoyable read, intriguing enough to keep me turning the pages and fairly satisfied with how everything is wrapped up at the end.

I would recommend Winter’s Orbit for fans of Mo Dao Zu Shi as it features a similar relationship dynamic both in character (stoic introvert who hides a torrent of emotions behind a blank mask meets bubbly extrovert whose charm is a carefully constructed facade) and the fact that these gays are both useless. As with MDZS, our leads are dropped into the middle of a murder mystery where the solution has potential empire-destroying ramifications. Way less sexy times, though, if that’s important to you.


Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell is published by Tor Books and is currently available wherever books are sold.

Stay tuned for more Pride Reads (or check out our previous ones)!

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.

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