Winter's Orbit by Everina Maxwell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a space opera that's not galaxy-spanning or full of pew-pew space battles: it's small and intimate, focusing on the two main characters and the romance between them. In a story like this the romance has to be done well, and this one is. It's a slow burn arising out of an unwanted political marriage that culminates in a genuine love--and both protagonists working together to save their respective planets and the treaty binding them to the greater Galactic community.
My main complaint is just that: with the greater emphasis on the romance, the worldbuilding is thin. Objects called "remnants" play a key role in the plot, but I was never sure exactly what those were. They seemed to be ancient alien tech dug up on the seven planets comprising the local Empire, but they were not explained in any great detail. I thought this would have made for a far more interesting story, but that's not where the author's focus was. Which is fine, because the other elements of the story were well done. In particular the characters--Kiem, the Prince forced into a political marriage, and Jainan, his new partner, bound to Kiem after the death of his previous partner and bearing the scars of that prior abusive marriage--are fleshed out and believable people. (I'm also wondering if Jainan has Asperger's or is otherwise on the autism spectrum. It's not plainly stated, but he has a few of what I understand to be the symptoms. Although those could also be part of his trauma and PTSD from his abuser.) Jainan's previous partner, Taam, is a malevolent presence throughout the book, as it is Taam's scheming and plots for a coup that drive the plot's engine.
This is the author's debut novel, and it's well written with good characterization and zippy pacing. She needs to give more thought to her worldbuilding, but she's a writer worth keeping an eye on.
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