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WARNING, WHOPPING SPOILERS AHEAD. I write these pages as notes, records and reminders to myself of books I have read. You are welcome to peruse these reviews, but be warned that they will spoil your reading pleasure if you have not already read them.
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Winter's Orbit   by Everina Maxwell

Read: 2021-03-06 Reviewed: 2021-03-26
Re-read factor:

After a royal state representative is killed, his (male) partner is forced to marry a replacement otherwise a trade agreement cannot take place. The two men have a difficult mis-understanding relationship, but through the realization and investigation into what turns out to have been the murder of the former representative, they come together and eventually realize that they love each other deeply after all. The amount of emotional detail is rich and complex through all the characters in this book.

After the gay romance and the murder mystery, the book’s third axis is politics. One state is by far the dominant, the other a small but noisy neighbour capable of disrupting the trade and access to trading routes of the larger state, who need to pacify the minnows by having a formal agreed relationship cemented by royal marriage. But it requires the overarching consent of an adjudicator for this, and their demands are that the marriage is geniune and not just a show. This links the emotional state of the two men with the bigger picture, adding to the backdrop of tension between those two men.

It is an alien universe, with strange customs, creatures, appellations, quasi/fluid/non-binary gender but curiously Earthy weather and very human characters, even if a few (well, one) of them are initially described as having strange physiologies. The writing is mostly straightforward, but makes heavy use of cross-gender and non-gender items. Most titled positions are masculine, e.g. the female Emperor and most references are to them singular. This is not consistent however, and makes the work a little hard to follow.

The book’s strength is its exploration of the gay feelings of the two men, which is set against an engaging and sophisticated story-line with probably about one too many characters that you are supposed to keep track of. All the characters are different and nicely fleshed out, and their interactions are believable and feelable. The ending is not particularly surprising, but it is unpredictable mostly by dint of the fact that the antagonist keeps a very low profile throughout most of the work. Readers should look out for and revel in a certain slightly-off-centre character, the Han Solo of this work!

This is an excellent read; a lot of effort has clearly gone into the development of this inaugural novel, and I hope that the balance of the level of insight and detail, and the deftness of the prose, can be continued in future works by this author.

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