It isn’t often that something labeled fanfiction gets published as a real live book. Sure, there’s the odd Fifty Shades of Grey (Twilight) or City of Bones (Harry Potter), but they’re the exception, not the rule. It’s even rarer for original work from a fanfiction site to see new life as a physical book. This is where Winter’s Orbit, an upcoming 2021 space opera by debut novelist Everina Maxwell, comes in. Originally published on Archive of Our Own under the title The Course of Honour, it quickly gathered an enthusiastic following. The new version of the novel is set to come out on February 2, 2021, from Tor Books.

Winter’s Orbit features Prince Kiem, the Emperor’s least favorite grandchild, and a constant disappointment. His grandmother presses him into a politically advantageous marriage with a stranger who is literally from another planet. The stranger in question, Count Jainan, is a diplomat and the very recent widower of another royal prince. The marriage is supposed to salvage a treaty linking their two planets and convince a visiting dignitary that their societies are worth keeping around, but when the two meet for the first time on their wedding day, they don’t exactly hit it off. They come together, however, when Jainan reveals that his late husband’s death may not have been an accident — and that he’s a suspect in the potential murder. Kiem and Jainan must navigate both their new strange relationship and political mishaps if they want to make it through the treaty signing, and their marriage.

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The novel’s official listing describes it as Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice meets Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue. It is far-reaching and technologically advanced, to be sure, but Winter’s Orbit also possesses a fair amount of gentleness despite the murder mystery and violence that occurs. There is definitely more than a hint of 2015’s film Jupiter Ascending in the mix as well, with flashy costumes, dramatic weddings and plots spanning an entire galaxy.

The story’s strength lies mostly in its two main characters. Jainan’s reactions and development are largely internal; he is cautious and considerate, and he rarely acts or speaks without thought. He grows a lot, learning to trust people and gaining strength throughout the course of the novel. Kiem, on the other hand, is boisterous, almost puppy-like. Despite his perceived screw-ups, he is well-loved by the common people and cares a great deal about his friends. While he doesn’t change much, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He’s first and foremost a good person, regardless of the situation.

Because Winter’s Orbit originally came out online chapter by chapter, the events move quickly, and cliffhangers abound. The world-building is creative yet believable and doesn’t bog down the edge-of-your-seat plot. The story does lean on established tropes — arranged marriage! there’s only one bed! — but it still stands on its own as a unique piece of science fiction. 

When Tor initially announced the book’s release, Everina Maxwell described her novel as “about empire and notoriety and the media, but also about being locked in your own head … Ultimately, it’s a story of hope and renewal, that I wrote because I needed it.” It’s an intimate story on an incredibly grand scale, and well worth your time if you’re looking for new science fiction with sweet characters and a good deal of hope.

Winter’s Orbit is available for pre-order now at and is scheduled for release on February 2, 2021.

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This article was originally published on 11/19/20


Alex Faccibene
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