Read-along: Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell (week 1)

Winter's Orbit a SciFi Month read-along


It feels like forever since we did a read-along (it’s been five months) and I’m so glad our illustrious SciFi Month captains chose Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell because it gave me the perfect excuse to get myself a copy (and, even better, read it in the same year of acquisition!).

If you want more information about this most excellent read-along, you can find the schedule over at Dear Geek Place. Each week’s questions/prompts are being posted each Thursday on this Goodreads page here.

And now, without further ado…


Week 1: Chapters 1 through 6

First up, introductions! What are your first impressions of Kiem and Jainan (and any other character who’s caught your eye)?

I immediately liked Kiem. He’s personable and kind despite being in an awkward situation. I’m enjoying the little glimpses we’re being given into his past misdemeanours, none of which sound in any way awful, just high jinx and larks that have been caught on camera because of who he is rather than because any of it is particularly bad behaviour. I also like that his immediate thoughts about Jainan are mostly concern for his grief and discomfort. And I love how he is able to handle himself in front of the press (with that kind of admiration that only someone as socially awkward as I can have). All in all, I’ve decided that Kiem is a good egg.

And I like Jainan too, although it took me just a fraction longer to decide. My immediate feeling is that Jainan’s previous marriage was abusive. All his behaviours suggest that he had to tiptoe around Taam and while grief has been mentioned, I feel like he’s grieving out of duty, not out of a real sense of loss. There’s been absolutely no mention of affection between him and Taam (or of Jainan having affectionate feelings for Taam), and I get the feeling a lot of the current misunderstanding of each other is because Kiem is assuming one thing about Jainan and Taam’s marriage, while Jainan is not yet sharing the truth of the matter.

I’m going to be so annoyed if I’m wrong about this.

In other news: I like Bel, I think she’s going to be fun (I’m fascinated to know more about how someone from Sefala ends up working as an Imperial aide); and I am incredibly curious to know more about Jainan’s sister Lady Ressid: is she going to be bad, good, or something more interesting?


How’s the setting and cultural detail working for you so far? Anything in particular that grabs your attention?

I want all the information, and I’m not getting it. It felt weird, for the first couple of chapters, to be thrown into the story not knowing any of the implications of what was happening, (how can we know when Kiem doesn’t, I guess). I like the glimpses we’ve had – the Feria clan chant delivered by Jainan at Taam’s funeral rites, and the one-month mourning ceremony; the meaning attached to clothing and to wooden and flint decorations; Iskat meals – but this is the sort of thing I love to deep-dive into and at the moment I’m disappointed not to know more about: (a) the Thean clans, and the protests taking place on the planet currently; (b) Iskat – I want to know everything from how it became the dominant planet in this system, to the exact nature of its relationship with the Galactics; (c) the Galactics themselves; and (d) those raider gangs on Sefala – throwaway detail, or relevant to the plot? Only time will tell.

When I read I usually get clear and immediate visuals of characters and settings. I’m frustrated at the moment because this has yet to happen here. I’ve got a vague impression of European-ish luxury in the Imperial Palace (suggested by mentions of lacquered tables and candlesticks, frosty gardens and the palace shrine, the Southern Tower and the Room of Birds), but it keeps getting jostled, like I’m not quite getting it right. I’m hoping this is just a settling into the story thing.


Not much time is being wasted when it comes to romantic tropes. How do you feel about romance in your SF? Yay, nay or maybe? And specifically, how do you feel about the use of those tropes here?

If I were to choose, I’d have no romance in my sci-fi. Not from any particular hatred of romance itself (as long as there’s no icky stuff), but because I like sci-fi ideas and read it for that rather than for feelings. If that makes any sense. Give me an incredibly built future or alien world and it’s customs and politics, give me a McGuffin, give me some biological weirdness, and I don’t mind all that much if the characters don’t quite do it for me, because I’m munching on everything else. I have a higher expectation for characters and interpersonal relationships I can care about in fantasy than I do in sci-fi. (Which is interesting because I didn’t realise it until I just typed it out just then… hmmm).

Anyhow, much of the appeal of Winter’s Orbit is that it’s something outside of my old search parameters. Especially since Becky Chambers’ sci-fi really works for me and I want more like it. So I’m looking forward to the romance here, despite what I just said above. And I’m massively relieved that this isn’t a enemies-to-lovers story because no, nope, not ever, burn it, BURN IT NOW.


Plot twist – and it comes on the heels of the Auditor interview… Are you intrigued by either of these developments? And what do you think of the Auditor? Impartial, or up to something?

I’m guessing we all saw it coming that Taam’s death wasn’t an accident, right? I’m here for all the discoveries to be made about Taam, his relationship with Jainan, and Operation Kingfisher, and any other dirt that gets dug up. And Internal Security denying Jainan information about the crash is Very Interesting too.

And I am dying to learn more about the Auditor, the Galactics and remnants. I kind of suspect that the Auditor is impartial, even though there’s suspicion surrounding Iskat’s sudden glut of remnants – tell me everything!!! – and funny business going on with Iskat’s mining operation in Thean space. But what is the Auditor? Introducing himself with a role number, the committees he’s on and his voting shares was fascinating. Not being able to see his face because of the weird foggy thing going on there is fascinating. The whole office made up of information screens showing apparently unconnected data is fascinating. I’m torn between suspicions of a hive-mind and aliens right now. (OK, it’s probably neither, but if it is a hive-mind I want credit for mentioning it here).

So yeah, an intriguing first quarter. I can’t wait to see what everyone else is thinking and feeling about the story so far, and am looking forward to diving into the next section. Read-alongs! Woo!!


Thoughts on Week 2 (Chapter 7 through 15) can be found here.



  1. This is going to be fun: I read Winter’s Orbit some time ago and enjoyed it – to the point I was not distracted by the romance element, which usually would have me running for the hills at top speed 😀 – so it’s going to be an interesting journey revisiting it through other eyes.
    And as far as your musings are concerned… well, my lips are sealed!!! 😉

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  2. “Good egg” is the perfect summation of Kiem. He’s just so harmless and well-meaning. I can’t imagine him deliberately trying to hurt someone.

    …but I like Jainan, too. I feel for Jainan – he’s clearly feeling so trapped, and so unhappy, and I hate how he’s trying to bury himself and disappear. I hope we’ll see him learn to value himself before the end of all this.

    I’m also fascinated that you look for different things from SF vs fantasy – and not just in terms of tropes or setting, but actually in terms of storytelling and the type of story being told. Too Like The Lightning taught me that I like ideas, but I prize characters first and foremost, then plot, then worldbuilding (although I think some days I’d swap plot and worldbuilding around); and I like big themes and big feelings whatever I’m reading. I suspect we have much more divergent tastes in SF as a result, and now I’m curious to dive into your back catalogue of reviews to see if that’s true or if there’s more overlap than the broad strokes suggest 😀

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    • I too hope Jainan will learn to be happy. I feel for him a great deal (especially having read more now and seen further into his thinking).

      As for what I want from scifi: for the longest time I struggled to find scifi books that I could really get into, presumably *because* I want something more from scifi than from fantasy. Certainly blogging has taught me that scifi can have awesome ideas AND characters I really care about … which was something of a revelation! (My brain is stoopid!) 😁

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