Read-along: Winter’s Orbit – week four

It’s the final week of the SciFiMonth read-along of Everina Maxwell’s space opera Winter’s Orbit – all the reveals, all the peril, and I think we might need some more cinnamon on that roll and a cuppa to go with it please. Spoilers inevitable.

Lisa of Dear Geek Place is steering our final discussion to round out the read-along.

We learn the truth of who was behind the fake remnants, the Kingfisher thefts, and Taam’s murder… What did you make of Aren Saffer’s motivations? Surprising, or not?

What’s that? Someone in the middle of a terrible conspiracy taking thee opportunity to be personally as well as professionally awful? Shocked, I tell you. <checks week two notes> SHOCKED.

On the one hand, I am here for a villain whose villainy isn’t the order-challenging, world-busting, where are the Avengers when you need them kind of wrongdoing (that’s just Aren’s day job, heh); on the other – and I feel bad for authors on this account – the waking world is currently so full of authority figures being venal, it feels kinda low-key obvious.

Also, while I enjoying the personal escalation of the final act – and I acknowledge that this is first and foremost a romance, so it has different priorities – the political de-escalation and ‘destroying it with sunlight’ felt entirely too easy. Naive, almost. Fairytale, even. Had the problem been only Aren Saffer, I’d have bought it. For General Fenrik and his large military force to be defanged this way – and without a fight – felt like a handwave, and left me slightly dissatisfied.

So. On a scale of 1 to PROTECT, how did you feel about Jainan’s ordeal and his conversation with Kiem? 

They’re both adorable, although I have some credibility issues with Kiem’s lack of confidence. I have had them stuffed in a box on a shelf because I’ve been enjoying the sweet spicy tang of cinnamon roll too much, so I got to air punch when Jainan went into full GET YOUR THREATS AWAY FROM MY DARLING MAN mode and reminded us that he’s the badass in this marriage.

However, I had knee-jerk discomfort with Kiem seeing Jainan’s insecurities from inside his head. I’m also not wild that a MacGuffin sidesteps the large quantities of trust building and honest communication they otherwise needed to set up a healthy, stable relationship. Not that I was really here for a narrative about sensible relationship building; I just expected to leave them committed to trying.

How do you feel about what the Tau field does/what it’s used for here? Is this misuse of a tool, or scientists creating something they should know better than to create?

I think the Tau field is a terrible device no agency should have its hands on, because it will be abused; and a brilliant plot device (so that’s what was going on with Lunver). I don’t imagine this is what the remnants were intended to do; more an illustration of the sorts of uses they can be twisted to – and one that makes it more convincing that remnants should be handed over to the Auditor (…to a point. I have Galactic mistrust also).

The Tau field also gets the points for catching me by surprise. I’m really good at spotting but forgetting Chekhov’s gun, so when Prince Taam appeared I had a full-on SHIT HE”S NOT DEAD moment and it was AWESOME. And then sad that wasn’t actually the final act twist it briefly appeared to be, because it was a fascinating complication that I was immediately hooked by.

For what it’s worth, I don’t really buy into ‘scientists should know better’ in fiction. I’m pretty much a believer of if it can be done, someone will try to do it, however obviously bad an idea it is, and the military are always going to want more weapons. Besides, from a reader perspective there’s too much narrative intrigue in author’s exploring different motivation and moral codes and I’m here for it. Yes, I’m rereading / rewatching The Expanse, why do you ask?

We’ve had some opinions about the Emperor in previous weeks; how do you feel about her now, following her … discussion with Kiem?

I still think she’s awesome, but I also think she gave up her Empire with remarkably little fuss. Yes, she effectively had a choice between turning it into a republic / federation or defending the system against Galactic invasion, but the no hesitation rolling over was another aspect that sat awkwardly for me.

And lastly: This might be a standalone book, but that never stops the fannish imagination! If you could have a sequel/second story with any of the other characters we’ve met in this book, who would it be and why?

…don’t hate me, but I’d hesitate to pick up another book in this universe.

I enjoyed the read, but Winter’s Orbit is primarily interested in its romance, with world-building and politics secondary to it; my priorities are the exact opposite. There was plenty here to get me engaged and the characters are irresistibly charming, but I found the final act over convenient and too cosy, leaving me warm and fuzzy but slightly cheated on a deeper level. I can see myself rereading it, but it didn’t ring all my bells.

And that’s where my hesitation comes in.

One part of my brain is happily supplying sequel / sidequel ideas: Kiem as cultural attaché on Thea with Jainan having the social / cultural upper hand, trying to defuse Thean radicals who are only emboldened by the recent power shifts; Vaile as a Galactic envoy, shifting the narrative to new characters and giving us more of the Resolution; the Sefalan raiders finding a way to blackmail or cajole Bel into a job for them, complicated – or even driven – by the Emperor’s ongoing efforts to recruit her… but not if they’re shaped around / primarily interested in a romance narrative. It’s just not my jam (and this is where my breakfast brain handily reminds me that jam isn’t my favourite, either – I much prefer sugar-free peanut butter – so I better stop here and go find some toast!)

Thoughts from around the Empire

But wait, this is a read-along – what did everybody else have to say?

Links will be added once they go live.

Don’t see your blog here? I may have missed you are joining us – add your post to the SciFiMonth master schedule and I’ll pick it up and include you here.

That’s it for this year’s SciFiMonth read-along – watch out for some fantasy read-alongs in the new year via the #WyrdAndWonder tag as we return to Terre d’Ange to complete Phèdre’s trilogy and start to consider our read-along options for Wyrd and Wonder in May!