It’s an earlier time in Riverside. Diane, Duchess of Tremontaine, is trying to maintain her husband’s wealth and estates. Young Micah makes friends across a gaming table at the University with her mathematical prowess. And disgraced trader’s daughter Ixkaab Balam arrives from overseas, keen to practice her swordcraft. I’m finally turning my attention to Tremontaine, Ellen Kushner’s adventure in world-sharing and serial publishing.
I come to Tremontaine late and eager. Not only is it a return to Riverside, but this time I know I’ll get to spend a lot of time with my darling Diane of Tremontaine. I fell fast and hard for the glamorous older woman in Swordspoint, and adored how she manipulated hearts and politics around her to keep the City dancing to her tune. She was ruthless and very, very good. I’ve had a lifelong attachment to Dangerous Liaisons, largely because of the Marquise de Merteuil. Yes, she’s petty. Yes, she’s spiteful. Yes, she’s a manipulative bitch. Yes, she’s magnificent. Diane is cut from similar cloth. Of course I love Diane of Tremontaine.
Dropping into an earlier time to discover the House is hovering on the edge of bankruptcy was the first shock, but my surprise rapidly turned to glee: is this the story of how Diane manufactured their staggering fortune? Marvellous. It’s worth noting that while we’re focusing on the previous generation, Diane still isn’t young, which makes me even happier. Her grandson – one David Alexander Tielman Campion – has just been born – putting Diane in her forties, and us about twenty years before Swordspoint. Bear with me, while I clap my hands and dance around the living room.
The Duke is still with us. We get a glimpse of their relationship, which appears cordial, respectful and loving. He is minded to forgive his daughter her poor marriage; Diane is still seething at the wasted opportunity. I had a little moment, here: I seem to be reading one book after another in which women are coins to be spent in marriage and sidelined to male privilege, and I really am going to need a breather for some ass-kicking, no-constraints, shit-stirring heroines soon.
…and then Kaab appeared. Ixkaab Balam, a young woman from overseas, arriving in the City with only a passing understanding of local culture and a hold full of cacao. But of course the City would need a South American equivalent to keep it stocked in chocolate; and how excited am I that we get to see the City through foreign eyes? Almost as excited as I am by the realisation that Kaab has been sent away from home in disgrace and spent her 90 days at sea learning to fight with a sword. Headstrong and armed? She’s just the young woman I was looking for. This can’t possibly go wrong, can it?
Kaab’s first Riverside encounter is priceless. She wades in to defend the dubious honour of a buxom young lady who neither needs (nor wants) any help – Tess is already cheerfully heaping mockery on her lover’s head. But Kaab is spoiling for a fight, and Tess’s quarrelsome man is happy to oblige. One sharp lesson later, and it’s clear that Kaab will be needing more practice – which I have no doubt she’ll be off in search of at the earliest opportunity. Hooray!
Over the river, young Micah is selling turnips with her uncle Reuben. She’s socially awkward and mathematically gifted (this isn’t a world that’s likely to recognise the autistic spectrum, but it’s reassuring to see she’s loved and accepted by her family even if she bewilders the customers), and when she’s asked to help carry turnips to the University for a bulk buyer, a new door opens. Micah is the ingenue in this cast, terrifying naïve and very vulnerable. Thankfully, University students aren’t the most threatening or observant bunch – they assume she’s a boy, are impressed by her mathematics, and promptly get her involved in a card game.
Micah is a precious cinnamon roll, too pure for this world. I am going to read every single scene with my heart in my mouth, and if Rafe turns out to have any ulterior motives in talking her into studying at the University – like only wanting her there to teach him how to win at cards – I shall hope he gets thumped from one end of Riverside to the other and thrown in the river.
We end the week back in Diane’s company, which made me as happy as a pantomime. Unsurprisingly, I’ve got some rather well-established allegiances thanks to Swordspoint and The Fall of the Kings. I’m absolutely prepared to hiss at any mention of the name Galing and boo (loudly) whenever Asper bloody Lindley walks on-page. BOOOOOOOOOOO.
I may really struggle to limit myself to one episode a week. On the up side, if I manage it, I should finish just in time to get stuck straight into Season Two…
My only quibble in this glorious week: hot chocolate with water?