Alaya Dawn Johnson keeps us strictly in the lower City in this second episode of Tremontaine. Rafe is living down to my fears rather than up to my expectations; Micah is liking all the math; and Kaab is trying to earn her way back into her family’s good graces.
We spend a lot of time this week in Kaab’s company, which is never a bad thing: she has the outsider’s perspective, and an endless wealth of intriguing tidbits about the cacao-growing Kinwiinik. One thing she keeps under her hat is the details of her disgrace: it has been 7 months, but she’s not letting on what she did. It does seem to have had monumental implications though, up to and including the possible invasion of her country. This seems a little over the top, except that she lets slip that a Trader’s true vocation is the gathering of intelligence – knowledge is profit.
Over in the University, Rafe is shamelessly trying to keep Micah around. Initially, I thought this was all about cards and got rather angry; but it slowly becomes apparent that Rafe has loftier concerns than mere money (or at least has multiple motivations). It seems Rafe has become convinced that current theories of astronomy are false, and he needs a mathematical genius to help him prove it.
Or a short cut. When he bumps into Kaab in his father’s office, it occurs to him that the Balam must have some insight into the movement of the stars to help them safely traverse the oceans. It never occurs to him that such knowledge might be closely guarded; and it’s a little unclear whether Kaab is genuinely ignorant of it, or simply keeping the family secrets.
It seems that the Land’s traders always fail to cross the oceans; the Duchess is not alone in losing a valuable ship at sea. There’s even a merest hint that this may not always be a matter of natural causes (or perhaps I’m just a suspicious soul).
However, it’s not all altruism on Rafe’s part – nor even his mercantile upbringing. He needs to pass his master’s within the month, or risk never being made a Doctor and having the freedom to pursue his wild ideas. The Board of Governors are poised to make changes to the University by-laws, changes Rafe is convinced will ossify the institution and put paid to his academic career. He will be left to the untender mercies of old-fashioned thinkers, who dislike him for ‘trivial reasons’ (I can guess. Not that Rafe Fenton is an outspoken hothead likely to ruffle feathers..).
As expected, Micah continues to be a cinnamon roll too pure for this world. Her letter to her Uncle Reuben explaining her continued absence is priceless: I have found many friends here especially Rafe Fenton who is showing me many things especially math. You remember how I like math and it turns out that here there is plenty of it so I think I’ll stay another week.
So it is inevitable that she is caught up in the surge of students thronging to demonstrate outside a meeting of the Board of Governors. Rafe’s ringing assault on their intentions strikes a little close to the bone for readers of The Fall of the Kings (‘We might as well tear down the lecture halls and burn the books. Because they will come for those next, if we say something that does not agree with the political aspirations of those lordlings on the Hill’), but he has no chance to work the mob into a fever pitch.
He does, however, find himself on the margins with a beautiful young man who is described in just a little too much detail. Never have ink-stained fingers been so erotic or inappropriate, for this is none other than the Duke of Tremontaine, who is one of the Governors. And the painful tension between them suggests – whatever they say – this won’t be the last meeting between the Duke and the student (which goes a long way to explaining why the Duchess of Tremontaine was so annoyed at her grandson’s choice to join the University).
It’s all terribly elegant in laying out the warp that a familiar future weft requires, without being anything less than entrancing in its own right. I find I am worried about Kaab’s intentions towards Micah; not least because the stakes she is playing for are so high. If the ships of the Land reach the ports of the Kinwiinik, the Balam family will lose their Trade monopoly and a fragile house of cards will come toppling down. She likes the young girl – just as she likes Rafe – but she won’t hesitate to protect her family’s interests.
Just as the week felt like it had been terribly light on my beloved Diane, a letter from the Duchess arrived at the Balam compound to draw the political knot tight. I’m all agog to see how this develops, assuming that I’m right about her husband and Rafe Fenton.
It would be remiss to finish without mentioning the final scene, because it touches on a topic that has been troubling me: just who are Tess and Ben? Nobody, clearly – Riversiders can be of no consequence – but Tess can read and write, and Ben comes home with a terribly familiar locket. And here I am on an aeroplane, wondering whether it’s just me that needs everything to be intricately connected like Celtic knotwork, and flying away from my copy of Swordspoint with no way of checking on anything. WOE.