As Diane instructs her swordsman to ensure that poor Ben’s associates are in no position to talk about whatever he knew, Tess finally accepts that perhaps she needs a new protector. Kaab holds auditions, but her swordscraft is wobbly enough that she could do with a protector herself. As for Rafe, he has no idea that he might need one soon if he doesn’t stop annoying the Duchess…

My complaint that last week had relatively little to do may have been the first sign of the pace slowing as we work our way into season. However, I enjoyed this week a whole lot more, back in the accomplished hands of Alaya Dawn Johnson. 

Johnson has a feel for Kaab (as Joel Derfner does for Rafe), and happily we spend much of our time back in Riverside with my favourite foreign agitator. 

Unexpectedly, the week has a split timeline: the present, in which Kaab is fighting all takers for the right to be Tess’s new protector (or is she?) and a clock that ticks forward from 3 days previously. If I’m honest, I’m not entirely convinced the device works or was necessary. It mostly made me uncertain when the Tremontaine scenes took place. I was very tired, OK? However, it didn’t get in the way of me enjoying the action.

The reason for the split timeline (spoiler alert!) is that Kaab is playing games. The contest is an attempt to lure Ben’s killer out of the shadows – although it nearly derails when  an angry Northerner (aren’t they all) tries to kill her to prove an esoteric point (the usual one about women overstepping the mark in picking up a sword).

She is rescued by one Vincent Applethorpe – young, well-armed and terribly competent – returning to Riverside after a long while away. Hang on a moment while I (and any other Swordspoint readers) have a moment. 

VINCENT. 

He’s not famous, and he’s half-beguiled by Kaab (sorry Vincent; she’s not the girl for you), but it’s a delight to see another familiar face. Kaab’s plan broadly succeeds, and Vincent agrees to join forces with her and Tess – at least until he discovers who is behind Ben’s murder. Where will Vincent’s loyalties lie now he knows what his favourite young lady is up against?

Speaking of favourite ladies, Diane is in fine fettle up on the Hill. She is snubbed at parties for her ageing wardrobe; and the rumour that William has been neglecting his Council duties is heavily layered with the suggestion that the Hill has some inkling he’s having an affair.  

Diane knows it. She’s having – or choosing – to listen to the affair through closed doors and her claws are just beginning to show. Rafe is so damnably full of himself; but while she takes a couple of initial swipes at him, she largely fails to do any damage. There’s no doubt in my mind that she’s going to go all out to put him in his place. Pride aside, he is already disruptive enough that his actions threaten the precarious Tremontaine finances. 

Let’s just take a moment though: part of the problem is that Diane has never been honest with William about the state of the Tremontaine  finances. It’s a convenient plot device, but whyyyyyyyyy?

I’ll be honest: it’s getting very difficult to only read a chapter a week at this point!