Tremontaine 7: The Swan Ball


It is the annual Swan Ball at Tremontaine House. Nobody who is anybody would turn down an invitation, but some may get more than they bargained for if they attend. But what will the Swan be this year? A savoury marvel? A sugary confection? An artisanal delight? Or a total disaster?

This week sees more experimentation in the storytelling style, and I am left a little uncertain as to how I feel about it. The present tense was jarring – and thankfully temporary – and while the narrator’s voice breaking the fourth wall (so to speak) set an appropriate Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous gossipy tone, it too was a big departure from previous weeks.

I am conflicted in part because of the medium. There have been minor variations week to week reflecting the different authors, but this was a major departure. If this were verbal storytelling I would have revelled in it – the persona of the storyteller part of the performance – but apparently when I’m reading it on the page I expect the text to err on the side of consistency.

It was at most a minor niggle. I came prepared for a bitchy display of social politics, and I wasn’t disappointed. The barbs are even edged in Diane’s dreams:

“One does so enjoy disjointing swans, even the flour and cream ones.”

No, she’s not anxious about the Ball at all.

She’s not the only one with things on her mind. There has been news from home that casts dark shadows across the Kinwiinik. Rafe is chafing at donning fine velvets and attending an evening of frivolity; he is beginning to chafe in his fine cage, and even to suspect that Will may not be interested in his mind and his career. And poor Micah has no idea what she’s walking into – a gathering far beyond her nature to endure.

The episode follows the events of a single evening, unashamed to glory in wit and farce (as frothy as a good social drama can be). I got my fill of seeing Diane in full Duchess mode, trying to mitigate the Duke of Karleigh, admiring the vicious sartorial trap she set months ago for Sarah Perry, and fencing verbally with Kaab. Even the musicians indulge in criticising one another, as bored by their music as Rafe is with the small talk of a red-headed nobleman with predictable intentions.

Micah is, as ever, a joy. When she takes herself in hand and applies maths to the situation, she finds she can cope after all. Better – and hilariously – Tess has given her some excellent advice for handling conversations.

Fascinating. Why don’t you tell me more about that?

Tess is wise and cynical and absolutely correct. Her techniques remind me of a good friend, who uses similar ploys to devastating effect. However, Micah is really a distraction rather than the main dish this week – she’s a catalyst who can disrupt affairs. The question all along is one of how.

I won’t spoil it for you – but when the various characters finally intersect, it is a gloriously silly scene that had me giggling and wincing all at once. As commented at the start, this is a very different sort of episode – arguably a lull in the proceedings with room for levity as we catch our breath – but the wheels are still furiously spinning to set up the second half of the season.

Will Diane get her much-needed deal with the Balam? Will the Balam have stock to trade given recent events at home? Will Rafe ever tire of provoking Will? Will Micah figure out Kaab’s secrets – and will the rest of the Balam find out what she has let slip?

…and just what did happen between young Diane and Ben’s highwayman father?