In the dark hours before dawn, an unsettled conscience pricks our leading ladies. Caught between duty and affection, can they screw their courage to the sticking place or will they relent?
The shadow of Lady MacBeth looms large over the opening section.
Kaab lies awake, restless. She has no regrets over her first kill, but it has stirred up her festering guilt over her lover Citlali’s death at others’ hands. She longs to seek comfort in Tess’s arms, but she has an early appointment for which she must be on her best form.
Duty weighs heavy – a repeated refrain this week as key relationships are put to the test.On the Hill, Diane lies awake listening to William pace and mutter in the halls. The shadowroot has done its work; he is ‘indisposed’ – to Rafe and to everyone else. Haunted by memories of happier times as a newlywed, she remains resolute. Or she would, if only the Duke would remain out of earshot. Our Diane is made of stern stuff; she calls for a sleeping draught for William to release her conscience.
Rafe too is sleepless, wracked by dreams that he has caused Will’s sickness. Our selfish boy with the good heart has no need to examine his priorities. He is in love. Nothing else matters. He must help his Will, and maths be damned. Certainly there’s a moment of reflection that Rafe’s school will never amount to anything without the financial and political backing of Tremontaine, but I was warmed that this is the least of Rafe’s concerns. How the mighty have fallen to Cupid’s bow.
As for William, poor William. I am filled with pity, but remarkably little remorse; the narrative until now never convinced me to like him enough or believe sufficiently in his mental agility to be distraught at his undoing. But I’d have a colder heart than Diane not to be twisted up by his recognition of what is happening to him.
As usual, Alaya Dawn Johnson treats us to beautiful prose and well-paced intrigue, and I find I have a new favourite episode (sorry Joel Derfner) for the rich tapestry it weaves: the thread of the possum that visits Kaab and William in their half-awake dream-stares; the truths William glimpses through the shadowroot’s spell; the little details that add to the world without distracting from the sharp thrust of the main plot (the Kinwiinik have no problem with same-sex romances, but there is no same-sex marriage – Tess will always be an outsider, excluded from the family and the duties that rule Kaab’s life. It seems unlikely that our fiery couple can have a happy ever after). It’s a heady mix – and then we uncover the crux of Diane’s weakness, and it’s time to surge to our feet and applaud the mastery of the writing team on Tremontaine.
It can only get difficult and dirty from here on in. Kaab cannot please both her lover and her family. Rafe may have neither lover nor school (and what will that mean for Micah?) Kaab could hand him back the things he loves, but at the cost of betraying her family. Or she can do her duty and let the Duchess have her way and they can all live unhappily ever after.
Oh my poor aching heart. I love this so much.