One of the great joys of the Riverside books and Tremontaine is that they act as glimpses into a timeline. With The Eye of the Swan, Kelly Robson pushes the clock back further even than Tremontaine, narrowing in on the period after Diane has arrived in the City, but before she has truly flowered as the Duchess. Welcome to a more innocent time.

Like the devastating flashbacks to Diane’s youth in Season One, this wonderful short story by Kelly Robson gives us a new perspective whilst reconfirming everything we know. The newly-minted Duchess is clever and perceptive; still insecure in her position, she is constantly on her guard. But – and this is the heart breaking moment for those of us who know her well – she genuinely esteems her husband, William, who dotes on her in turn.

They have a baby; they just have lost another, and there will be no more. They have lost his parents, and he is loathe to pick up his father’s work of running the estates; but Diane needs a distraction and is determined to wrest control of Tremontaine from the dutiful stewards who have stepped in.

Watching Diane trying to wrest secrets from her own household and guard her own from the Ladies of the Hill is a training exercise for the rest of her life. At home, she has the upper hand, but she lacks the confidence for now to exercise her true influence. Out on the Hill, she has nothing but her wit and her hand-me-downs to protect her from the vicious gossips of would-be rivals. The lessons she’s learning – observation, alliance, perception of others’ desires – will become her most dangerous weapons.

It’s odd watching servants try to bully the Duchess; the tilt away from her submission to her rejection of their efforts is delightful (but what happens to old Clea, I wonder? Is she pensioned off in reward for her years of service? Probably. Hopefully). The little undercurrent of arrogant appraisal from Teodor the swordsman, clearly too used to having noblewomen desire him (but no, the Duchess has no interest in a mere swordsman; the line is unvarnished, dismissive, but the familiar reader will remember a night on the road outside the City – of course Diane will never be tempted to dally with a swordsman).

Does it stand alone as a short story? Perhaps not – it’s a low-key tale of a young woman trying to take the reins of her household and her life from her recently-deceased mother-in-law – but for those who know where Diane has come from and what she will become, it’s gold dust.

As a taster for the delights Tremontaine has in store for the uninitiated, it’s restrained, with merest hints of the sexuality and violence that can be stirred up from the bottom of the chocolate pot.

Take a sip. Season Two starts next week, and the Duchess will be waiting.

****

The Eye of the Swan can be read online at Tor.com.

Tremontaine Season Two starts at SerialBox.com on October 19th.