It’s another episode by Mary-Ann Mohanraj, which means MORE ESHA! See me do the happy sword dance. This week the themes of friendship and family are front and centre as Diane receives an unexpected visitor, and Kaab takes Tess to meet the Balam.
We open at Tremontaine, where Diane is receiving her good friend Lady Eveline for chocolate. I say ‘good friend’, but if this is how much Diane cherishes a woman she thinks of as a friend, then no wonder she has so few of them. Not that she lets her boredom show, of course; but poor Lady Eveline is really just an excuse for us to be filled in on the many shortcomings of Diane’s daughter, Honora (hallo foreshadowing), and to be teased with mentions of Esha. This scene made me sad. The closest we’ve seen to Diane having friends was her dinner with the Duchess of Hartsholt after Convocation. Diane is a poisonous social butterfly, of course, and I must (regularly) remind myself she’s the villain of the piece – but I’d like to think she has real friends. Everybody needs a friend, even a scheming Duchess who stole her husband and intends to steal her husband’s title.
Speaking of friends, across the City, Esha too is struggling with outer facade and inner voice. This week we get to know her much more intimately, finding her at play with friends. She at least seems to genuinely care for them, even if some are ‘easier to tolerate with a drink or two in her’. Perhaps she and Diane are birds of a feather, after all. I do hope so. Flock, ladies. Flock.
While I wasn’t initially clear whether Esha was a masterfully flirtatious Holly Golightly – well kept by gracious gifts from would-be lovers who never quite get their way – this week makes it clear that Esha is a professional sex worker, and she enjoys her work. Certainly, she tends to keep a primary lover (who at least thinks he has exclusive access), but she sleeps with who she chooses. She is reliant on the goodwill (and good hard cash) of her lovers, and she assumes there will come a time when she can no longer attract them. But that doesn’t make her weak or fearful. She’s fabulous, a lioness stalking the City.
We see her at play with friends, intent on teaching them hard lessons about saving money; fingering her knives, as she considers gutting an unpleasant young nobleman who thinks he can decide who she sleeps with; pushing aside her lover’s advances when it comes time to dance for her goddess in the garden; and gently teasing Lord Lionel as she comes to an agreement with Diane that advances both their interests. Oh yes, she’s fabulous alright.
Poor Lionel thinks he’s over her, but this sort of regular exposure to thoughts of her and Diane together may see him explode with repressed lust.
I suspect ‘poor Lionel’ may become a regular epithet. Diane has learnt to deploy him as she needs, and I’m not entirely sure he’s realised it.
However, not everything is going according to plan for Diane. She’s toppling the great Lords one by one in her quest to be made Duchess, but there’s one person she hadn’t worked into her calculations: her daughter, Honora, who wants to know where her father is – and who can’t be taken in by Diane’s wiles. The depth of dislike between these two is epic. Honora lacks all her mother’s graces, but she’s not stupid. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen Diane on the back foot to this extent, although her reflexes are cat like. My real question – and forgive me, Duchess, but you’ve taught me to be this mistrustful – is whether Honora was sick before she arrived at Tremontaine and took chocolate.
I think she must have been, but I will admit that on my first reading I leapt to the conclusion that Diane had just poisoned another member of her family. After all, she’d hardly count Honora a loss.
Am I a terrible person?
Speaking of terrible people, it’s time to talk about Ixkaab Balam (and I’m sorry, I really am. One of these weeks I’ll talk about Rafe. But not this week, as he’s as sidelined by the narrative as he tends to be in my reflections). I commented after All That Glitters that Kaab and I would not be able to remain friends if Tess came to harm because Kaab was off Doing Stuff. So I was climbing the wall this week, as the Twins came a-calling while Kaab was – inevitably – elsewhere.
It’s worth recalling that Tess is perfectly capable of handling the Twins. She saw them off in the Brown Dog, and she deals with their hammering on her door with the time-honoured subterfuge of simply pretending not to be home. But this is at best a temporary solution. The real problem is that the Twins aren’t scared of Tess or Kaab. The thought of Vincent might have kept them away; as it is, they’ll simply keep trying. Tess is rightly angry about this (and justified in allowing her fear to make her furious that Kaab – as Lisa Padol predicted – wasn’t there when she needed her), but I think she’s a little unfair in blaming Kaab for the underlying issue. She acknowledges that Kaab can’t simply go and kill them without inviting reprisals from their friends. So what can Kaab do?
This remains unclear.
In the meantime, Kaab follows through on last week’s determination to try and make Tess family by taking her to celebrate the autumn festival with the Balam. On the one hand, this means a glorious scene of pre-dinner nerves that will be familiar to anyone who has ever introduced a new lover to their family; on the other, it’s nail-bitingly tense.
Will Tess bring herself to eat the spicy Kinwiinik dishes (not to mention the ant eggs)? Will she and Kaab be able to resist bickering in front of the relatives? Will I be able to keep from drooling at all the spectacularly tasty sounding descriptions of food? OH MY WORD THE FOOD. BRING ME FOOD LIKE THIS. Sorry, distracted.
When it all goes south – and of course it all goes south; the writing has been on the wall since the beginning of the season – it rapidly crosses the equator and keeps going, taking Tess (poor Tess!) with it.
And I didn’t want to feel sorry for Kaab. But I do.
Tremontaine is available from Serial Box Publishing in ebook and audio format each week.