Tremontaine: Smoke and Ashes

The calm before the storm, the penultimate episode of Season Two is all about consequences. Esha has an opportunity for Diane, if Micah and Rafe will unlock it for her. Florian confronts Shade over his vicious, unnecessary murder. And Tess must see if she can find it within herself to forgive Kaab her many wrongs.

I hate to say it, but I found this episode frustrating – it’s one of those episodes where details are tidied away and sets are rigged ready for the finale, which means in spite of the adept writing and heart-rending emotional cues I spent most of it silently wishing we could just get on with it.

I am a bad fan.

I’m just not brilliant at endings – once I know they’re coming, I want to get them over and done with (I’m terrible at the last day of a holiday, too). And I know I’m being unfair when I feel frustrated: there’s lots going on this week.

Most notably, Esha. We really haven’t seen enough of our clever, well-prepared lady of negotiable virtue this season. This may be good – it leaves her unencumbered by the politics, and able to swoop in to save the day. It also means she’s full of surprises, such as her dedication to her hothouse patio blooms, her determination to rehabilitate her serving girl, and the fact she gathers blackmail material on all her clients. Well played, lady. Well played.

Clearly she can have no such designs on Diane, if she ever succeeds in seducing her (DON’T GIVE UP ESHA), as the Duchess is now aware of her game. While I initially thought the writers were toying with us in this scene as Esha admired her knives (for horticulture. OBVIOUSLY), they were setting up the theme for the episode:

Sometimes cuts were necessary

Heart duly armoured, I was unsurprised to find we are at that point when Vincent Applethorpe reaps the consequences of his single-minded dedication to his swordmastery. I’ve always known where he’d end up – Swordspoint is quite clear that Vincent was injured young, and before he ever achieved real fame – but I remain sad that it has come this season. Not least because I want to think that Reza will love him however many arms he has, but I don’t believe Vincent will give him a chance. After all, it never occurs to Vincent to turn to Reza (who presumably has an excellent physician on hand) for help with his injury, and there can be little doubt what sort of doctoring Riverside will offer.

So I am left only with the hope that Vincent can live up to Tess’s assessment:

“Vincent is a swordsman; without the use of a sword, he is nothing.”

Tess shook off Kaab’s hand, furious and terrified. “Vincent will  never be nothing.” 

…but I can’t help but think of The Privilege of the Sword, and fear how hard this journey will be for him.

But there’s one (bittersweet) happy ever after wrapped up amid all the pain: Kaab finds herself back in her family’s compound, reassured that – for all her faults – she will always be a Balam. Lucky for some, eh? Kaab is probably the only person surprised by this turn of events, but while she may be blind to the bleeding obvious, she has at least learnt that sometimes it’s best to hold your tongue for the sake of the ones you love.

The sad truth is that I won’t be sad to see the back of her. She has whittled my goodwill down week by week, and it seems she’ll sail home without even trying to make amends in the City – leaving Vincent grappling to forge a new identity; Tess without a lover or protector (unless we think the Salamander will step up from patron to benefactor? …no, I’m not entirely convinced Everly is the best person to be indebted to either); Rafe dependent on the person he most hates in the world; and poor Arthur a corpse. At least the Balam have reaped the benefits of her stay.

Sometimes, the battle was already lost, and all you could do was burn the chaff away, then pick up the pieces, try to make something good out of what remained.

And sometimes cuts are necessary. I’m going to choose to take Esha’s philosophy as hope for what the future holds for these poor, battered characters (although it’s hardly reassuring for Diane, whose claim on Tremontaine hangs in the balance). Although that reminds me of a bone I have to pick: Honora.

We last saw her raging at her mother and devastated over her father’s sickness. And we haven’t heard a thing about her since – not even confirmation that she’s lying sick in her friend’s home, wracked by fever. But whatever lies Karleigh has been sold, Honora’s son has a better claim to Tremontaine than Diane.

Will she sweep out of the shadows in the final episode? Will Diane bring down Davenant only to find she hasn’t cleared the board after all (because you can bet your bottom dollar that everyone else may have overlooked Honora, but I bet Arlen hasn’t)?

I hope so – because given the contrast between Diane’s feelings for her daughter and her helpless affection for Micah – I’d be very disappointed to find out she’d simply been forgotten about in the wings.

Tremontaine is available from Serial Box Publishing in ebook and audio format each week.