I seem to recall saying that if it wasn’t alright, it wasn’t the end, and Tremontaine would go on forever (or at least until it met up with Swordspoint). I stand by that: as we leave our well-loved, frustrating cast at the end of the second season, few would claim that they’re okay. Brace yourself.
Okay, I made that sound more dramatic than perhaps I should, but Dissolution served up enough tension and surprises that my reading tweets rapidly descended into incoherency:
The big question for the finale was always going to be whether the Council confirmed Diane as Duchess Tremontaine in her own right. On the one hand, Swordspoint readers know exactly how that’s going to turn out – on the other, we’re a long way upstream from Swordspoint, so there was nothing to say that she might not need another season’s machinations to achieve it.
Last week, I commented that it felt like a long time since we’d heard mention of Arlen, the Serpent Chancellor, or Honora, Diane’s daughter – whose son Alexander would normally be considered William’s heir. We start this week at Arlen’s door, and oh my word – the Serpent Chancellor is a match for my Duchess. An early riser and an elegant man, she can’t wrongfoot him by turning up at dawn any more than she has surprised him with her manipulation of the Council’s vote. He asked to be impressed; but he impresses me. I’d like to see a lot more of this character in future seasons; he’s both beguiling and implicitly threatening. Just imagine what he may be capable of.
Diane’s visit to Davenant shouldn’t have been a surprise either. We know Diane likes to gloat, and there’s a special spite in building your opponent up before you rip the rug out from under them. Because she simply tells him she won’t marry him. No mention of a certain book of figures; not even a hint that he might have reason not to follow through on his threats. She doesn’t quite come out and say she’s decided to diminish and go into the West, but there’s no doubt Davenant goes into Council thinking she’s resigned herself to losing Tremontaine.
The brief scene with Micah before we go to Council was a daring combination of comedy interlude and OMG WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING NO NO NO NO NO NO panic. And Diane proved that she can astonish me, because I never expected the woman who gets irritable at being disturbed to take Micah’s little surprise in her stride. Which brought me right back to Honora: can you imagine how she would react to this little scene? Poor Honora, trained and reprimanded within an inch of her life, forced into a poor approximation of her mother’s image of her – I suspect she’d be dumbstruck by the affectionate, light-hearted, permissive rapport Micah has established with Diane. Dumbstruck and, perhaps, just a little envious.
However, Honora didn’t step out into the Council chamber to upset her mother’s plans, so the dissonant mother-daughter relationship has either taken far too strong a hold on my imagination or is being held in the wings for shenanigans next season. After all, I’m sure she’ll have a few things to say on hearing her father has effectively been disinherited (and shipped abroad, to boot). I hope she gets the chance to say them.
I enjoyed the Council session: not least for the way in which Diane handled Davenant. I shouldn’t have been surprised that she didn’t unmask him. After all, why unseat the Dragon when you can command him? Watch your back, Diane. An arrogant, obsessed man isn’t a safe pet who will be easily broken to your will, no matter what hold you have over him.
Down in Riverside, Tess is the woman trying to save her friend whilst facing a different sort of political challenge: she wants Riverside to handle Florian and Shade before the City swoops down to find the Balam’s chocolate thief. It’s a different experience of Riverside: where Kaab gave us a romanticised view, Tess brings us back down to the rough, tough, blood-stained earth. It’s unapologetically coarse, a discombobulated Tess as foul-mouthed and dishevelled as her neighbours.
She turns to the Salamander for help, and… I’ll be honest, I haven’t really got the foggiest. Riddles aren’t my strong point, but I’m not sure we’ve seen enough of Tess or Riverside to have second-guessed what the Salamander was driving at anyway. Even having seen the consequences play out – and the shunning of Florian Larue is a fabulous scene – I can’t begin to unpick the world of implications beyond the obvious (Florian is no longer welcome in Riverside). Perhaps I’m missing the blindingly obvious (if so, do shine a light!), but I’m not sure how it resolves the underlying issue. Regardless, I like that Tess’s response to feeling impotent (about Vincent) was to take other matters into her own hands and make things happen.
As an aside, Everly is an intriguing character. They’re cast here as an enigma and an oracle, feared and respected, insightful and instructive – yet they don’t give answers so much as help Tess find her own. I wonder how all this character building will evolve in season three, and I’m excited to find out.
And what of our other protagonists?
We end the season with Vincent dead as far as Riverside and the City are concerned, and we must assume he will play no further part in the proceedings (for now). To my surprise, we will keep the company of Ixkaab Balam, first daughter of a first daughter, who – unexpectedly finding herself the only woman of age amongst the Balam – must step up to manage her family’s interests (while I was initially surprised that Kaab was going home with her tail between her legs, it felt like an opportunity to open new doors and change a narrative that had run its course. For her to literally miss the boat whilst trying to do right by a friend completely blindsided me, as did Ixsaabim’s sudden death). This responsibility may – finally – be the making of her, just as grief appears to be remaking Rafe into a wiser man. I hope so, because Kaab’s balance sheet is heavy in debt. Can she finally set aside childish things?
Let’s finish with the image of the Duchess sat pretty in Tremontaine House, excited to receive notes from Esha Jayasuriya. Well, who wouldn’t be?
Many thanks to the writing team for another epic season of emotional rollercoasters. I shall have to do some soul searching for how to fill the Tremontaine-shaped gap in my reading until the Autumn.
Tremontaine is available from Serial Box Publishing in ebook and audio format – episodes available individually or via a season pass to read it all in one glorious go.