It’s autumn at last, which means it’s time to return to the intoxicating world of Riverside and the City. Grab your chocolate, grab your loved one – with three women of immense character preparing to grasp power for themselves at last, can they all realise their ambitions? Or will they thwart one another’s dreams? That’s right folks, it’s Tremontaine time!
Here’s the thing: I read seasons 1 and 2 practically back to back last year, my brain alive to the details and nuances that this complicated serial thrives on. I didn’t reread season 2 in advance of picking up season 3 opener Ambition – and I regretted it. Don’t worry – I’ve electronically (ah, e-readers, you take away some of the small joys) thumbed my way back through the last few episodes to help my impressions settle. Which is just as well, because I’d completely convinced myself that Diane had done worse than she did to make sense of what happens this week. Clearly there’s no depths I don’t believe the Duchess will stoop to (…and let’s face it, we’ve had ample evidence of this so far!).
We rejoin Diane, now Duchess in own right rather than merely by marriage, by the window of House Tremontaine, considering her conquests and preparing for a dinner the Chancellor is throwing in her honour. Our cool, calm Duchess is somewhat a-flutter – the harried, reactive, irritable lady of Season 2 persists even in victory – as she considers how best to control Lord Davenant and her wayward house swordsman, Vincent Applethorpe.
…because she doesn’t know. Her reports told her that Kaab drew first blood, and Vincent knocked the Kinwiinik out rather than kill her (disgracing them both), and that’s all she knows.
The relationship between Diane and Vincent was fascinating, but for all the sexual tension and mind games last season, I wasn’t expecting the strength of Diane’s reaction when she’s told that Vincent is dead. A truly awful dinner – vapid talk, endless patronising and misogyny (that reference to ‘prime real estate’ – UGH STAB THEM NOW PLEASE) – would be enough to make anyone consider extreme measures to get away, but Diane has more self-control than that. After all, she excels at turning the patriarchy to her advantage. But she goes to pieces at the news that Vincent is dead.
Pity the poor housemaid who bears the brunt of the Duchess’s distress. I’m still unclear whether it was Maisry who dripped water on the silk gown, or Diane herself – fabricating excuses to go into full meltdown – but she takes full advantage of the outrage to shriek her pain and wreck her dress. It’s a shocking reminder of how far she has unravelled since we first met her. There was a time when she would never have permitted herself to be ruled by her emotions like this, let alone at someone else’s house in front of a servant (…and then you consider that Diane was poor Maisry once; but she has no sympathy for these young women now she’s in a position of power – she takes full advantage of her privilege. My heart is given to the ice queen, but there’s no hiding from the fact she’s an awful human being).
The pressure is telling on our Diane, even in her moment of victory. She has lost her husband, and now she has lost a man she had formed a greater attachment to than she realised – and merely to gratify her own spite. She should feel guilty. But I was utterly taken aback by just how discombobulated she was.
I would never have guessed that Micah would be able to handle Diane in this state, or that Diane would permit her to. This unlikely friendship may be one of my great joys this season if it continues to flourish.
A striking aspect for me this week was the contrast between Diane and Kaab. Such a role reversal here since the start of Tremontaine, between two women who are almost total opposites.
Ixkaab Balam, first daughter of a first daughter, was born to the power and privilege Diane covets, but controlled by her impetuous urges and fierce passions. She has always shown herself to be a tactician rather than a strategist; she’s never been particularly good at reading or predicting the emotions of others (too wrapped up in herself to see the truths of others).
Diane de Tremontaine was born with nothing. Ruthless, pragmatic, if not quite as nerveless as she’d like, she murdered, stole and blackmailed her way to power. She has always been the spider at the heart of the web; she excels at manipulating others, knowing their hearts better than they do.
But no more. Kaab is now the Trader to the Xanamwiinik (and while there’s ample evidence here that she’s neither infallible nor as well-respected by her people as she likes to think – those aunties!) and she has become the one who can put aside her griefs – to do battle for her people. Diane is the one now who is constantly second-guessing herself, driven by her emotions, undercutting her own advantages.
That said, while I admired Kaab’s poise this week, I think our headstrong young woman is just under the skin. I don’t like to think she’s truly become so cold that she knowingly unleashed a conflagration on Riverside; I prefer to think she didn’t realise how extreme a reaction she would provoke. She wanted Florian and Shade brought to heel (…speaking of Florian and Shade, what is Florian up to? Watch yourself, Rafe. Watch yourself). I don’t think she considered for a moment that her allies would assault Tess’s people indiscriminately.
But that is the unexpected place we find ourselves as season three gets going in earnest: a Duchess in power but in disarray, and war breaking out between the City and Riverside.
My heart is in my mouth. As usual.
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.