Riverside is under attack by the City Guard, locked onto its island, cut off from the rest of the City until it is prepared to hand over the murderous Shade. And a frustrated swordsman is trapped there too, adding to the blood soaking its streets. Can Tess tame the heart-broken Reza? Can either find a way to break the siege?
The second episode of Tremontaine picks up right where the first left off – and with the focus largely on the fate of Riverside, it is all (at least implicitly) about privilege and social conflict. If there are echoes here of the conflicts of our own times, I don’t think for a second that’s an accident. So let’s start with police brutality, shall we?
The City Guard exercise the right of might to break down Riverside doors and crack Riverside skulls at the behest of the merchants. I found myself questioning whether the Consortium were really so naïve as to believe Riversiders would hand over one of their own, then realised I was missing the point.
The mercantile middle classes have even less idea what Riverside is about than the nobility on the Hill (who only consider it for its seedy excitement). The merchants probably would submit to the threat of violence; they would (and no doubt do) cheerfully betray their neighbours and business partners in the name of profit; so surely the coarse riffraff will do the same – and if they don’t, then they can finally be punished for their real and imagined sins. Because crucially, they don’t care what happens to the Riversiders. The class divide is total; the stories are always of the thieves and killers, never of the starving children and the families who struggle to make ends meet in the face of City prejudice and usury. The merchants just want to see Riverside burn.
I suspect the Guard are well aware that Riversiders won’t meekly submit to threats, but they’re just as prejudiced as the Consortium. There’s no need to kick in shop doors and fire taverns. They could have simply barred the bridges, but they had a message to send and an excuse to indulge a lifetime of antagonism. It makes me wonder where the Guard are recruited from.
Even Reza is guilty. He vents his rage on Riverside, refusing to accept that Vincent’s choices were all his own.
“He chose to die, over me”
Vincent wasn’t raised in Riverside; he may have lived there and fought there (and, err, ‘died’ there), but his warped view of himself and his honour was entirely his own. While Reza initially fights to defend himself and to gain information, once he hears Vincent is dead he’s simply spoiling for blood. Because if killing strangers doesn’t make him feel better – and even he can tell it doesn’t – he can punish them for Vincent’s choices.
Reza, no. That’s not how it works.
But Reza wants to hate them. A Chartili noble, he would probably struggle to consider their lives as having value on a good day. This is not a good day. In his eyes, they have neither honour nor hierarchy – they’re about as alien as a culture can be, from his perspective.
The obvious answers he ultimately seizes on – I will kill Shade for you, he tells Tess, or you will all starve – are offensive to Riverside on every level, not that he’d ever be able to see why. An outsider and a noble telling Riverside what to do? Another arrogant foreigner assuming that he can lead Riverside out of this conflict? A man killing willy nilly to satisfy his own pain?
No wonder she’s irritated. Even if she hadn’t spent two seasons getting frustrated by Kaab, Reza would surely be getting right up her nose.
I love that Tess’s response to everything that happens is pure defiance. Riverside will not betray its own. It may kill Shade for its own reasons, but it won’t give him to the City. Instead, they’ll throw a party to show how little they care for threats.
…which brings us to the most privileged mob of all, the nobility. The Chancellors drifting along the river to enjoy the spectacle; ignorant and uncaring of the circumstances, just enjoying the show, Diane and Gregory entirely wrapped up in their own manoeuvring (although I’ll be honest, the creeptastic Dragon Chancellor surprised me early on this week – twice-over, because I didn’t think he was complicated enough to surprise me at all. Still creepy though).
All in all, it’s hard not to sympathise with Riverside. They are being assaulted, taken for granted, dying for the amusement of the rich.
The City isn’t wrong for wanting Shade punished. Tess – and the rest of Riverside – equate the loss of a lover with the death of a young man. And when you have nothing at all, to lose the one thing you care about must be devastating (and we’re given glimpses of the Twins’ hollow pain in the wake of their separation, not that I care a fig – they’re a pair of sociopaths and I can’t wait to see the back of them). But it has no standing under the law – and I can’t consider them morally equivalent. Tess is wrong.
And it underlines for me that while he’s generally in the wrong in this episode, Reza isn’t wrong for questioning Riverside’s casual relationship with Death. They live with it every day. Its inevitability holds little fear for them. So murder becomes meaningless. Love matters more. That – and his skill with the sword – is partly what will keep Reza safe; killing for love is something they understand. And in the end, heartbreakingly (because my heart does ache for Reza, in spite of itself), he asks Tess what would Vincent want me to do? There’s at least two ways to answer that question, of course: what Vincent would want Reza to do if he were actually dead, and what Vincent actually wants Reza to do given he isn’t.
Vincent, you’re an asshole. I love you, but I am SO ANGRY with you right now.
And it’s unclear what Tess’s response is. Possibly – just possibly – it’s ‘defend me’. Which may mean Reza gets to kill Shade after all. But that could get hella complicated down the line, given he’s, you know, the ambassador from Chartil.
So – objectively – this week, everybody is just wrong.
Except Esha, who is – as usual – so sultry my eyes are on fire just reading about her.
…and as a complete aside – Riverboaters? Riverboaters! I want to know more.
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.