While Riverside revels in being released from its siege (and Tess tries to keep it from revelling in ways that would see the siege reinstated), the City – and Rafe – prepare to party through the Night of the Flames. But some fires have a sadder purpose, as the Kinwiinik release Ixsaabim’s spirit to rejoin her ancestors at last. How can Kaab satisfy everyone who is now watching her?

I raced through this episode overtired and with a headache, and came away feeling vaguely dissatisfied (bear in mind the bar is absurdly high for Joel Derfner’s episodes. He has form). But revisiting it, I found it far more rewarding. It was all me, okay? I shouldn’t read with a headache.

If I have one axe to grind, it’s a personal foible: I found the Night of the Flames itself frustratingly familiar and annoyingly opaque. If we’re going to get a big annual festival in the City, I want it to feel intertwined with and contribute to the world-building – not just get a throwaway line that nobody really knows why it’s celebrated, hey have candy and talk about ghosts. Am I unreasonable? Maybe. But I stand by it.

World-building gripes aside, though, this episode really isn’t about the Night of the Flames. It’s all about personal development and relationships, and on that front it delivers in spades.

Let’s start with Kaab, because she wrung my heart out this week. We rejoin her at Ixsaabim’s funeral, centre stage as the new head of the family, feeling every ounce of expectation and disappointment on top of the weight of her own carefully-repressed grief. Kaab has rarely (ever?) been so noble or so grown up. She knows what is expected of her and she is determined to do her duty; but she’s trying very hard not to fall apart, because once she starts crying she may never stop. Her dry-eyed self control is a travesty to her people. I relate so hard to all of this. I just want to give our Lady Chocolate the hug she so deeply needs.

Chuleb, meanwhile, is honoured for being a complete basket case – but the consequences of his emotion are at worst a temporary loss of profit. Kaab is overwhelmed by the possible consequences of her letting go, more aware than ever that her actions have repercussions.

But brace yourselves: this week is the week the Batab’s Inspector finally arrives. Kaab is right to keep a grip on herself; she needs to make her first major decision as head of the family – do they hold to their mourning and welcome the Batab with unspiced food and dirty clothes, or do they set aside their grief to celebrate him as his position deserves? I’m not going to spoil her decision or his reaction – but OMG the scenes with the Balam aunties giving her “advice” were amongst my favourite this week.

“If our little bee wants to destroy this family with her impetuous behaviour, that is her right”

Yes, thank you ladies, you keep right on with your moral support. But Kaab is growing up. She pauses for some genuine introspection, taking responsibility in ways we’ve not really seen before (even in the depths of her self pity, she hasn’t really owned past mistakes).

…although through all this, she still seems entirely oblivious to recent events in Riverside. Aiee. There’s going to be a reckoning for that at (probably the worst possible) point, because Tess is so not done with taking scores in response to the siege.

Tess is clearly struggling to deal with her guilt over Shade. She has no regrets, you hear me, no regrets – it needed doing – but she’s still having nightmares about how it was done.

So you bloody well should, Tess.

That was horrific.

…but I’m liking this new resolute Tess, who still leads with her heart but has a clever head to steer it. Here we see her cast (by some street urchins, so pinch of salt) as important (only?) because of her direct line to the Salamander, but her thinking and behaviour are changing fast in response to her rising influence. Confronted by some kids with stupid ideas, she barely hesitates before manipulating them into doing what she wants instead – and using it as an opportunity to send a letter of intent to the Middle City. It’s not subtle, but it’s surprisingly restrained – and if this is what she can do when thinking on her feet, I am RIGHT HERE for watching her weekly evolution into a fearsome lady.

Speaking of fearsome ladies…

Diane is charmed by Micah’s new project to study the patterns of people’s behaviour – although I fear she’s dissembling a little when she suggests that spending an entire evening watching people say things they don’t mean and do things they don’t wish to wouldn’t be a useful exercise. But it was her recognition that she and Micah have grown close that gave me a staggering emotional buffet (OH MY HEART. HOLD ME). I may be reading entirely too much into this scene. But. OH. Our Duchess is melting. Her icy defences are being melted by these new friends she has permitted into her life. She is even allowing herself to feel happy.

So of course I find myself worrying about a certain Lord Davenant.

Speaking of our gentlemen, there’s no Joshua this week (sniff), but Reza – with a newfound friend in Tess (and isn’t that a potentially interesting alliance for the future) takes himself off into the City to enjoy the delights of the festival. I had forgotten that Rafe and Reza had met before, but it’s two very different gentleman who strike up an unexpected friendship over cream puffs – and in spite of Florian’s best efforts. If Kaab is seeming all grown up this week, so too is Rafe (and it’s not even ruined by him noticing it. Yes lad, we’re all proud of you learning to make male friends without trying to bed them. Well done you). And we can all sleep sound in the knowledge that Reza could cut Florian to ribbons.

Marvellous.

 

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.