Rafe and Reza are men about town, while Kaab gains a startling insight into the Duchess and hunts down her wayward spy. We’re coming up to mid-season and inter-relationships are starting to get complicated, with hints of unexpected alliances as new friendships develop.
If there’s two pairs of characters I can happily stand to watch more of together, it’s Kaab!Diane and Rafe!Reza (…because much as Dianesha pleases me in every way, they’re also terribly distracting).
Kaab and Diane have a fascinating dynamic of wariness tinged with attraction. Kaab has an unbreakable hold over Diane – thanks to knowing her deepest, darkest secrets – and Diane has a healthy respect for anyone who can kill her literally or metaphorically. Last time we saw them together, Diane thought Kaab had come to do just that; this time, Kaab is the one with Vincent Applethorpe on her mind.
But this would be the first time she sat with the duchess with Vincent’s death cradled between them
Yes, this week is the week of double takes. Most of my reading notes are exclamation marks or variations on ‘…wait. That can’t be right…’ as Tessa Gratton repeatedly points out that the characters don’t actually know all the things we do. It’s an deft dance of minor revelations, as our cast are brought up to date. Because of course Kaab knows almost nothing: she left for the docks directly after Vincent’s operation, and she’s been entirely wrapped up in her people’s affairs ever since. In fact, I don’t think she’s even spoken to anyone but Diane (other than addressing the merchants, who wouldn’t know anything about a Riverside swordsman anyway).
But confronting Diane with the fact of Vincent’s death results in an entirely unexpected development: Kaab is floored by the insight that the Duchess may have nerves of steel, but she’s not got ice in her veins after all. Sometimes, she gives into impulses.
Kaab has spent most of her life being chided for exactly this. Part of her respect – even awe – for the Duchess is her perfect poise and ruthless control. Surely this woman of all women is the shining example of what Kaab should aspire to be.
Their relationship is left at an interesting turning point. Will Kaab lose respect for Diane, knowing that she too gives in to her heart and liver spirits? Will she gain confidence in her own instincts, reassured that even Diane isn’t always ruled by her head? Can she afford to take Diane’s advice? Diane appears to be urging her on to direct action (and let’s take a moment ton consider what Diane may have to gain here, because while I feel we’re seeing a more candid Diane this season, she’s still the Duchess) – leaving Kaab with much to consider. As well as a spy to bring to heel.
I was all agog to discover who that spy would be, and I’m not going to spoil it. Spies are wily, and this one leads Kaab a dance around the City that I thought was sure to get her temper up. Chalk up another surprise for me: Kaab delighted in the game of cat and mouse, enjoying the distraction from politics. It made for a lovely sequence, and I’m ever so curious to see what this spy adds to the narrative as we move into the second half of the season – after all this build-up, I have to think it will be significant.
Speaking of significant, I was absolutely agog throughout Esha’s visit to see Reza. It seems both the most sensible of alliances to pursue (strangers in a strange land, a mutual love of swords) and yet it’s clear that this isn’t a natural friendship for Reza (…whose relationships with women appear limited to family and slaves, and who isn’t comfortable with women wielding swords. GET OVER IT, REZA). And yet… there’s a connection here, and it’s as intriguing and teasing (albeit with different subtext) as Esha’s early meetings with Diane. It’s unclear to me whether Esha’s really did wish only to enquire about a swordsmith, or whether she’s laying foundations for something – after all, she’s as canny as Diane, and a good deal more subtle – but I am definitely excited to find out.
Which brings us to Reza and Rafe. Two lonely men, damaged by love, unexpectedly drawn together.
“He’s too old for you,” Thelonius said consideringly
…but not in a Judgey McJudgeFace sort of way, which is progress for Rafe’s dad. Besides, neither Reza nor Rafe are ready for that sort of thing, although Rafe is a better man than most if he can resist being swept off his feet by the effortlessly attractive foreign prince (and hats off for coping with that ride across town. Blimey).
Besides, there’s a little thing that could keep Rafe’s ardour well and truly tamped: Reza’s talent for killing. Rafe is no Alec; in the long list of things I realised were a shock to our friends this episode, seeing someone killed in front of him was undoubtedly an unpleasant moment for Rafe. It’s so easy to assume everyone has seen a duel, but Rafe’s clearly never seen a fight to the death before. After all, they’re pretty rare outside of Riverside (which lead rapidly to ‘HALLO WHAT DO YOU MEAN RAFE HAS NEVER BEEN TO RIVERSIDE …oh. Hmm. Wait. Yes, okay. Micah has. Kaab used to take her. And Micah took Joshua. But Rafe? …I guess not’. See? It was moments like that all the way down this week).
Wherever it may lead (and I rather hope it’s not to romance), Rafe and Reza’s friendship is a beguiling thing to watch. I enjoy Reza’s perspective (his casually dismissive attitude to the Land, and his mature intervention to stave off Rafe’s histrionics) just as much as I enjoy being reminded that he is terrifying when seen through the eyes of others. Which is what makes one particular exchange this week carry such weight:
“But if Vincent Applethorpe was working for the Duchess Tremontaine, his death is likely on her hands.”
The ambassador lifted his black eyebrows. “Is it?”
Oh dear God, that’s not a vendetta the City needs. While I’m not convinced Reza could out-politic Diane on home territory, he could certainly prove a dangerous ally for Davenant. I think this is me being paranoid – there’s not so much as a sniff of this in the wind; and I’d much prefer to think of him as a sometime protector for Tess should she need it (which she indubitably will if the Salamander keeps pushing her as hard as they did this week), but it remains an unsettling thought.
While there’s plenty more to unpick regarding Tess this week, I’m going to save her for another week and close with a final thought about Micah. Her confidence and her independence are putting down firm roots; and combine with her common sense this week to see her take charge in a dangerous situation. Is it me, or is she growing up fast this season?
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.