I’ve fallen behind on Tremontaine, so it’s time to quickly catch up! In Into the Woods, a party of nobles celebrate midwinter at Diane’s hunting lodge in the woods, but the Land calls for blood during the White Days and someone will have to pay the price. Behind the Mask sees Kaab closing in on the rixinkun’s secrets, whilst Rafe suffers a disappointment. Will Micah ever master the peculiar game of Social Graces?
These two episodes are chalk and cheese, and I won’t lie: I enjoyed one an awful lot more than the other. Into the Woods is a delightful slice of world-building, a glimpse into the poisonous and stifling world of the nobility. There’s no respite here from politics and manoeuvring even at play. Micah is bewildered by their deceitful interactions, able to see the lying without being able to see the truths concealed beneath it. Diane is in her element, seeking ways to discomfort Davenant.
It should be wonderful, the sort of Dangerous Liaisons intrigue that helped me fall in love with Swordspoint in the first place, combined with Delia Sherman’s signature myth-building as she revisits the darker traditions once linked to the White Days, first touched on in The Fall of the Kings. Unfortunately (and maybe it was just my mood when I read it), it felt out of place – less a pause for breath than a sudden becalming after the gathering action of previous weeks.
Consequently, while I enjoyed it as a piece of world-building, it’s probably my least favourite episode of the season so far, although I loved Micah’s perspective of the games the nobles play; and I am heart in mouth at Davenant wanting to play her at cards again. I like the development of the mythos of the Land, but I do hope it becomes more relevant than it feels to this particular story.
Meanwhile, back in the City: Kaab is closing in on the truths she needs to defend her family; and Esha struggles to keep her emotional balance. Esha so often seems to be perfect poise that I’ve at times half-wondered how sincere she is in her feelings for Diane; this scene puts that question to bed. It’s an intimate moment, building anticipation, and probably my favourite scene of the week.
Behind the Mask is shocking by contrast for how much it crams in. It starts with an attempt on Tess’s life and having got my heart racing madly (thank you Mr Derfner) it just keeps going. I love the relationship that has developed between Tess and Reza, and the way they are able to bare their souls to one another in a way we don’t see with anyone else. Reza is such a dissonant character this season, alternating between grief-ridden deathbringer and elder statesman who has unexpectedly adopted these wayward young people. But that doesn’t stop him having moments of wisdom, and he has one for Tess (and later Rafe) this week, pointing out that friendship and love can be as powerful as fear (THANK YOU MR DERFNER MY HEART NEEDED THAT).
Tess promptly puts his lesson to good use (cue a wonderful scene with the Riverside Coven and precocious young gangster Charlotte), and the theme of friendship carries into the next narrative thread as Rafe and Micah each have meltdowns for different reasons. With his School about to open, Rafe is simply a bundle of nerves; but – as he so often does (sure he can be an oblivious asshat, but when he’s a friend he’s a good friend) – he puts them aside to comfort Micah.
Derfner delivers a moment perfectly poised between hilarity and sentiment with Micah’s confession that she lost at cards. But it’s a stepping stone to another moment freighted with implications: Micah – who never lies – choosing to conceal that she has an invitation to play cards with Gregory Lord Davenant. Micah, honey, you’re on the road to learning to lie right there. And in the meantime, we’re all screaming because Davenant.
It seems likely that this season’s climax will feature Davenant’s revenge against Diane and Kaab’s inevitable confrontation with the rixinkun. Davenant has reduced Diane’s influence over Lionel and pulled strings to ensure Rafe’s School cost more than it should and has no students, but these feel like small fry – irritations, not a full-blooded evening of scores. Now he has Micah in his sights, and Diane – oh, Diane, I understand your reasoning, but oh I hate you a little for this gamble – won’t intervene, fearful that showing her feelings will invite worse. Which brings us back to Diane and Esha and their ever-closer relationship. Imagine the joy Davenant would take in destroying that. Bundle of nerves doesn’t come close to how I feel about all this.
But we’re not done yet. Behind the Mask also sees Tess and Kaab face to face for the first time since their stormy parting – which frankly goes rather better than I expected – before Kaab goes to put the Cocom in their place. The final scene is as heart-stopping as the first, as Kaab sneaks into the Cocom compound in search of evidence of their treachery.
All hell is about to break loose, isn’t it?
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.
I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.