Welcome back to a City in the grip of progress. Driven by the vision of the Duchess Tremontaine. Enriched by the commercial success of the Kinwiinik led by Ixkaab Balam. Enlightened by the intellectual patronage of Far-Reza. Made – day by day, page by page – more equal by the open door policy of Rafe Fenton’s City Academy. Rain-soaked and miserable after a wet season. What new challenges lie ahead in this final season of my beloved serial?

It’s all change in the excellent opening episode: the first season opener to be penned by someone other than City Founder, Ellen Kushner. Nor do we join Diane at her writing desk, gazing out from her eyrie in the roof of Tremontaine House. Tessa Gratton sets the scene with aplomb: four seasons in, the City should and does feel familiar, and many of the narratives derive their power from the context they are rooted in. As usual, we see new faces as well as catch up with old friends, and a hint of drama on the horizon is awfully promising…

It is a year since the Dragon Chancellor was beaten by a Riverside swordsman and driven out of the City for shame (fancy a bet on who the new as-yet unnamed Dragon is?). Ahchuleb and Peapem gave returned home to Binkiinha, the Trader still shattered b his wife’s murder. Kaab has brought her people to heel, leading them to success after winning the trading monopoly.

But a boat is arriving bearing Chukeb’s replacement; the man who will run the business so that Kaab can focus on her true trade: seducing women spycraft. Our hothead has repaired her reputation and dreams of three things: provoking an indrawn breath and sudden widening of her lover’s grey eyes; avenging Ixsaabim and returning home herself at long last. But first she must hope a suitable Trader has been sent who has the wherewithal to pick up the reins of her commercial empire.

It was a lovely thought, Kaab. In truth it’s too soon to tell, and I’m curious to see how the new arrivals settle in. But given the shocking news they carry, they certainly don’t expect Kaab will be going anywhere soon…

We see little of Diane this week, but oh my word what we do see. I had to reach for a cooling drink. The Duchess is in glorious form, safe from Gregory Davenant and taking her pleasure where she chooses – and why shouldn’t she choose to take it with a side of politics and business? I think I’m going to enjoy seeing this liberated Diane more than ever.

It’s complicated love affairs left right and centre, because Rafe and Reza are in the grip of a mutual passion each refuses to acknowledge. OH THE SEXUAL TENSION. Esha disapproves, mostly – I get the impression – because she believes in embracing your soul’s delight. But Reza (like Kaab) will be leaving the City soon, and while he could take Esha with him if she’d agree to go, taking Rafe is unthinkable. Chartil doesn’t accept male lovers, let alone common born ones. The poison tasters would be working over time. No, better the pair torture themselves with denial rather than accept inevitable heartbreak. Right?? Oh, this could get messy. Even assuming Vincent stays dead…

I loved Reza’s salon scene. I’m sad if unsurprised it was mostly men, but the choice of men was teasing. A new bridge is being built – under pressure from the Kinwiinik, and with Diane’s careful influence pushing it along – by an architect more appreciative of equations than romance – who Rafe hates, naturally (uh huh. UH HUH. If this doesn’t develop into a meeting of minds – and more – between the two theoretical mathematicians I’ll be amazed). Rafe and Esha are in attendance, naturally, along with the Chartili master architect Reza has summoned to make the bridge a physical possibility. And last but not least there’s Reza’s new good friend, one Francis Salford, who is not-so-casually interested in the culture of Chartili poisoning. OH RLY MR SALFORD. Given Reza and Kaab’s cautious detente last year, this seems to be all set for DRAMA given her intentions where the murderous Salford is concerned…

But the more-immediate crisis, worryingly, looks like it will centre on Tess and Riverside. Tess is slowly re-inventing herself as The Hand under Everly’s sometimes-frustrating tutelage. She’s still not sure what being The Hand means, but when she finds City men piling crates on her beloved island, she doesn’t hesitate to respond. There’s no real logic or thought behind it; it’s pure Riverside instinct, a rejection of the City’s casual assumptions of ownership and power. Tess doesn’t know it, but she’s picking a fight with all our principals with her impetuous act of defiance.

So the stage is set: love, lust, politics, defiance, conflict… welcome back to the City.