While Esha, Diane and Kaab make the case for change and new ways of thinking, they face opposition from the Hill right down to Riverside from those with a vested interest in keeping things the way they are. The stakes may vary, but the game is getting very, very personal…
The most lyrical pair of authors from last season reunite to bring us episode 3, and the bar is set high in terms of expectation! But there’s no need to worry – with Delia Sherman and Liz Duffy Adams, we’re in very safe hands. And as in Into the Woods, they bring an unexpected new element into the proceedings along with Sherman’s flair for incidental world-building tidbits (…and let’s face it, I’m always happy to here more about the old Kings and long-dead Queen Diane).
We join that modern-day Diane, Duchess Tremontaine, for her first address to the Council of Lords. Gregory Davenant is but a memory; an interim Dragon Chancellor has claimed his chair (YAAAS!) and Diane is ready to make her case for moving the new bridge. It’s a fascinating scene – a blunt reminder that our regular view of the City is through the eyes of its under-classes, not its rulers. Diane is an influencer, but this week it’s driven home that she’s only a woman. While the Lords may have no qualms about how you sleep with (the Land remains whole-heartedly queer <3) that doesn’t stop them being over-privileged misanthropists.
For those who have read the books, any mention of Lord Horn or Lord Ferris is an excuse to grab your popcorn and boo loudly; and this incarnation of an earlier Ferris has none of his heir’s brains. But Diane is more than equipped to deal with reflexive opposition from men who hate her: the true threat to our Duchess is all the things she doesn’t know. Can’t know. Because she’s a woman.
Fair to say that I want to know the story of the Companions’ Oak, about which these oh so noble men will only speak in embarrassed mutters. Cutting it down is so obviously a problem, they don’t have to explain it to one another; and apparently so utterly soaked in male identity, privilege or idiocy that they simply can’t explain it to Diane. This isn’t a case of observing a historically significant tree; there’s something more to it – but not something they can talk about.
OF COURSE I WANT TO KNOW THE THING.
There are echoes here of the myths that soaked Sherman’s co-authored The Fall of the Kings, and I am absolutely dying to know how it all fits together. I have no idea whether we’ll ever find out though. It remains to be seen whether this is in fact a crucial plot element or a mere plot device – because the outcome of the debate is to relocate the new bridge… across Riverside.
It’s been pretty obvious that this season would see Riverside at war with the City. Tess’s development and instinctive responses to outsider aggression and assumptions have all been leading down this path. Now we have a cause that will entrench differences and inflame hearts: a bridge to power the commercial growth of the Hill and the merchants, but which cannot be built without knocking down Riverside homes.
This can’t end well.
I spent the entirety of Kaab’s scene with Tess grinding my teeth. I can’t tell if Kaab is being wilfully blind or honestly oblivious to how awful her news is. She is, after all, Lady Chocolate. She may have slummed it for a while, but she was always a Balam spy princess at heart, never a Riversider. She sees progress and opportunity; she has never heard words like ‘gentrification’ (and if she had, she would probably still fail to see the problem). And in the short term, even if Riverside is to be compensated (…which seems unlikely, least of all at a fair rate), any payments will go into a tiny number of pockets – Riverside is an island of cheap rents, not home-owners – and do nothing to help the displaced families find new homes they can afford.
Of course, Riverside is also a district of trouble-makers and when Charlotte has an idea for how to thwart – or at least delay – the building work, it’s inevitable that Tess will lend her support. But the City has learnt a few things about dealing with Riverside, it seems… I am so worried about my gutter scum darlings.
Class tensions are only a tiny part of the problem between Rafe and Reza over at Ambassador’s House. They are both so determined to guard their hearts; and both so prickly in their demeanours. Esha would dearly like to get them to give in to their desires and take joy in one another while they can. Instead, each is so defensive they hear everything the other says as a form of attack or rejection (to be fair, Rafe is being deliberately provocative about Reza’s true status; and I hadn’t considered that anti-monarchical attitudes were at play as well as his outraged sense of betrayal at his friend for keeping secrets). It’s a painful, heartfelt scene. I wanted to slap and hug both of them, and make Esha a good cup of tea at the end of it.
The stakes seem to get higher every week – and we’re only three weeks in. This season is going to be a heck of a rollercoaster…