The rain may have stopped, but there’s nothing but bad news and ominous developments in the City. As the final season takes shape, it’s set to threaten everything we hold dear.
In Riverside, Tess is wallowing in self-recrimination and Everly is preaching chaos. Hard truths have come home to roost with the capture of Charlotte’s Rats: the City are better funded, better armed and better organised. As I suspected, even former allies like Anna can be seduced by cold hard cash, and the bridge project has plenty of it. They also have a handful of children locked up, and Charlotte is taking the latest setback even worse than Tess.
I’ll admit I’m worried for my Riversiders. I don’t really see what cards they have to play – and I’m tentatively bracing for the rest of this season to be a relentless, bruising challenge to my loyalties (because let’s face it, for all my love of Riverside, I’m also Team Duchess). I also find I don’t trust Everly. They are just so damn enigmatic: I don’t really know what they want – I just know they can be utterly ruthless – so when they advocate chaos I get a slightly Dark Knight vibe I get nervous. It’s not that I think they want to see the world burn – I genuinely don’t – but I do think they’re unafraid of giving other people unpalatable choices. And I don’t trust them to have Tess’s back, in the end, any more than they had Shade’s.
Given I’ve read Swordspoint, you’d think this would be less of a thrill ride for me – but honestly, there’s so much wiggle room between this fraught present and what I know the future holds that it’s just not the case. Let’s not forget that Tremontaine is largely peopled with new characters. I’ve got no reassurances here.
Tensions are running high in the City, too – albeit for other reasons. I was completely discombobulated by the unexpected turn of events at Tremontaine House. Diane pays the terrified price this week for never having adequately replaced Vincent. Perhaps that serves her right, but it’s a timely reminder of just how awful the Hill’s approach to resolving social conflict really is. The system of challenges and duels sounds so terribly clean and bloodless – given they’re usually to the first cut, and Richard St Vier isn’t yet on the scene – until we have a challenger confronting her in her nighty and demanding instant satisfaction. It’s an awkward, unpleasant scene on multiple levels, but Diane’s response is frankly heart-stopping.
Is our Duchess running out of fight?
She has forced her way into a world of male privilege, only to find herself insulted, belittled and now challenged on the thinnest of pretexts. The old boys are feeling threatened, apparently – and I think it’s finally dawning on Diane that Davenant was only the beginning. He had personal reasons to come after her. The others need no better reason than her gender. I can’t blame her for wondering whether it’s all worth it (and is this the first time she’s been confronted by a man with a sword since that long-ago night in the carriage? Maybe), but oh, it stings.
Kaab, thankfully, has enough fight for everyone, as well as considerably more empathy and common sense than when she first hopped off the boat. I was proud of her for recognising that Diane needed support – and for acknowledging that Esha was better-placed to provide it than Kaab herself. An excellent move in every way – not least because Kaab is going to have her hands full anyway.
If this week was full of surprises, perhaps I should have seen this one coming, as it brings us full circle in terms of Lady Chocolate’s personal narrative. Having found her feet in the City and redeemed herself in her family’s eyes, she is brought face to face with her old foes the Tullans. Last time she faced them she screwed up so badly she was banished; this time, she can’t afford to make any mistakes. It’s unclear whether the Tullans – in the City at Reza‘s invitation(! The Chartili are far better connected on the global scale than the backwards Landish) – are aware of the Kinwiinik presence, let alone Kaab’s; but there’s scope here for a great deal of damage and Kaab takes every precaution.
Save one. Kaab has no defence against her own feelings, and the Tullans have appeared – like rabbits out of a hat – inside her innermost defences. They are already at her friends’ sides: living with the Ambassador, dining with the Duchess, advising on the Bridge. She knows her reaction isn’t entirely rational, but then, Kaab never is. This could get awfully messy.
It’s almost a relief to be returned to Rafe’s Academy to round out the week. There’s a heartwarming scene in which Rafe, Joshua, Micah and Simone go book-shopping (what better way to endear yourself to this reader?). It’s almost domestic, our perspective that of the bookseller, who has nothing but affection for these passionate, teasing, intelligent young people. Unfortunately, this too is a set-up for trouble at hand.
Oh, Rafe. Things just never seem to run smoothly for you, do they?