Tremontaine: What Light in the Houses Beneath the Earth?

Header image: Tremontaine - The Final Season (copyright Serial Box: two figures swordfighting, seen from above)

The weather is finally showing signs of improving, but feelings are running as high as the river. As we reach the middle of the season, the waters are poised to rearrange everything we know…

I’m conflicted about episode 6 of Tremontaine. On the one hand, our repressed lovers finally let themselves go and Diane came in for quite a surprise (I won’t lie, I’m hovering between glee and worry); on the other, it felt rather more trope-y than I expect from this inventive, subversive series.

To some extent, this was true even of the subplot that made me happiest: Rafe and Reza finally – FINALLY – giving way to their feelings. It’s a narrative awash in romance tropes, from the lover outside the gates in the rain, to the lover who accepts his feelings when he thinks his beloved is dying. Honestly? In this case, I really don’t mind, largely because the explosion of realised feelings is an epic relief. By the time Reza was quoting poetry, I was feeling a little fluttery and teary eyed myself. Now, Reza, I know Chartil is close-minded about same-sex romance but it’s open-minded about scholarship. Go ahead and ask Rafe to come home with you, will you?

On the Hill, Diane’s night is more surprising and awfully promising. Lord Octavian Perry is quick to accept an invitation to peruse Tremontaine’s library, and not slow to flirt… or to move matters right along when the Duchess flirts back. Has Diane hooked a more dangerous fish than she cast for, or might this relationship be on more equal – and more rewarding – terms than she anticipated?

I’m hoping the latter – not least because that would ease my own feelings about where we will leave her at the end of Tremontaine; but I can’t help but be a wee bit suspicious that the clever, disregarded noble might see an opportunity for himself here. Still, I recall Esha’s circumspect recommendation of Lord Perry and I trust her judgment. Has Diane’s friend given her an even greater gift than she realised – an intellectual partner? We will see. And hope.

I am less clear what to hope for when it comes to Kaab and the untimely death of David Rook. I liked how Rook’s introduction in Season Three fleshed out our understanding of how the Kinwiinik spy network operates, and I liked his fierce loyalty to Saabim. And he’s a shrewd man: his bitter reflection that Kaab would care more about Salford if the merchant were killing Kinwiinik not City folk was painfully accurate. Still, he hasn’t really added much to the story so far and I had higher hopes for his dance with Francis Salford than an early death at the Balam compound gates.

But the real problem for me was the handling of his death. I’m a sucker for something vaguely like police investigators in fantasy settings, but knowing the outcome undercut my enjoyment. David made some interesting observations and there were intriguing clues seeded in his findings, but I enjoyed it less for knowing the outcome from the beginning. My frustration was compounded by his previously-unmentioned romance with a Cocom girl. I mean, why not have him consider retiring too? It’s not even that I hate these tropes (nothing wrong with pathos), but I do hate romance that is shoe-horned in – if the writers wanted me to mourn David Rook, they needed to have made him more important to me along the way.

…and yes, I’m aware that last week I shed a tear for Doctor Goodell, who probably had even less page-time than David Rook. Case in point, to be honest – Goodell’s importance to Micah and his gentle dealings with our most highly-strung protagonists made him dear to me. Poor David. He seems to have been fridged to ignite Kaab’s liver-spirit, and I regret that my overwhelming response is irritation.

I am enjoying Salford’s villainy though, and I’m intrigued by the apparent contradictions in his ambition to redevelop Riverside and the deaths associated with the bridge-building project (perhaps there’s a subtlety here about which bridge that I missed; I realised later that I thought the new Riverside location was further along than is in fact the case – I think Salford is undermining efforts to build in the originally-selected spot). I also gasped at Reza’s flash of spite – and reflected how interesting it is that the oh-so-highborn prince of Chartil understands Riverside so much better than Kaab, who lived there.

Let’s finish with Everly though, because once again I’m at a loss. WHAT IS GOING ON HERE? They seem to be trying to drown the tunnels under Riverside. They expected to drown with them, too, which is admirably (terrifyingly) committed to whatever their cause is – but what else will get washed away? I said a couple of weeks back that I got Dark Knight vibes from Everly, and this week does seem to deliver in the direction of letting the world burn drown.

After much discussion of sediments and given some assumptions about the quality of building in the City’s poorest quarter, I’m guessing Riverside’s foundations are not solid. Wouldn’t a huge and constant rush of river water through its basements… well, basically wash it away? In spite of Arlen’s visit, I sort of hoped the Salamander was working mostly on Riverside’s behalf, so I’m worried, folks. Very, very worried.

I’m still utterly unclear on what triggered Arlen to come visit, how the Salamander knew to expect him, and – because I haven’t forgotten and it’s been bugging me since it was first mentioned – how / whether any of this ties back to the mysterious tree that can’t be cut down…

I better get reading to find out!