The Hill perches above the raging River. Riversiders scurry for top-floor shelter. At the Ambassador’s Residence, Rafe appeals to Reza to help him shelter the needy at the Academy. And in the Middle City, Kaab takes advantage of the chaos to go hunting…
Yes, yes, I freely admit it: I rapidly paged through A City in Crisis for any mention of Tess and the Salamander. If you didn’t, you’re a better person than me. What? I’m either a realistic dreamer or an optimistic realist. I didn’t expect to find Tess, but I lived in hope that Ms Kushner had simply played me.
Instead, I found what the title promised: a City in crisis. Even the Hill is not untouched: while the homes of the nobility perch high above the water line, they must hope the waters recede before they run out of food. Lord Galing is dead of a heart attack, and even I – a longstanding member of TeamDiane – was a little shocked that her reaction is mostly relief that the flooding ensures nobody is talking about the fact that he died at her party.
Honestly, I don’t understand the game of gossip and spite the nobility play sometimes. People will gossip, but surely any spite accrues to him or his straying lover, not to the person’s whose house they happen to be at? But perhaps this is merely Diane at her poisonous worst: she would see it as an opportunity, so she assumes others will likewise.
Down the Hill, there is a new trade in ferrying and much stringing up of walkways and rope lines. The City is ingenious and while many see a chance to profit, others – amongst them Rafe Fenton – feel it their duty to help those in need. Ah, Rafe. You have grown into a fine young man over the years. I really didn’t like you at all when we met, but in the past two seasons you have developed into someone I can be fond of and proud of.
Reza – in spite of Esha’s prodding – has provided food but no shelter due to his lingering fears of sickness in the City; but he cannot deny Rafe’s appeal to turn the Academy into a haven for the newly homeless. Most notable though is his new sense that Rafe has become an essential part of his life. Yes, Reza. One that might come home with you, perhaps? You know it’s crossed your mind. Best start figuring it out.
But our main focus this week is Kaab and Octavian Perry. Disorder and chaos are full of potential for mischief and advancement; Kaab knows it, even if Perry thinks he’s on a bureaucratic rescue mission. Crescent Chancellor Galing is dead; Serpent Chancellor Arlen has made no appearance; it’s Perry, Lionel Chesney, Basil Halliday and a motley group of moderately co-operative nobles who must rescue the ‘symbols and records of government’ from the Council Hall before the waters (or looters) seize them.
To be honest, this is mostly an excuse for Malcolm Deverin, Lord Ferris, to be an ass. He’s so much stupider than his son will one day be when Diane has finished shaping him; Malcolm is full of spite and self-interest, but with less acumen to back it up. It was fun to see Basil and Lionel stymy him – until finally, gloriously, Basil steps up into his borrowed authority and owns it. Lord Perry is quite won over; I was frankly punching the air. The advantage of having read Swordspoint is knowing (some of) what is to come, but it’s wonderful seeing beloved characters take shape.
Kaab, meanwhile, has been deliberately biding her time. She long since stepped into her role as Balam spy-mistress; now she will take advantage of the confusion to turn assassin. Slipping into Salford’s perspective was a surprise, but I had little doubt of the outcome of this hunt. There were scores to settle, and the time had come.
In fact, the only area where I remain entirely confused is the matter of Lord Arlen and the Salamander. I grow so used to the Land appearing mundane that I’m never quite sure how to react when its mystical elements come to the fore. It’s appropriate, I guess, that they feel out of place: the Land no longer believes, so they should be surprising – they are outside the ken of almost all our point of view characters. Except Arlen himself, hinting here at unexpected longevity (and I don’t recall who will be Serpent) and at the return – or reincarnation? – of the Salamander. Last time the waters rose, it was apparently Arlen who opened the flood gates, and he clearly survived – and rose in the world, from Riverside to Serpent Chancellor.
Oh yes, I have all the questions. But somehow, I don’t think the final act is going to answer them.
And I don’t think it’s bringing Tess back, either.