Review copy provided by the publisher, who has kindly accepted me into the TremonTEAM (ie, the Tremontaine street team).
Friends, the premiere episode of TREMONTAINE S2 might as well have been written with my wishlist in mind. I devoured it in a state of great excitement that I must now share with you in the hopes that you, too, will pick it up upon its release next month.
If you’ve missed my previous gushing on the matter, TREMONTAINE is a serial set in the same world as Ellen Kushner’s Riverside books: SWORDSPOINT, THE PRIVILEGE OF THE SWORD (one of my favourite books ever), and THE FALL OF THE KINGS (coauthored with Delia Sherman). The serial begins somewhat more than fifteen years before SWORDSPOINT and follows a diverse group of nobles, merchants, scholars, and lowlifes through an unnamed city in a secondary fantasy world that ditched its wizards, and its kings, a few hundred years back. A duchess seeks to repair her family’s shattered fortune and protect her darkest secret. A foreign trader struggles to redeem herself after an affair of the heart gone wrong. Mathematicians search for the calculations that’ll allow their country’s navigators to venture further afield. And the chocolate trade ties them all together.
It’s my favourite.
If you missed S1, you can sample the first episode for free on Serial Box’s app (I highly recommend the audio) or your favourite bookish retailer. You can also buy the full season through Serial Box, or grab the digital omnibus edition. It’s a great pick for this week’s #DiverseAThon as characters and writers alike are queer and/or people of colour.
Should you be strapped for time, let me assure you the second season’s premiere offers an excellent entry point to the series, and to Riverside as a whole. Kushner subtly clues the reader in to who these people are, what they’ve done before, and how their world operates. Later episodes may rely more heavily on past events, but for now I’d say you’re safe to leap right in.
This season premiere picks up several months after the S1 finale and takes place almost entirely at the Convocation for the Opening of the Council of Lords; ie, the point at which the City kicks into high gear, politically and socially. Diane, Duchess Tremontaine, is in her element. You can see how much fun both Diane and Kushner have with this whole scenario. This is Diane’s first political season sans husband in tow, and she delights in the maneuvers that her new status demands of her. She’s there to assert her position as subtly and elegantly as possible--and when you’re Diane, Duchess Tremontaine, subtly and elegance are your jam.
I love Diane because she finds ways to roll right over any limit anyone might think to place on her, and she does so without letting bystanders see her as anything more than a sparkling society wife whose husband has had to retire to the country for his health. She has no interest in politics, you understand, or in holding Tremontaine in her own right. That would be silly. Have you seen her lovely new shawl, after the Chartil fashion? And my goodness, she’d simply love to try one of those deep-fried smelts if you’d be so kind as to put it directly... into... her... mouth.
Her performance is gorgeous, all the moreso because she acts with a degree of self-interest often denied to female characters. She’s in this for herself, not for her family or the workers who depend on her estate for their livelihood. Superior knowledge, social mores, and sex are her weapons of choice, and she wields them to push forward her own agenda within a sphere that favours mens’ agency over womens’. She'll do anything to achieve her goals.
From certain characters’ perspectives, she’s most definitely a villain. Hell, I'm sure the authorities would like to question her on certain matters, too, should her carefully constructed persona ever collapse. While I can’t deny she’s done some terribly villainous things in her quest for power, I prefer to think of her as difficult to classify. She’s interesting; the most important thing a fictional character can be. Surely we can allow her the occasional misdeed, if it keeps the story going?
Diane aside, Kushner delivers a wealth of glorious detail as various nobles, merchants, and ambassadors descend upon the Convocation. She describes food, fashion, and trade goods in such loving detail that my mouth water and my eyes longed to gaze upon such wonders. This is a beautiful, fully-realized world, and it shows in the little things.
The episode also provides readers with updates on Kaab and Rafe, who have either abjured or embraced their families as their needs demand. New players, too, take the stage, including an ambassador with style to spare, a young man of Kinwiinik descent who’s spent his whole life in the city and strongly identifies with local culture, and a small pool of nobles Diane eyes up as she searches for her next lover (ie, the man who’ll present her views to the Council).
On the whole, though, this is Diane’s episode. She shines. I can't wait to see what she does next.
TL;DR, this season premiere is flawless, I love Diane, and I’m beyond excited for Episode 2.