Tremontaine: The Complete Season One by Ellen Kushner, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Malinda Lo, Joel Derfner, Racheline Maltesse, and Patty Bryant. ★★★1/2
Tremontaine is the prequel to Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint and also a story published through Serial Box, a service that provides serialized “episodes” of written stories somewhat in the manner of TV shows, with different authors writing each episode. The edition I’m reviewing gathers together all thirteen episodes of Season One into a single volume.
Duchess Diane Tremontaine teeters on the edge of financial and social ruin when a ship she’d heavily invested in goes down at sea. At the university, Rafe believes that the common convictions on natural philosophy are entirely wrong, but he lacks the facilities with mathematics to prove his point. Micah, a brilliant young country girl, may just be able to formulate the mathematical proof he needs. And Ixkaab Balam, a newly arrived daughter of a prosperous merchant family, seeks adventure in Riverside and a way to redeem herself in her family’s eyes.
Like the rest of the Riverside books, Tremontaine is a fantasy of manners with a focus on political intrigue and queer characters. Unlike the other two Riverside stories I’ve read, Tremontaine has a larger perspective that looks outside of the city. The nobles love to drink chocolate, but the drink isn’t native to their city – it comes from Kaab’s homeland and is her family’s most important export. Chocolate and trade are thus wound throughout the series to the point that it was constantly making me crave chocolate of my own.
I had mixed success with the serial formatting. For the most part I wasn’t thrown off by the change of authors, but there were some style changes that were really jarring. Episode Seven in particular felt almost painful, and I ended up skimming large parts of it to get through. I wonder how I would have felt about it if I’d been reading each section as it was released.
My stand out favorite character was Diane, who’s Machiavellian manipulations put her on par with Lord Vetinari of Discworld. Woe to the many who underestimate this society lady. While no one else quite matches the delight I feel for Diane, I liked all of the other characters as well. If I had to pick a second favorite, it would probably be Micah, an autistic girl with a love of turnips and mathematics who always seems at a comfortable distance from everyone else’s drama and angst.
If you’ve never read any of the previous Riverside books, I think Tremontaine is actually where I’d recommend starting, since it has the advantage of being chronologically first. I would highly suggest it for anyone interested in books with LGB characters or fantasy of manners in general.
I received a free ARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.