Welcome to the Tremontaine Season 1 Reread! In preparation for Season 2 (premiering October 19!) your stalwart guide will be recapping every episode of the intoxicating fantasy of manners written by Ellen Kushner, Joel Derfner, Patty Bryant, Alaya Dawn johnson, Paul Witcover, Racheline Maltese, and Malinda Lo. For these recaps we have enlisted the wonderful, fabulous, and all around incredible artist Michelle Fee to illustrate a scene or gist of her choosing – so grab a cup of chocolate and settle in for for a scandalously good time!
Episode 1: “Arrivals”
Written by Ellen Kushner
Our drama opens upon Diane, Duchess Tremontaine, as she looks out from her lofty manor seat over “her” city. She clutches a letter, recently received, that brought ill news of a ship’s crash – and trains her eye on the distant docks of Riverside where she hopes to see a Kinwiinik Trading ship that will turn her fortunes around.
Her husband William, Duke Tremontaine enters and they share a loving moment – though it becomes quickly clear that Diane is the brains and steel of the marriage. They discuss their daughter Honora’s recent announcement that she’s birthed a son. It is gathered that Diana strongly disapproves of the man Honora chose to wed some years ago and subsequently the Duchess has refused to see her only child. William, the softer heart, does not attempt to dissuade her, but does push for them to send a gift.
Their marital chatter turns to finances and it is gleaned that the ship’s crash is more significant than the reader (and William) could have imagined – Diane had secretly mortgaged some of their property to fund the risky expedition and now is left scrambling to cover the house’s costs – and keep William in the dark. They descend to breakfast with William still none the wiser to the true nature of their financial difficulties, and Diane seemingly content to keep him that way.
The next scene transports us to the very same Kinwiinik Trading ship Diane had been waiting for – and aboard her, Ixkaab Balam, first daughter of a first daughter of the House of Balam of the Traders of the Kinwiinik. Her interior monologue as she approaches the foreign shore tells us that she is not only a trader but an agent – and that her family deals in secrets and information just as much as goods and cloth. Apparently her recent assignment is a direct consequence of blundering her previous assignment in the Tullan Empire. She seems disinclined to like her new posting, but eager to absolve herself of past wrong doings through future good action.
A quick scene change takes us momentarily back to Tremontaine Manor where we find the Duke and Duchess gossiping about friends as Diane, the bell of any ball, prepares for her afternoon social engagement. We learn that William is on the Council of Lords – but depends heavily on his wife for her council. Diane worries over her lack of new gowns and how she’ll maintain her status as the city’s most fashion-forward socialite – but pulls a fast trick by repurposing an older dress.
Another quick scene change and we meet an intriguing new character in Micah. It is pretty apparent that there is something special about the turnip cart girl selling her wares in the River Street Marketplace – though what, beyond a fixation on numbers and proper order – we can only guess. Eventually she shows off her impressive math abilities and finds herself saddled with the errand of helping a local chef haul vegetables back to his kitchen. She follows him dutifully but on her way back to the market gets mistaken for a male University student and swept into an ongoing math lecture. She quickly upsets the scene by correctly answering a question currently stumping the class of students – and then fleeing when all eyes turn to her. After rushing out into the busy streets she becomes overwhelmed by the torrent of sounds and faces. Eventually she is saved by a friendly student who offers to guide her to a local eatery for respite.
Back with Kaab we get our first glimpse of Riverside – and her immediate interest in its famed swordsmen. Despite her guide’s well meaning warnings, Kaab is drawn like a moth to a flame. Her foreign garb makes her stand out like no good agent ever should, but she’s eager to get a few moments of excitement before arriving at her Aunt and Uncle’s home and taking up her designated responsibilities. It seems she pilfered a sword from her father before leaving home and is desperate to test its mettle (as well as her own.)
She quickly spots a prime dueling candidate: a man she presumes to be a pimp, dealing unkindly with a beautiful lady. In no time at all the fight is picked and Kaab gets her wish – though she soon realizes how out of her depth she is when Ben, the assumed pimp, defeats her soundly in front of Tess, the assumed whore, and a large gathering of Riversiders who turned out to watch the foreigner get walloped. Un-deterred, Kaab strolls away, scratched but content. It seems Riverside is just the sort of dangerous place an agent like herself enjoys.
Returning to the young Micah we find her fallen in with the talkative scholar Rafe and his lot of friends – who quickly pull the young farm girl into a game of cards and realize her math abilities go above and beyond the usual expectations: she soundly wins round after round in a manner that the modern reader could only describe as card counting.
It being so late by the time they leave the pub, Rafe invites Micah to lodge with him for the night. Over dinner and before bed Rafe extols Micah on his grand plans to upturn the current academic establishment and write his name amongst the stars by founding a school where any and all can study. Eventually, mistaking her for a boy – and one quite good at math both from what he saw during the lecture incident earlier and at the card table more recently- he sets about encouraging her to enter the University.
Flash to Kaab who finally arrives at the home of her Aunt and Uncle. The picture of a large, loving, and therefore necessarily meddling family is presented and she is welcomed with open arms, despite the cloud of her past misdeeds. It seems the Balam family has carved out a warm place of home in the foreign land – and Kaab is a beloved addition.
Episode one ends with our first view of Duchess Tremontaine in her element: slinking through a social party like a shark in green silks. With words that cut like knives and looks that sooth like velvet, she is a force to behold and we are left eager to see just what intrigues she holds in store.