Welcome to Tremontaine, the prequel to Ellen Kushner’s beloved Riverside series that began with Swordspoint! A Duchess whose beauty is matched only by her cunning; her husband’s dangerous affair with a handsome scholar; a foreigner in a playground of swordplay and secrets; and a mathematical genius on the brink of revolution—when long-buried lies threaten to come to light, betrayal and treachery know no bounds with stakes this high. Mind your manners and enjoy the chocolate in a dance of sparkling wit and political intrigue.
Tremontaine is a collaboration between authors, based on Ellen Kushner’s Riverside Series. Joining Kushner for Season One are: Alaya Dawn Johnson, Malinda Lo, Joel Derfner, Racheline Maltese, Paul Witcover, and Patty Bryant. Each of them take on different episodes within the 13-part series, each with their own style and focus, but with an overarching plan that ties everything together into a cohesive story. For those unfamiliar with Serial Box, each episode includes access to both the print and audio version, making it easy and fun to switch between the two. It’s an unusual format but I found that I liked it quite a bit.
The story is a prequel to Swordspoint, and if you have read it then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect: politics, swordplay, and lots of scheming. It’s light and bright and sparkling, but being Fantasy of Manners/Slice of Life in nature, don’t expect a great deal of action, or even typical fantasy elements such as magic. Here the focus lies with clever wordplay, romantic trysts (LGBT+ friendly), cunning schemes, character development and worldbuilding in a sort of period-drama-meets-soap-opera. And what it does, it does very well. We are given several PoV characters, and we watch as they find their paths in the world, and then as their lives intersect.
There’s a farm girl named Micah who feels she’s destined for more – while in your average fantasy tale this would mean finding out she’s the chosen one or picking up a sword and going on an adventure, here we discover that she has a remarkable talent for mathematics. Kaab Balam is newly arrived in Riverside from her home country, with dreams of becoming a famous swordswoman. Her culture is Mayan-inspired, and her family are chocolate traders – chocolate being a highly sought after commodity in this world. Then there’s the Duchess Tremontaine, whose house is down on its luck… but she is prepared to do whatever it takes to claw her way back to the top.
It’s a very interesting, very well executed concept for the most part. In places the pacing does suffer a little, and the authors would have you believe at times that the entire economy revolves solely around chocolate and turnips, but the cast of characters are entertaining, the trysts are sexy and the drama is great fun. Throw in a murder mystery, a deep, dark secret, and some audio performances where it’s clear that the narrators are having a fabulous time, and I found myself well satisfied.
r/Fantasy 2018 Bingo Squares
- Takes Place in One City
- Fewer than 2500 GR Ratings
- Format: Graphic Novel or Audiobook