In this episode, Diane’s struggle gets real. Very real. Too real?
Let’s discuss Tremontaine.
Karen Lord is at the writer’s helm this week for what feels like a quieter episode (mostly), but it’s one that’s left me thinking about a few things, and undeniably impressed by the episode in general. I love a good dramatic episode as much as anyone, but sometimes you’re better served by having a moment to catch your breath, absorb the aftermath, and steady yourself for the next round. “A World of Change” lets the reader do all three, and this is a good thing because by the end it is most definitely about to kick off all over again. But I’ll get to that.
The Change You Want To See
This episode opens on a conversation between Tess and the Salamander, in the wake of the failed sabotage effort by Charlotte and the River Rats. Charlotte is safe, thankfully, but her Rats were not so lucky. At least one is presumed dead, and the rest are locked up awaiting City punishment (my Riverside-loving heart hesitates to call it ‘justice’). Tess is distraught and blaming herself for encouraging them rather than cautioning them, and from there the conversation turns to the nature of the beast that is Riverside, and what’s left for them to do about the threats the City is posing to their way of life.
This whole conversation is fascinating to me because it’s unclear where the Salamander truly stands. If you take their input here at face value, it might seem like nothing more than a philosophical debate to them. But if, like me, you’re more interested in what’s going on beneath the surface, it seems more like Everly is trying to prepare Tess to take more extreme action against the City. I can accept that they’re up to something, but that leaves the unanswered question of why?
I know from what I’ve read that Riverside will remain Riverside, though I don’t think it will remain entirely unchanged. (I really need to go back and refresh my memory with the novels.) But I suspect at this point that whatever happens is going to be disastrous in some way, and I’m wondering more and more about that bridge everyone’s so worked up over. I don’t recall a big-ass bridge ramming its way across Riverside in the books? But that doesn’t mean there isn’t one? But I have a bad feeling that its future is very uncertain right now?
Take this exchange between our conspirators.
“Riverside has no wealth, no influence, and no real sense of how to cooperate. If we don’t change, the City will take whatever they want from us.”
“Riverside is chaos, ever-changing like the river. You can try to dam it, but it will break out beyond your control. If you would redirect chaos, you have to think larger. You have to embrace a level of chaos that transforms the world completely, that destroys to create anew, that brings death to make way for life.”
Is this simply the way of Tess’s world, that her only possible solution lies in creating more trouble than the City is prepared to deal with (au revoir, bridge)? Or is this the Salamander playing a long and dangerous game whose end we can’t see, and using Tess as a pawn?
Or is it both? I feel like it’s both. But I don’t have any more of a theory than that right now because damn, Everly is just so intriguing.
What Doesn’t Kill You
Elsewhere, we are seeing a side of Diane that I never expected to see: The Duchess, tired, uncertain and in need of help. This was a shock because it gives us perhaps our most unflinching look yet at everything she hides beneath that unflappable charming/ice-queen persona that directs so much of what Diane says and does. It also reflects the current mood of so many women in our society today so plainly that it hurts – but I can’t pretend I’m not appreciating it. Oh, I am appreciating it.
In short, her one-woman war against the Council of Lords is sapping our Duchess of her strength, and after so very nearly being assaulted in her own home by a swordsman bearing a ‘challenge’ from Lord Nevilleson (fuck him), Diane can’t even tell herself that she’s able to pick herself up and carry on as before, despite saving face over the challenge thanks to Kaab’s fortunate timing. But the real surprise, and the real pleasure, of this development is how we’re shown that even despite all of her machinations – and arguably the flaws in her nature that they stem from – Diane doesn’t have to face this new struggle alone.
Kaab knows only too well what the Duchess is dealing with, and she takes it upon herself to try to do something to help. We all know, however, that Kaab is not exactly the most empathetic of romantic partners. Her disaster of a relationship with Tess is proof of that. But Kaab at least understands her shortcomings now. Her affair with Diane might never be called a romance, but she values her as an ally, and she knows that the Duchess needs help from someone. She surprises me this week by doing what might just turn out to be the right thing in that moment: she approaches Esha for help on Diane’s behalf.
This is where things get even more interesting, and not only because of the history between Esha and Diane, and the prospect of some kind of solidarity, if not open alliance, between these three women. It’s interesting because at this point, I’m not sure what role Esha will end up playing. She has a comfortable position and income at Ambassador House thanks to Reza, but by her own admission it’s reliant upon the projection of a more romantic connection than they actually have. It’s given her reputation a more socially acceptable veneer, but that only goes so far. Esha entered this world, this City, as a courtesan, and no matter how skilled or graceful or beautiful she is, it doesn’t make her part of the nobility. She’s still an outsider.
At the same time, though, this puts her in a good position to relate to Diane – and it goes beyond merely their romantic history. She knows only too well what limitations this society places on women even while it makes a show of accepting them. And let’s not forget her own past experience with Gregory Davenant, and men who will happily threaten violence to get what they want. In light of all that, who better to understand Diane’s current troubles than Esha?
After last week’s frustrating stumbling block with the Council, Diane’s progress with her plans has not improved, and she’s gone from frustration to sheer weariness. She doesn’t see a way around the problem, so she begins to retreat from it – and what woman alive right now couldn’t relate to that sort of situation? I certainly can. It strikes home particularly hard because Diane de Tremontaine has never been a woman who simply contemplates giving in.
Thank god, then, for her real allies. The other women who understand and are willing to reach out and try to help her. Kaab takes a subtle approach because if she understands anything here, it’s that anything else she could do wouldn’t help – and, I suspect, because her own recent taste of what it’s like to have to bend to the will of societal convention has given her some insight she lacked before.
Esha doesn’t provide any miracle solutions on the spot (Davenant’s journal, anyone?) but this isn’t about scheming or plotting or manipulating. It’s just about helping Diane to keep her chin up while she finds a way around – or through – her problems. I would never have expected it, and it’s wonderful and affirming and exactly the right way to go. Karen Lord handles it all beautifully, and I’m just plain grateful to see it happen.
Just when I thought that this episode was giving us a breather from drama, it saves the … worst, for last. Charlotte survived the failed raid last week, but Diane and Tess are not the only ones despairing over their troubles. Our young River Rat is hopelessly frustrated by her situation and the fates of her friends, and lashes out during her lessons at the City Academy – but I doubt she expected any of it to end with Doctor Goodell apparently having a heart attack right there in class.
Doctor Goodell, upon whom Rafe was relying so much to provide not only staff assistance but a semblance of scholarly credibility at the Academy, and let’s not forget his efforts at making his publication dreams come true. Let’s also not forget his importance to Micah as a teacher and an ally. I don’t know how Micah will cope with this awful twist, and it’s killing me to think of her having to try.
DID I NOT SAY REPEATEDLY THAT NOTHING BAD SHOULD EVER HAPPEN TO MY BEST CINNAMON ROLL? DID I NOT MAKE IT CLEAR? AAAAAAAH
Oh, Micah. Oh, Rafe. Oh, Diane.
<Deep breath> Here we go. Next episode. Bring it.