So this is new!
I’ve only very recently added Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner, the novel in which the whole Riverside story first began, to my bookshelves – and now here’s a prequel series from the bright, shiny new Serial Box! So I thought, why not start with smaller bites first and see what you think?
To that end, here is my very first review of my very first taste of the Riverside world! These thoughts and impressions will be more or less untouched by preconceptions, as I am largely clueless about anything that happens in any of the Riverside novels. I’ve never met these characters or explored this world before, so I’m really excited to dive in and share my impressions! So let’s get started, shall we?
A new sun rises on the lives and fates of four players in a high-stakes game of wit and intrigue.
In a city that never was, sex, scandal, and swordplay combine in a melodrama of manners that returns readers to the beloved world of Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint! A Duchess whose beauty is matched only by her cunning; a passionate young Scholar with dreams beyond his reach; a Foreign spy in a playground of swordplay and secrets; and a Genius on the brink of scientific revolution—when long-buried lies threaten to come to light, the stakes are high, and more than lives may be lost. Mind your manners and enjoy the chocolate in a dance of sparkling wit and political intrigue.
Arrivals begins the 13-part serial, Tremontaine, presented by Serial Box. This prequel to the cult classic Swordspoint is brought to you by the collaborative effort of a team of writers under the creative direction of Ellen Kushner herself.
“Cult classic”. Right away, I like that. I like having the sense that I’m going into something that’s well-loved without being insanely popular. It feels like safer territory somehow, in terms of fandom…
Anyway! It’s the morning after I’ve finished reading this episode, and straight away my first impressions are that the characters this story is focusing on are quite a fascinating bunch!
DIANE DE TREMONTAINE: a Duchess with money troubles, but with a loving marriage to balance things out. Real love among nobility! I like that. Diane and William, her husband, are the first two that we meet here, and their relationship is charmingly warm. Diane herself, it must be said, is already stealing my heart. This is a woman who is taking her financial troubles, and all the gossip it causes, not only with good grace, but with the kind of fierce pride that refuses to leave her ashamed. It seems the house of Tremontaine isn’t the only one suffering financially at the moment, but while other ladies are whining about not being able to afford a new carriage and taking digs at Diane over afternoon chocolate*, this lady is lifting her chin and turning old dresses into spectacular new ones. Her alterations might not fool anybody, but that’s no skin off of her nose, and I absolutely love her for it.
*AFTERNOON CHOCOLATE. Hot chocolate is the drink of choice for the nobility around here. It’s like taking tea in England, with all the ceremony that implies. Now, tea and chocolate are two of my most favourite things ever, so this clever combination is like reader catnip for me. (And now I want hot chocolate. Darnit.)
IXKAAB BALAM: a Kinwiinik trading family’s first daughter, and if her first time in the city is any indication she’s going to be SO MUCH TROUBLE. I love her. Before she’s even settled in she’s getting into a swordfight over the honour of a beautiful woman. She loses, but that doesn’t even wound her pride:
It was the kind of situation Kaab always enjoyed, Xamanek help her. A new city, a new role. She could tell them anything, and they’d most likely believe it as not.
She lifted her head, trying to look like the carving of Xkawkaw on a temple gate, and announced: “I came on a great ship from the west, on the Road of the Wind. An old god taught me to fight, and I honor him by shedding my blood on your soil. Lord Ben, you have served me well. I give you leave to depart.”
… So, she could be a Well-Regarded Young Lady, and instead she goes for Swordfighting Lady Pirate? Yep. Love her.
MICAH: A farmer’s daughter (and mathematical savant) who’s commonly mistaken for a boy. Sounds a bit familiar, I know, but in this case the ‘deception’ isn’t Micah’s own idea. She’s encouraged by her family to let people believe she’s a boy, thanks to her build and general appearance, whenever they trade their goods in the city because “…that way people wouldn’t bother her”.
OH LOOK, POINTED SOCIAL COMMENTARY. *Looks at camera*
Yeah, this is going to be pretty interesting – especially given that before very long at all, Micah gets lost in the city and ends up on a bit of a pub crawl with a university student, winning money in card games and being offered a bed for the night when she ends up staying out much later than intended. And her gracious host/new friend is nothing but well-behaved toward her!
… Granted, this may have something to do with Micah forgetting to mention that, oh yeah, she’s a girl – but on the other hand, she gets to have what some might consider shockingly unladylike adventures and learn new things without her gender ever becoming a hindrance. Or even a factor at all.
OH LOOK, MORE POINTED SOCIAL COMMENTARY. Excuse me while I fall in love with this story already.
So here I am, already torn between these three characters when it comes to picking a favourite. They’re all wonderful! But if any of them has an edge of fascination for me at this point, I suspect it’s Micah. That whole mathematical savant thing I mentioned? Comes with a side of Not Understanding People At All, and if anything hits my sympathy buttons, it’s that. I am definitely emotionally invested in what happens to her (oh god please let nothing too horrible happen to her).
Also, on a last note and as a pretty neat example of how amusing and lovable this whole world is, I present you with this:
Rafe grinned. “Ever had tomato pie?”
[…] Micah hadn’t realised that cheese could be so good, all melty and drippy on top of tomato goop on top of flat bread baked in an oven. She usually hated goop, but this was so salty and chewy and, well, friendly, you couldn’t mind it.
… Is that pizza? That sounds like pizza to me. OH MY GOD ELLEN KUSHNER BROUGHT PIZZA INTO HER SECONDARY-WORLD FANTASY AND YES NOW I’M REALLY IN LOVE.
I just. Pizza is my favourite food. It’s my comfort food. It’s kind of my everything. Pizza is awesome. And there it is, being eaten by students on a pub crawl, and… I am out of words. Sold. I am so sold. Yes. I am here for this. I need episode two now please.
For more on the author: EllenKushner.com