[Review] Tremontaine S1E6: “A Fair Hand”

Today is the turn of the must-write subject I’ll be getting through December on – Tremontaine!

My review writing may be scarce this month, but I wouldn’t let my Tremontaine musings lapse – especially not when things are so clearly gearing up to get Really Interesting!

Let’s discuss. (With spoilers!)

Tess shows her stuff. Micah ponders society.

The annual Tremontaine Ball is always the event of the season. But now, with the family fortune at stake, Diane assembles her guest list with all the cunning of a general preparing a battle plan. As the chocolate merchants of the City, led by the Balam family, debate how to respond to the Duchess’s unprecedented invitation, Micah, eager to help her family, makes plans to crash the party. And Kaab finds that learning from Vincent Applethorpe is a painful experience.

This episode is brought to you by Racheline Maltese and Patty Bryant, who cordially extend you an invitation to the Ball.

So we’re six episodes into this season of the serial now, and story-wise things are clearly at a point akin to taking a pause and a deep breath before the avalanche of drama (dramalanche?) hits us – in this case, I expect it to take the form of the Tremontaine annual Swan Ball.

The event itself may be for the next episode, but in “A Fair Hand” there’s still plenty of build-up to take care of, and that apparently means a great deal of ‘quiet’ scenes – character interactions, mainly. It may not sound terribly exciting, but after reading and some reflection on what we’ve actually got in this episode, I think it was really well done and came along at exactly the right time.

Kaab/The Balams

So Diane’s first attempt to secure this alliance with the trading family failed pretty badly last week, thanks to Will’s *ahem* distractions. The lady’s not done, though – the Balams have an invitation to her House’s annual ball. What I liked about this is the way it’s received by the Balams – specifically by Kaab’s uncle Chuleb. Rather than just being flattered or surprised, he’s immediately suspicious of Diane’s motives. The fact that her promise regarding taxes fell through didn’t go unnoticed means that of course he’d be wary of anything else she offered them, including a seemingly innocent party invitation. Some choice observations by Kaab, which don’t seem all that interesting to her, lead her uncle to make some pretty sharp guesses where the true state of Diane’s fortunes is concerned, though they still need proof. So, the Balams are going to a fancy party! This is going to be FUN. Diane is coming out much further into a villainous sort of light at this point, though I’m not entirely without sympathy for her, so it’ll certainly be dramatic as all hell, whatever happens! Or so I hope…


If my sympathy for Diane is reserved, it is precisely the opposite in Micah’s case – I cannot shower enough of it on her! Her guilt at not being at home tending to her farming duties is really starting to clash now with her desire to stay at the University and learn, and to finish solving those pesky equations! It leads her to a potential solution that’s as surprising as it is heartwarming – she can do her part for her home and family if she helps to bring business their way, and how better to do that than by petitioning the Duchess Tremontaine? And she’s throwing a party soon? Perfect time! Watching Micah decide that she can set her cousin Reuben up as a caterer (of swan-shaped turnips) for the Swan Ball is equal parts hilarious and heartwrenching:

Micah stood and leaned over the table toward Rafe. “You must tell the duchess.”
“She doesn’t want my menu advice. I don’t think she likes me very much.”
“What about the duke? He’s your boyfriend!”
Rafe sighed. “Yes, that would be why she doesn’t like me very much, thank you.”
“She needs swan turnips and I can get them. This is very important!”

… This notion doesn’t survive the next meeting with Reuben, of course, but then something more surprising happens:

“Hey, why not go to the ball yourself? Then you could write us all about it. Your cousin Dinah’ll pine away from jealousy.”
The joke wasn’t unkind. Not to Micah anyway. But Rafe could see the consequences of it rushing toward him. In the hopes of distracting Micah, he offered to buy a few turnips. […]
“Can I come to the ball with you, Rafe?” Micah asked.


Seriously, though. The inevitable logistics of our sweet, honest, anxious farmer’s daughter having to deceive her way into a society party lead to one of my favourite scenes and/or exchanges so far in this story, as Tess, Kaab and Vincent are helping Micah to decide how she’ll dress and who she ought to “be” at the ball:

“What kind of boy do you want to be, Micah?”
Micah bit her lip and thought hard. “I want to be things that are true,” she decided.

Because of course she does. Of course. *Cries a little bit*

Rafe & Will

The affair continues, though after the last encounter between these two and Diane, things are understandably a bit tense. The tension gets worse after a day spent working for the Duchess on her party invitations leaves Rafe suspicious – and Will afraid – that she might know about their affair after all.

Will’s expression suddenly changed. “You… you don’t think she knows about us, do you?”
In fact, Rafe did, but when confronted with Will’s obvious horror at the idea, he found himself unable to say so. He waved a hand as though unconcerned. “And what if she does? It’s only an affair; there’s nothing for her to be bothered by.”
“I’m not sure I see it that way,” Will said softly. “And I am certain that Diane won’t either.”

I am a bit incredulous over this. Sweethearts, as much as you might like to think otherwise, subtle you have not been…

More to the point is the idea that Rafe, if not Will, sees no problem with being at the heart of marital unrest, never mind a player in Will’s disloyalty to the woman he married. This is a personal viewpoint of my own rearing its head, again, but I can’t shake it off – I don’t approve, and I honestly hope for everyone’s sake that something better for them all can come out of this.

That said, however, there is a liiiittle part of me still hoping we get to see Rafe vs. Diane in all its potentially catty glory…

So. We’ve taken the deep breath. Everybody’s got their party clothes, and the bodies should be ready, even if the spirits aren’t all the way to willing yet. And on that note, I also really want to add how much I liked the final exchange in the dressmaker’s shop, when deciding how Kaab should be dressed for the ball:

“And our feathers are much better than this.” Kaab reached out to stroke the plume, which Micah had to admit did look rather ratty.
“Are they?” Tess drawled. “Then why not wear your feathers, but in our styles?”

Kaab grinned. “Excellent!” She looked to Applethorpe. “What do you think? You know these nobles better than any of us – they hire swordsmen all the time. Will this work?”
Applethorpe nodded slowly. “If you wear their clothes, they’ll think you failed because they’re not as new or stylish as the ones they wear. If you wear your own clothes, they’ll think you failed because you’re too stupid to learn our ways. But this… it isn’t one things or the other.” He smiled. “Yes, I think you’ll beat them at their own game. Or maybe even make them play yours.”

Let’s play. Let’s PLAY. I’m ready. *Waits for Wednesday*




4 thoughts on “[Review] Tremontaine S1E6: “A Fair Hand”

  1. It’s fascinating to watch the… the… “uh-oh” that is the marriage of the Duke and Duchess Tremontaine. On the one hand, the Duke is not giving the Duchess sufficient credit — for intelligence, for anger, for knowing what needs to be done, for having a reason for what she tells him to do. On the other hand, this is because the Duchess has spent years making sure that the Duke has no reason to suspect her capacity for any of this. She has created his blind spots, and now, she is angry that he has them. (And, of course, this is a fairly simplistic description of the situation, leaving out so many things.)

    1. Yes! I have such a mixed bag of emotions regarding Will and Diane, even leaving Rafe out of it. On one hand I can sympathise with Diane’s troubles because she’s having to deal with them all herself, but on the other hand, like you say, she’s not exactly anyone’s innocent victim. What she’s struggling with, she pretty much brought on herself. I can be annoyed with Will for being so terribly oblivious, and he’s definitely not winning many Good Husband awards, but communication goes two ways. They’ve both kept secrets, even if Diane is better at it than Will. I’ll be watching that marriage explode from this here bunker, I think. 😉

  2. I liked your thoughts on this chapter, which brought out a few things I missed. I agree that it was a quiet episode, and it grew on me in retrospect.

    I really enjoyed the humorous cross-purposes in the Ink Pot scene, where Micah really grows as a character. “What’s a ball?” I can’t help but be charmed by her. I loved the way you described her and the inevitable tension involved in sneaking her into the ball. That’s going to be some scene!

    Kaab’s relationship with Micah and Rafe is interesting, because it seems she really does enjoy them, even with the friction with Rafe, but then she’s also fooling them to protect her people’s trading and political interests. I’m wondering where that internal conflict is going to go. (Or maybe, having just reread the end of the Inkpot scene, there’s going to be more of a rift between Kaab and Rafe now.)

    Rafe continues to be a problematic character for me. I can’t decide whether he’s a serious scholar or an empty shirt. He reminds me of several of my wife’s bosses: “I’m the idea guy, you work on the details.” Is he just using Micah, or does he actually care about her well-being? That said, Ellen Kushner’s stories often seem to have a character who needs mentoring and you can’t quite figure out what the mentor’s motives are until later in the story (Katharine/Alec in Privilege of the Sword). Maybe his relationship with Micah is going to go this way.

    I also feel a bit the way you do about his affair with Will, but I have to remind myself that open relationships are pretty common in this society. I think Rafe just assumed that Will and Diane are like other nobles he’s heard about, who sleep around like it’s the Summer of Love, which he obviously does himself. So the revelation that this is Will’s first fling since marrying Diane is pretty profound, but to Rafe it seems to come off as charming naivete, like Micah asking “What’s a ball?” (But maybe I’m giving him too much credit and he really is using everyone without scruple.)

    I was glad to see Kaab rewarded for bringing the info about the ball to her family, and I really liked the irony of many characters underplaying the importance of the ball as just something frivolous, when we know something Very Important is going to happen there.

    I did finish the episode wishing there had been more Diane, but I guess she needs to remain a bit mysterious, as she did in Swordspoint.

    (I’m actually hesitating posting this now, because it seems so wordy, like I’ve written my own review. But maybe your site could become the official discussion forum for Tremontaine? I’ve had a few exchanges with other readers on Twitter, but it’s hard with just 140 characters.)

    1. I agree about Rafe; he is problematic, but in an interesting way. He does seem to be on a pretty fine edge between being someone who can (and is about to?) learn some important personal lessons, and being the sort of person who’s too full of himself to try… We’ve seen both those sides of him come out here and there, but he still hasn’t completely tipped one way or the other.

      I do like to think that Will is the one who’s going to teach him those lessons about himself. It’s just a question of whether it’ll be worth it for Will at this point…

      As for the discussion idea, I am totally open to people sharing (non-spoilery!) thoughts and ideas here! I own a copy of Swordspoint but I haven’t read it yet, since I’m waiting until Tremontaine’s first season is complete at least before I pick it up – but I am enjoying the hell out of this story and this world and all these characters!

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